Saturday, January 30, 2010

It's Not Just Another Word

My cousin Joey has asked people to share their stories of discrimination and bullying on Facebook group that he started less than two weeks ago, Equality Project. As of this morning, there are 3,361 3,389 members of the group, with the vast majority of them being teenagers. (If you missed them, see my previous posts here and here about Equality Project.)

It struck me that by being asked to share my story is an opportunity to share with this audience my thoughts on a subject that matters deeply to me. Most of what I say here has been better said by more eloquent writers than I am, but if this helps one person to think before saying the r-word, then it's worth it.

I'm spelling the word out for the purpose of the Equality Project post (which you can see below) but not here because there is something inherently difficult about writing that on my blog, even for educational and awareness purposes. I just can't do it.

"That's so r ----ed."

How many times have you heard someone say this, or some variation of this?

Pretty often, I'd imagine. Because I've heard it too. From everyone. It's not a figure of speech flung by teenagers. I've heard this from a few of my otherwise professional coworkers. If I was a Cabinet member in the Obama administration, it's possible that I might have even heard this in the halls of the White House this week, when Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel allegedly, reportedly (according to the Wall Street Journal) referred to something or someone as "fucking r -----ed" in a meeting.

You've heard it and I've heard it. And, it is just a matter of time before my 8 year old son, who has autism, hears it too.

And he'll ask me - because he always asks me - what that word means.

And I have no idea what I will say.

I'll probably explain it to him similarly as I did when I told him he has autism. Trust me, as a parent, you get intimately acquainted with a special kind of heartbreak when you get to tell your 8 year old that his brain works differently, that he has something called autism, that even the best doctors don't quite exactly know why you were born with this, that this is the reason why some people don't understand why you act differently than other kids, that you will have this (to some degree) to the rest of your life.

I don't really understand the logic behind using this word. I've heard the reasons (and excuses, really) why it happens.

It's just a figure of speech. I don't know what I was thinking. Oh, I wasn't referring to your son. It's just a word.

It's not just a word. Trust me on this. It is Not. Just. Another. Word.

For in the minds and hearts of those with developmental disabilities and those of us who love them, it is a word with searing-hot and flame-red qualities. Hearing it hurts my heart, physically. It is a dagger, a rifle. It is the verbal equivalent of rape.

I cannot explain the pain this word causes unless I am talking with other parents of special needs. It is a certain kind of pain that you only understand if you love someone with a disability, regardless of that disability.

And chances are, you probably know someone who has a disability. Even if they're good at hiding it, even if it is a disability on the inside, in the deepest corners of their minds. So, if it helps, think about that person who you love when calling something or someone r-----ed. Or think about my little boy, who will soon be asking me why someone called him this name.

We've been talking a lot about equality in recent days. About embracing each other and our differences - whether they are in regard to our sexual orientation, our political and religious beliefs, our skin color, our ethnicity.

We are speaking up.

But when speaking up means continuing to casually say the word r -----?

That's when we need to change the conversation.

More than 52,784 people have taken a pledge to Spread the Word to End the Word. Find out how you can join them at You don't have to wait until March 3. Even if you have used the r- word in the past, today is a new day with a clean slate. Check out these Facebook groups for more information and resources.

copyright 2010, Melissa (Betty and Boo's Mommy, The Betty and Boo Chronicles) If you are reading this on a blog or website other than The Betty and Boo Chronicles or via a feedreader, this content has been stolen and used without permission.


Niksmom said...

Beautifully said, Melissa. I was appalled when I heard about Emmanuel's allegedly using that phrase this week. Just goes to show how pervasive it still is.

Susan said...

I'm totally there with you. As a special educator by trade and now a case manager, it's just like fingernails grating on a chalkboard, and those who say it have absolutely NO idea. I hope the awareness will spread.

Laura said...

My daughter has a degree in special education and, although she is not working in her field right now, she had been a special ed teacher until last June. Her special love is working with kids with autism. I can't remember her ever wanting to do anything else. Her best friend, growing up, had a special needs sister. My daughter loved her and she is what propelled my daughter to go into that field. This was way back in elementary school. And that is when she began hating the r-word. It was never said in this house, but she has been outspoken many times about its use, with others. It is just such a hurtful word...