On March 6, our friends at Special Olympics will celebrate, “Spread the Word to End the Word” day. Of course we all know what the word is. The “r” word. Retard. Retarded. Just typing it makes my skin crawl. The thought of anyone saying it makes me go all Mama-bear. And yet we hear it everyday. People don’t mean anything by it. At least that’s what they say, and I genuinely believe that a lot, if not most of them don’t. They think that because they are being self-depricating, it’s ok. They would never call someone who is developmentally challenged a retard. I am thankful for that. But it’s still not ok.
It’s not ok, because no matter how much they think that they are only hurting themselves, they are wounding me. And my daughter. And millions of other people around the world. Because there is a second part to the statement, “I’m such a retard.” A second part always unsaid, but always implied. The second part is, “and we know how horrible that is. How dumb that makes me. How that’s just about the worst think you can imagine.”
And whether they would do it or not, there are a lot of someone’s out there that would use that word to my daughter’s face. I am an overprotective parent to all of my children. I carefully monitor as much of their interactions as I can. And yet for all of my overprotectiveness, I know that someone has called my daughter a retard. I know that because I watched her in choir rehearsal one day. When the director reminded the accompanist to observe the ritard in the 4th measure, my daughter shut down. She was sure that word was about her. And it was a bad thing.
I have heard all of the arguments. Banning words is bad. It sets a dangerous prescident. It infringes on my right to free speech. We need the word. It’s a musical term. Things have to be labeled flame retardant. Sorry, but not one of those flies. I’m a choir conductor. I’m not suggesting we remove ritard as a musical direction. I’m not asking that my fire extinguisher be labeled differently. There are plenty of words out there that we are free to use at anytime, but we choose not to. We have, as we should, every right to say them, but we choose not to give them breath. We choose not to because those words hurt people. Words like, the “n” word, or the “k” word. We all know those words. Most of us blanche at hearing them. We would never. We are embarrassed, ashamed when they are used. The “r” word should make us just as ashamed.
Please join me in promoting the effort, led by our dear friends at Special Olympics, to “End the Word.” Visit www.r-word.org.