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Monica Pickard spent twenty years of her adult life as a child care provider. During that time, with the help of her husband, she raised her son who has been diagnosed with Autism and Developmental Delay. She learned to navigate a world that was new to her – the world of Special Needs. She now shares these experiences and the wisdom they taught her, with love and heartfelt compassion for the human condition.

Friday, April 6, 2018

R-Word Bullies

People in the disability community get very upset when someone uses the R-word as an insult. For the past few years, we have all been trying to educate the public about how that word makes our loved ones feel. I don’t like to hear the word used as an insult. It makes me cringe every time. Many people gently educate others when they hear the word used as an insult, but there are some people who use the opportunity to bully the offenders. So, this blog post is not about the people who use the R-word as an insult. It is about the people who bully others when they use the word.

Recently, I read an article about a famous person whose wife used the R-word to insult herself during a video they were taping together in their home. The famous husband defended his wife in the comments after the public lashed out at her for using the word. Then the public lashed out at him, too. The couple happened to be black and some of the comments took on a racist tone. Some of the comments were worse than her use of the R-word because the comments were intended to hurt people. This woman’s use of the R-word was not intended to hurt anyone. She was not intentionally making fun of a person with disabilities. 

It is never okay to use the R-word as an insult toward yourself or anyone else. I want that to be perfectly clear.

It is also never okay to bully anyone. It does not matter what they did or said because bullying is never okay. Ever. 

There have been many times when family members and friends have used the R-word as an insult right in front of me and my son. I don’t fly off the handle and call them names. I don’t even say anything to them when they do it, even though it crushes me, especially when Josh is there and hears it, too. No one has ever used it in front of me to insult Josh or another person with intellectual disability, however. I would definitely say something about that, but I would not bully them. First, I’m not a bully. Second, you can’t teach someone not to bully others by bullying them. Third, it makes you look as immature as you think they are.

It is fine to say something to the person to educate them about the R-word, but be mindful of the person's intention for saying the word. Most people are not using it to hurt someone. They are making a joke. Yes, I know it’s not funny. Yes, I know it hurts people with disabilities. It hurts me, too. But to them, it is a simple, harm free joke. When they use it to insult themselves or a friend, they are not thinking about how it will affect someone with an intellectual disability. Most of the time, it slips out without a thought because they have used the word this way their entire lives. A situation like that can be a good opportunity to teach someone, in a gentle way, not to use that word to insult themselves or others. Bullying them, calling them names, ranting about how angry it makes you, just makes you look bad. It won’t make them want to stop using the word.

When you are dealing with a famous person, or someone you don’t know, keep in mind, it is possible they have never met anyone with an intellectual disability. It is not on their radar like it is on ours. Even when a person knows someone with an intellectual disability, they might not be around them enough to know how offensive the word is in our community.  I still hear people use the word midget, which is offensive to little people, and I hear people using sexual slurs, too. These don't push our personal buttons like the R-word does, but they are offensive words. Most of us don't feel the need to bully others when we hear these words being used, but we think bullying is okay when we are defending people with disabilities. It's not okay. Awareness about the R-word has not been around as long as awareness about the N-word, so we need to give it more time and continue to respond peacefully when we hear the R-word, rather than reacting impulsively.

Even when someone uses the R-word to insult someone with a disability, don’t stoop to their level by bullying them. That is just as bad as intentionally making fun of someone with disabilities.

If you want to help educate someone, make sure educating them is your intention. When we lash out after hearing the R-word, we often intend to hurt someone the way they have hurt us. Or, we simply don’t like that person and want to embarrass them. You have to decide what kind of person you want to be. If you want to be a peaceful person, educate others in a peaceful way. Give them alternative words to replace the R-word. And if you decide that lashing out makes you feel better in the moment, then don’t be surprised if you get offended a lot more often. The world is your mirror. 

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