Thursday, December 5, 2013

Confession of a Former R-word User

I remember it like yesterday. I was probably only six or seven years old. I grew up in Southern California during the 70s and 80s, so I missed out on all the huge civil rights movement. To me that might as well have been ancient history. People are people, regardless of color and I never understood why people would ever think otherwise. So one day I was having a conversation with my mother and used the n-word. I,  not growing up in the South, had only heard that word a handful of times but thought this was what we called black people. I meant absolutely no harm. My mother angrily reprimanded me not to use that word. I questioned her with "why?" My mother responded, "that word is not a nice word. It hurts people." I argued, "but it's just a word". In my innocence I had no idea all the history behind that word. I honestly thought this was the word used to describe that race. I meant no harm. I didn't use it to attack or belittle anyone. I now know without even trying, that using that word does just that. Now understanding the full extent of the n-word, I would never use it. When I hear someone use that word, it deep offends me.

I bring this up as I have pondered over the last few weeks something that has burdened my heart. I hemmed and hawed because I most likely will step on some toes, but finally came to the conclusion that this issue will only improve if folks such as myself take the time to voice our opinions. After all, we cannot fix that which we have no idea is broken. Just as I found out how hurtful the n-word is to many people.

Let me preface this next account by saying I did not always have this opinion but because of the friends and family in my life, my heart has changed. Recently, a friend posted on a social networking site, that something was retarded. As I read her status, I felt my heart race, my face redden, and emotions of anger, sadness, and hurt flooded my body at the use of the r-word.  Why? I have loved ones with special needs who fight labels and stereotypes daily associated with that word. I am involved in a community of 1000s who also fight this fight daily. I know from personal experience and the anecdotes others have shared with me that the r-word is never said in positive note and is always used to paint a negative picture. I know the struggle of trying to instill a sense of self worth and value into someone who has been told by the rest of the world she would amount to nothing. I know the harm this word does.

I glanced down to see if anyone left a comment. I hate to point out what many folks think of as a PC misstep. In general, I am not into political correctness and can overlook something if I feel no real harm is done. I would have let it go, but what I read next horrified me. Someone left a comment letting my friend know in a gentle manner that the use of the r-word was offensive and hurtful to her. A back and forth banter of comments followed where my friend defended her usage of the word while the commenter tried her best to inform her how many people find the word hurtful. I felt as if I was leaving my sheep out for the wolves to devour. I decided to comment as well that I too was in agreement with the commenter. I wanted my friend to realize that many, many people take offense at the use of the r-word. This is not an isolated person getting bent out of shape over the improper use of a word. I wanted my friend to know that there is a very sizable community of people and families who struggle daily to undo the hurt and shame that word causes our loved ones. Our most vulnerable and innocent, who deserve to be protected and encouraged are instead made to feel less worthy each time this word is said or written inappropriately. Words such as dull, crazy, silly, asinine, dumb, idiotic, ridiculous, foolish, irritating, senseless, ludicrous, absurd, annoying, pointless, flighty, ditzy, and goofy paint a much clearer picture without denigrating an entire population of people.

What happened next is the reason why several weeks later I am still upset. My friend vehemently defended her usage of the word offering no apologies for offending anyone. Then several of her other friends also commented that we were the ones out of line; we are the ones who should get over it. I shake my head with sadness knowing that just because something is acceptable to the masses does not make it right. We appeared outnumbered and that saddened me.

Wondering who the original commenter was, I clicked on her personal wall to find several mentions of autism and special needs resources. My guess is that this commenter has a loved one who fights this label regularly. I do not know her but I am sure my friend does.  I totally get that not everyone has friends and family with special needs and would not be as sensitive to this issue. But just as I once innocently used the n-word and the r-word, I  now know that words can hurt, whether we intend them to or not. I made a conscious effort to eliminate those words from my vocabulary in the same way I stopped cursing once I was a parent. I didn't want my children to hear or use those words so I lead with my example.  Now you also know; so what will you do?

"...once our eyes are open, we can't pretend we don't know what to do. God, who weighs our hearts and keeps our souls, knows that we know, and holds us responsible." Psalm 24:12