Wednesday, March 7, 2012

3.7.12 - Is The R-Word Just A Word, Or Is It A Reflection Of Intolerance In Our World?

Today is March 7, 2012, which is the Spread the Word to End the Word Day.  If you haven't done so, you can visit here to take the pledge to stop the use of the R-word.

This is cross-post from our website called The R-Word Reporter, which is meant to be a place of education, awareness and empowerment.

We hope you will consider, even if you don't understand, our passion about this. 

Happy Wednesday!

The R-Word Reporter

The reason I started The R-Word Reporter was because we attend a lot of movies and I was tired of hearing the R-word ("retarded" for those who do not know) used consistently in many of the movies we were paying money to go and see.  I searched high and low on the internet for a place to try and find out whether or not the R-word was used and in which films. Unfortunately, I never found such a place and decided that it would be nice to have a place where I could compile this type of information for our family and for others who are also offended by the casual use of the R-word in pop culture.

The purpose of The R-Word Reporter is to empower consumers like you and I to make informed entertainment decisions. To provide us with knowledge and information before we take our families to see a movie, watch a television show, read a book or even listen to a song.  This is not meant to be a place to create boycotts.  This is not a place of hostility or anger. It is meant to be a place to provide knowledge, education, consumer choice and hopefully social change.  

Some people say, "It's just art and you shouldn't try to interfere with creativity."  Other people say, "It's just a word."  And still others say, "It's not real life, so it shouldn't bother you."

There are others who say they are offended when they hear a celebrity or someone else use the R-word in an "off the cuff" manner, but not when they hear it in a movie or a television show.

My personal stance on this aspect is that as humans we sometimes mess up.  We sometimes use words that are not the kindest or the best choice.  We sometimes speak before we think.  While I really hate hearing people casually use the R-word to describe themselves or something else, I also have no ill-will towards people who use the word without thinking and then feel bad for using it. 

What does concern me with the excessive use of the R-word in pop culture (ie: songs, movies, books, tv) is that it takes premeditation and forethought to use the R-word in such contexts.  Also-- when a character uses the R-word in a movie or television show, it just puts that word back into common lexicon and makes it appear "okay" to use that word.  Using it to "develop" a character or show a character's flaws is really not justified, in my opinion.  There are many, many other words that can be used and I have yet to see a film in which the R-word is used in a kind, meaningful or even an educational manner.

So we ask, why is it still socially acceptable to still use the R-word?  Is it because, as a society, we fear differences?  Is it because we don't know how to interact and live side by side with individuals who might be a little slower in their speech?  Is it because we fear that by campaigning for the respect of individuals with intellectual disabilities that we might somehow be associated with them?  What exactly is it?  Why doesn't our society, as a whole, stand up for individuals who have a disability and fight for them and advocate for them wholeheartedly?

Why is it okay to make fun of people who have an intellectual disability?  Why is it okay to call someone a "retard" in a movie or in a book?  Why are the n-word and the f-word no longer socially acceptable, but the r-word is?  Why is that?  

I would be remiss in saying that this group of individuals who have been called "retarded" can't stand up for themselves, because that is simply not true.  But-- this group is still a group that society, as a whole, seems to think is okay to bully, to pick on and to label with a hateful word-- the R-word.

My last post on "The Grey" stirred up some interesting comments.  And by interesting, I actually mean hurtful, hateful, angry and somewhat scary comments.  I really had to think hard about moving forward with this blog.  I had to give myself a serious pep talk about getting a thick skin and not being afraid of such statements as the following that were left in the comments:

"Blogs like these border on being overzealous and actually are going to make people that are on the fence decide that this cause is going too far & turn them off to doing what is right."

"Mentally Retarded is the official clinical name for the disorder.  If you can't handle that, you might as well jump off a bridge, because the medical association has no such qualms about calling it what it is, mostly because they're not a bunch of fragile, hand-holding helicopter parents.  There are people starving to death in the streets of our own country, and you're worried about a dubiously offensive term? Get real. Grow up. Welcome to life."

"This whole movement is utterly ridiculous, it isn't the mentally disabled that are offended or marginalized by the "r-word," its the self-righteous parents and other bored, humorless, politically correct suburban housewives who desperately need a cause to champion in order to make their lives seem worthwhile." 

On the other side, were some incredibly supportive and inspiring comments that helped me realize that there are many, many others out there who would also like to see the use of the R-word disappear: 

"Ultimately the culture we live is a cycle, culture affects art, art affects culture. We are just doing our part to affect it. Silly? I don't think so. Naive to think we can affect it without a fight? yep. But I will make my silly effort none the less."

"In response to Anonymous, I would just say I am 33 years old, and have said many things in my life that I regret saying. Sometimes I would regret it as it was coming out of my mouth, other times I was just not aware that I was hurting anyone and felt terrible later when it was pointed out to me. Now as a parent of 3 beautiful children, one who happened to be born with T21, hearing the r-word cuts through my being like I have just been tazed. This stunned feeling is then followed by rage, which I would assume is a protection response like a lion to its cub. I am not uber PC or any crazed polictical fanatic on either side, I am just aware now that these words (whether used with malice or just as an emphatic descriptor, not having anything to do with a disability) hurt those who have the disability and their loved ones, who are only trying to protect their own from unnecessary ridicule."

