Commentary

Recognizing the R-Word

I was rendered speechless when the little boy pointed to the television screen and uttered a derogatory slur towards the individual on the television screen, who had an unidentified mental illness and noticeable physical disability. I knew he was too young to fully understand what he was saying, but I was stupefied and unable to respond quickly. I did not know how to even begin to explain the stigma associated with the R-word to a second-grader.

While the R-word was originally a somewhat neutral term used in medicine to label people with cognitive, intellectual and developmental disabilities, doctors have since switched to less pejorative terms to better classify various conditions. Without any formal usage, the word today is a blatantly discriminatory slur. In fact, the field of medicine, alongside the field of social justice, condemns the use of the word. Still, the R-word has slipped into everyday American slang as a categorical term for people with different abilities than the majority and as a synonym for “stupid” or “dumb.”

The damaging connotations of the slur arise from the inferred combination of these two meanings. All too frequently, I hear my peers casually express their dislike for something by calling it the R-word, without considering the feelings of differently abled individuals and the people close to them. The colloquial use of the R-word ultimately acts as a setback to equality for individuals of varying abilities and sensitivity for the struggles of the disabled community.

Looking back, I think that speaking up about the issue would have been the best course of action, even when dealing with a second-grader. Those who have been in a similar predicament as myself should constantly remind their families to be respectful of those of other backgrounds and abilities and educate their family and friends about the connotations associated with the specific label. If someone’s language makes others around you feel uncomfortable, you should voice your discomfort. Then, perhaps, more people can understand the extremely harmful effect that just one word can have.

_Avery Jonas is a three-year Upper from Brooklyn, NY., and a Copy Associate for _The Phillipian_._