Spread the Word to End the Word is an ongoing effort by Special Olympics and other supporters to raise the consciousness of society about the dehumanizing and hurtful effects of the word "retard(ed)" and encourage people to pledge to stop using the R-word.
There has been a lot in the media these last few months about the R-word. Something about Rush Limbaugh. Apparently an episode of the Family Guy. Words said by Rahm Emanuel. Reactions by Sarah Palin.
I'll be honest. I'm not sure exactly what it was all about. I'm not very good at following the news,
nor do I even know who Rahm Emanuel is. From the bits and pieces I have heard and read, it sounds like there were R-words thrown around, jokes made, and most likely huge amounts of poor judgement used.
I was actually much more offended, hurt, and even angered by people's use of the R-word when we first had Rylee than I am now. I know. It sounds weird. You'd think as a Mom of a child with Down syndrome that I'd be picketing in front of courthouses to actually make using the R-word illegal. But I'm not.
Let me explain.
Do I think that people use the R-word in derogatory ways without thinking -- that more often than not, it's used out of ignorance and not out of trying to be hurtful?
Do I think it's okay simply because they don't realize how they are using the word?
Of course not. (I also think people use the word "gay" in the same derogatory way and that should stop, too.)
Do I want Rylee to face a society that will make jokes at her expense?
Does my heart break at the thought of having her feelings hurt?
Will I do what I can to educate those around us that words hurt? Will I be sure our kids understand the power of our words?
Do I want to teach our kids that other people's opinions of them matter?
Do I want to teach Rylee that Down syndrome defines her? That what a political commentator says, what a TV show script reads, or what a stranger on the street utters defines her?
Do I want to teach our kids that the way to respond to ignorance is anger?
Do I want our kids to surround themselves with people who love them, value them, and respect them?
Do I want them to have the skills and self-confidence to handle themselves diplomatically when they, inevitably, come across someone who says something unkind about them?
Just like everything in life, it's balance.
So, after I politely correct a person I hear use the R-word flippantly without any thought as to what they're really saying...
I will turn to Rylee and say, "But it doesn't really matter what they say, does it?"
Read Rylee's Letter "A Little Bit About the 'R' Word" - written August 2008.