Monday, February 23, 2009

The "R" Word

Well, I went a little nutty this morning and drafted the following letter and emailed it out to a slew of people in my address book:

Dear Friends -

How many times a day do you hear the word "retard" being casually thrown around? Do you use it yourself? Do your kids use the word?

As most of you know, our 7-month old son, Finnian, has Down syndrome . . . so the word "retard" has taken on new meaning for our family. Kevin, our 12-year-old, seems especially aware of and affected by it. He has made it his mission, in fact, to raise awareness at his school (he is a middle school student at Beechwood). Still, it seems that not a day goes by that he doesn't come home from school and report that the word was "in his face" so to speak. Nice kids from nice families are using this
word - and not in its clinical sense, but in a derogatory manner. Joey, our 6-year-old is now being exposed to this ugly word. It hurts our entire family, as well as all families of children with special needs.

"Retard" is a hate word. It's a descriminatory slur, just like the "N" word. It's hurtful to people with disabilities, as well as the people who love them. I know it's probably a bit odd that I'm contacting you with this, but I'd like to request that you educate your kids about this.

Let's work to ban the "R" word. We're all human beings, deserving of respect and dignity. Together, we can make this a world of tolerance and acceptance.

Lisa Morguess

It's true that Kevin has made it his job to try to educate kids at school whenever he hears the word. And it's also true that still, not a day goes by that he doesn't hear the word being thrown around. Lately he almost seems defeated by it - it takes a lot of guts for a 12-year-old, one who wants to fit in, to speak out about something the other kids may laugh at. And a lot of them do. There is one kid in one of Kevin's classes who has realized that this is a hot-button issue with Kevin, and so he has taken to chanting "Retard . . . retard . . . retard" under his breath whenever Kevin is around.

What sort of put me over the edge this morning and prompted me to draft and send out that email was Kevin telling me that a very good friend of his uses the word - a kid I never would have believed would use language like that. So I've just started wondering: do these kids' parents know they use words like this? Do they tolerate it? Are these kids learning by example from the adults in their lives, or by example on the schoolyard?

Some of the people who got my email today probably think I'm a loon. I don't care. I've gotten some really positive responses - one even from Joey's teacher who promised to have a discussion with the class today about this topic - and she did, as reported by Joey. I figure that it might spark some dinner table discussions tonight. And that's a good thing.


My name is Sarah said...

Hi Lisa, Hot topic for both of us today. I did refer to a past story of yours. I really appreciate that you shared that a while back. I think Matt would have been even more mortified had I said something, espcially since I barely know these kids. It was tough for both of us. I really like your letter. I do think the awareness is so important.

Karly said...

I really admire you and your advocacy, Lisa. Thank you.

Tricia said...

If they think you are a loon, THEY are nuts.

Chrystal said...

You rock.

Many thanks from our family to yours.

Adrienne said...

Our son with DS isn't born yet but I think this is great that first, your son is taking a stand and second, that you are putting it in the parent's heads that maybe kids hear it from them??? It really is unfortunate how often you hear people use this word. But people need to realize they are saying it and that it hurts a lot of people when they say it.

Lovin Mama said...

Wow Lisa, your timing is uncanny. My (almost) 10 yo was telling me tonight about the use of the R word at school today. I brought up your blog to show her the shirts you and Kevin made only to find this post! Awesome!

Nicole O'Dell said...

I agree, discussion is a good thing. Good for you for taking a stand and speaking out.

Carla said...

Lisa, while I understand where you are coming from now that you have a different perspective, this question really bothered me:

"So I've just started wondering: do these kids' parents know they use words like this? Do they tolerate it?"

You make it sound like "these kids" are running around saying f**k, sh*t, d*mn while their parents listen in. You said yourself that you used to use the word retard without a second thought. You have to realize that to most kids words like retard, dork, and butthead are just names they call other kids. You can't expect children to really understand the weight of their words, until someone explains what it really means and why it is hurtful.
I admit, I didn't think twice when I heard people use the word retard. It ranked right up there with dummy head and goober. I mean, I know that calling someone who is mentally retarded a retard, is rude. But it wasn't until you mentioned your experiences that I understood that using the words retard/retarded in general could cause hurt feelings.
I think it's great that you and Kevin are making a point of educating people about how hurtful it can be, just know that it's going to take time to reach everyone.

Jen said...

Good for you, Lisa. You had every right to send that letter.

heather said...

I have to say that I don't agree with what Carla said. The R word is a HATE word and parents and teachers don't even flinch when they hear their kids say it at home or school. But you better believe they talk to the kids when they hear them use the F word. The R word causes a lot more pain and harm than the F word. It is time to educate all those around us...parents, friends, teachers, children. We can all look deeper into our vocabulary to find the word that is a more accurate definition of what you are trying to say. I blogged about this back in August
Thanks for taking the time to write this letter and sending it to your friends. It takes all of us to make a difference!

heather said...

Check out this video on youtube about the R word. This is my favorite and I had my kids watch it too. A great education tool.

Heather said...

I think we can all admit to not always recognizing the weight of our words until they impact us personally. And words do carry weight, more than sticks and stones I would venture. That is why it is so important raise awareness and put a face to why certain words can be so hurtful. That being said, and understanding that our kids don't use the same language around us as they do in the schoolyard I think the harder,and possibly more important work, becomes teaching our kids respect. For themselves, their family, their friends, for people who are different, and even for people we don't like much. How many of us give ourselves permission to bad mouth someone because they cut us off in traffic.

I appreciate this post. I will admit that I have used that word in the not so distant past but as of now, it's not in my lexicon. I'm just glad I got that letter now instead of after my son heard me say it.

kristycolvin said...

Hi Lisa
I haven't been by in a while because I have just been so busy! But I wanted to give you a suggestion on helping your kids at school. We have an event called Genes Day that is coming up for World Down Syndrome Day. This is a totally educational event to spread awareness throughout your community.

We have several ways that you can spread awareness and one way we do this is in the schools. We have games for the kids to play to help them understand that although kids with Ds may take a little longer to get things done, they are still just like them.

Please check out our site and click on the Genes Day logo for all the detailed information.

If you have questions, feel free to email me.