I was watching a comedy with my family when I heard a character use the R-word. I cringed and said, “Oh, no! I don’t like that.” After my 9-year-old daughter asked what I was talking about, I had to say the actual word so she would know. I told her it’s worse than any curse words because it is used to make fun of people with disabilities. She looked sad at first, then shrugged her shoulders and said, “Never heard of it.”
I was relieved, but I had to take the opportunity to make sure she understood that the R-word should never be tolerated. It is offensive, hurtful and definitely not funny.
A couple of years ago, a comedian with a Netflix special referenced our civilized society’s unacceptable use of the R-word. Instead of using the R-word, he suggested saying “extra 21st chromosome.” This guy was not funny or smart; he was mean. Apparently, not being able to come up with a less offensive term challenged his ability to write comedy.
It’s a problem some politicians have too. More recently, a video surfaced of freshman Congresswoman Majorie Taylor Greene referring to other elected officials by using the R-word. The Parkland massacre denier and QAnon promoter was appointed by fellow House Republicans to the House Education and Labor Committee. This woman does not belong in Congress, much less a committee writing legislation that impacts our nation’s children. Ms. Taylor Greene used this pejorative term to make a political statement, much like the trolls on social media who throw around terms such as “libtard.” (Editor’s note: The House has since voted to remove Greene from all congressional committees.)
I wish people would stop using the R-word and all the many variations of it. It is not creative, cute or smart. People who use it sound stupid and mean.
Using the R-word is demoralizing to people with Down syndrome and other developmental disabilities. My 6-year-old daughter has an “extra 21st chromosome,” and she is smart, funny, creative, determined, brave, compassionate and talented.
I will assume the people who choose to use the R-word, have never seen their child fight with relentless determination to survive when medical expertise said it was unlikely. This extra 21st chromosome came with vivacities in her eyes, a wildly facetious sense of humor, a voracious spirit of kindness. Although there are some delays, she has exceeded archetypal peers in many areas.
All those fancy words in the above paragraph were brought to you by a simple Google search. It is literally that simple. Just use a better word. When we know better, we do better.
Since my daughter with Down syndrome was born, I have had two reactions upon hearing someone use the R-word. I was either rendered speechless and said nothing as I envisioned myself tackling the person to the ground, pounding their face in as I repeated, “Stop saying that word.” Or I was condescending toward the person, lecturing them about the use of such an offensive word. Neither response was very helpful.
I had not evolved emotionally enough to respond appropriately. I really wanted to forgive their ignorance and prejudice and have a mature and compassionate conversation about how hurtful the word was. I had not been able to work through my rage in order to face the painful reality of my own history of using that word.
You see, since my daughter was born, I had erased any memory of ever using the R-word. In order to express the hurt this word causes and to forgive those who use it, I had to own that I once said it.
I said it to be funny.
It was never funny.
I said it to call something stupid.
I sounded stupid.
I said it when I made a mistake.
Saying it was a mistake.
Using the R-word or the many variations of it has never been funny. It’s cruel and it’s dehumanizing. It is offensive and outdated. The use of the R-word perpetuates an unfounded belief that people with disabilities are unworthy of respect and dignity. People with disabilities are valuable members of our families and communities. They are not a punchline.