"I love this site as it gives a chance to educate so many. I love to talk about the power of the R word. I also would love to take responsibility for giving it power because that also might mean I could get that power back. But unfortunately none of us can do that so easily. We did however come together recently when the power of that word was used to deny a child an organ she needed to live. Yep, we all got together and said NO! You can not use the power of that word to say this child has less value than another. So if some think we are over zealous then I say we have every right to be. This unfortunately is the power of that word.  And, if a movie takes you away from the movie, from the character, then the movie did a bad job. Editors spend hours combing footage for any inconsistency that might make us the viewer "leave" the film. When this word is said, overzealous or not I "leave" the film. I hear nothing but that word for the rest of the film. So many of us are just trying to say we do want the power of that word back. We do want you to be respectful Mr. Producer and let us enjoy your film too."

"Dear Anonymous, 
We don't need to get real as we already are very very real. Nor do we need to grow up - we are very grown up. And above all else, we already do welcome life and have no intention of jumping off a bridge no matter how difficult life gets. Some studies suggest that the mental stress of parenting a child with a disability is comparable to the mental stress of combat. That doesn't sound like fragility to me. That sounds incredibly tough.You are right though, we do tend to reach out our hands to hold onto each other.But, I am thinking that perhaps you meant "hand-wringing" instead? Well, we don't have time to sit around and wring our hands do we? If you knew anything about parenting a child with a disability you would know that much of what we do is work towards the day our children can live independently in a community that welcomes and supports them. We don't want to hover over them forever, as your helicopter parent term suggests. We are working together to make life(as in the world) a better (some would say a more welcoming!) place for our children to grow up in, free of discrimination, prejudice and hatred that is well-documented throughout history towards people with intellectual disabilities. While that sounds like a tall order, I would also like to say that we are also quite prepared take on people like you who would belittle and ridicule our efforts. And just so you know, there is nothing dubious about the offensiveness of the word retard. It IS offensive. So, Anonymous, what are YOU doing to make the world a better place?"

"I am all for free speech, but it ends when you mock a defenseless human being. The "R" word does just that, despite the defenses people throw at you for it's use. A word of advice to you people that use it, educate yourselves, then step back & think how you would feel being on the receiving end. Then find a cause & start helping & supporting people that are of different needs than yours. It feels really good!"

"YES!!!Finally a great coverage on this subject of the R-word being used in movies, TV series in productions. I have a son with Down syndrome who is totally devastated every time he sees or hears the use of the R-word in a movie he's spent his hard earned money on. When we see a theater showing a movie which uses the R-word in it he asks me to go meet with the manager of the theater so he can tell them not to show that movie. He's passionate about getting writers, producers, actors to listen to the pain and suffering they cause by the use of it in their productions just so they can have monetary gain to add to their millions they already have. Our children with disabilities and low income spend a fortune on movies, music, and numerous hours in front of the TV because they have no other escape since many of them don't drive or have friends who pick them up and take them out. It isn't just Hollywood that feels it's OK to use such hurtful word in their productions believe it or not even the closest family members like fathers or mothers or siblings etc make excuses when they hear the R-word used. Stop making excuses people!! Our lives are difficult enough raising our disabled children with self esteem, confidence, and happy why should you make it harder for us by tearing them down with the use of such cruel word. It's damaging so stop it already!"

Dear Readers-- those are your words and thoughts.  You have spoken and so we move forward.  I have been gathering a wonderful resource list of movies, shows, books and even songs that use the R-word and will be posting it in the near future. If you would like to add anything, please email it to me or leave it in the comments.  

In the meantime, here is part of the very personal reason I am so passionate against the use of the R-word in pop culture and society.  

In 2010 we were pregnant and found out at 13 weeks into the pregnancy that our son had a septated cystic hygroma, hydrops (ie: fluid) around his heart and body and approximately a 2% chance of surviving.  We then found out about a week later that he also had an extra 21st chromosome-- also known as Down syndrome.

Throughout the pregnancy we later learned that he had a large hole in his heart that would need surgically repaired.   In the last trimester he developed ascites (a fluid build up) on his abdomen.  His birth was a miracle for our family. 

During his first year of life, Joey wore a helmet to correct a flat spot on his skull.

When he was 9-months old he survived open heart surgery.

He is an incredible little boy who brings joy and delight to everyone who meets him.  

Every single day he works harder than the day before to do the things that you and I might take for granted like eating, drinking, crawling, talking and hopefully one day walking without gait-trainers. 

During our pregnancy and now through Joey's life, I have learned that that R-word is commonly used to describe people who might be considered intellectually slow or not as intelligent as other people.  We have also learned that it is a word that many people use to describe individuals who happened to be born with an extra chromosome and have Down syndrome.  Through every struggle and milestone our son faces, I take more seriously the use of the R-word because of the amazing spirit and attitude our son has towards life.  I dread the day when he is old enough to realize that when some people use the word "retarded", they are possibly talking about him. 

Because of him, I now know how hurtful the R-word can be.  Because of him, I have learned that he is in no way retarded. He might learn to do things slower than his "typical" friends and peers.  He might start crawling and walking at an older age.  

But his heart is the size of the sun and his spirit the size of the universe.  

This baby boy is in no single way what some elements of our society consider a "retard". 

Because of him, I am passionate about educating and spreading awareness about Down syndrome and about the use of the R-word.

Because of him, I am working on becoming better person, mom, wife and friend.

Who makes you a better person?  Would you do anything for them?  

Please join us today to help celebrate and pledge to Spread the Word to End the Word

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