The video above was first posted in October 2012. It is as valid now as it was at its release. John Franklin Stephens is incredibly thoughtful and eloquent in his open letter, and self-advocates brilliantly.
Allow me to preface this whole post – hell, this whole topic – with this: I am the luckiest sister in the world. My brother, John, is wonderful. He is the most loving, caring, sweet, and reliable person I know. And he also has an Down syndrome.
You can read a brief personal essay on John HERE, written in Spring 2013, and published in Chicken Soup for the Soul: Find Your Inner Strength.
Or you can read a more in-depth article HERE, written by the News Editor of the City College Express and featured in City College’s Mainline Magazine in Fall 2013.
Today, March 5, is the national day of awareness for “Spread the Word to End the Word.” Per the official r-word.org resources, the campaign “is an ongoing effort by Special Olympics, Best Buddies and our supporters to raise the consciousness of society about the derogatory use of the R-word and encourage people to pledge to stop using the R-word.
The campaign… is intended to engage schools, organizations and communities to rally and pledge their support and to promote the inclusion and acceptance of people with intellectual and developmental disabilities.”
This last part,
“to promote the inclusion and acceptance of people with intellectual and developmental disabilities”
is what moves me most.
Much of what I want to say on this subject has already been said by others. I find Meghan Morris’ 2013 piece in the Huffington Post to be well-thought-out and balanced. (You can read it HERE.)
In John C. McGinley’s article “What Really Happens When You Use the R-Word,” (found HERE) he goes into the intricacies of the issue at hand.
“Because the casual use of the words: “retard,” “retarded” and the suffix “-tard” have now become so deeply and passively ingrained in the contemporary vernacular, the insidious stigma that is perpetuated by the words indifferent application has been prosaically sanitized into a blasé “toss-off” in delivery and insensitive intent. And yet, however blithe the everyday practice of spicing up one’s speech with the words “retard,” “retarded” and the suffix “-tard” has become, the (presumably) unintended result is still the same.
A population of people, who has never done anything to harm anyone, is circuitously targeted and suffers from a trickle-down discrimination that is very real and very painful.”
Personally, there is nothing that will set me off faster than hearing someone say “retard.” Even typing that out made me cringe. In my mind, the word is so closely associated to mistreatment of my brother that I go straight into protective-sister-mode.
I cannot understand why anyone would choose this particular phrase over hundreds of other terms out there.
Next time you’re talking and find “retarded” passing your lips, pause and think before you continue. Your words carry meaning. Never forget that language affects attitudes, and attitudes affect actions.
Please do your part to end the use of the r-word.
More information can be found at www.r-word.org.