Don’t Use the R-Word

By Mara Shapiro

Mara Shapiro on the “R-word.”

2012 has proven to be an eventful election year. Though Democratic nominee President Barack Obama and Republican nominee Mitt Romney have both stirred up controversy through their dialogue (“binders full of women”), it seems that infamous Republican supporter Ann Coulter is by far the worst offender. On October 23, via Twitter, Coulter tweeted “I highly approve of Romney’s decision to be kind and gentle to the retard.”   The highly offensive slur was directed towards Obama.  Coulter’s tweet goes beyond a lack of professionalism; it’s a matter of respect for human beings with disabilities.

Coulter’s usage of the R word unfortunately isn’t an issue that West doesn’t face. At least once a day, I hear someone use the phrases: “Don’t be a retard” or “That’s retarded.” Students, like Coulter, defend this word by claiming that the words “idiot” and “moron” are in the same category. They’re not. People aren’t offended by those words anymore. However, many people, myself included, feel sick when we hear the R-word. I know that students don’t mean to offend those with disabilities, just as I’m sure Coulter didn’t intend to, but it hurts. It’s the same as saying “that’s so gay.”

According to American Heritage, “retard” has three main meanings: “1. developmentally delayed.  2. a derogatory term for people with disabilities.  3. socially inept or foolish.” When you call someone a “retard” it can be interpreted that you are calling them disabled, which has a negative connotation because the person clearly is not disabled. The word makes it seem like having a disability is something to make fun of. Or, by calling someone a retard, you’re calling them socially inept or foolish, which is equating a person with disabilities to having these qualities. It is shameful to me that when I try to explain these definitions to people, they choose to make light of it and continue with this wrongful word choice.

Many of my peers who use this word claim that those with disabilities aren’t offended. This simply isn’t true. After the Coulter tweet went viral, Special Olympian John Franklin Stephens wrote a letter to Coulter admonishing her tweet and also went on Piers Morgan’s television program to speak out. He told Morgan that “the word ‘retard’ is offensive and… should not be a symbol for someone who is dumb or shallow.”

That’s my issue with students using the word; they use it to mean stupid or weird. Can’t we all just say “don’t be stupid” instead of using the R word? If it’s not in my vocabulary, can’t it not be in yours? If one stops using the word even for an hour, it helps. Don’t simply “like” a Facebook status or a video that a friend post; actually stop using the word and tell those around you to stop as well.  It’s just a matter of respect for others.

For more information about the R word, click on this link.