Monday, October 01, 2012

On the "R" Word

As I've mentioned many times before, that although my life is not without struggle and challenges, I still consider myself to be wealthy! One of the main reasons behind that belief is my fabulous wife Suzanne. One of her greatest gifts is as a thinker who can write extremely well. The following is something she wrote recently, that I just HAVE TO post...

That word, the "R word" -- "retarded" -- is loaded. It's personally experienced as hurtful, demeaning and oppressive. It is tossed around carelessly everywhere, on social media, the train, in our schools, on television and in movies. And every time it happens it pushes a button that restarts those feelings of inferiority, mockery, exclusion and fear.

A whole class of people with developmental and learning disabilities and their parents (including me) and friends have explicitly asked that the rest of the community stop using this slur. The request to stop using it has been made -- politely, politically, through campaigns such as Spread the Word to End the Word Yet, its use is increasing in popular culture rather than declining, which sounds an alarm. Its constant, careless use sustains dominance and the resulting privilege at the expense of others who live a different experience, deemed by the culture as forever undesirable and invisible.

It's important for those of us working on ending injustice to be thoughtful about the power of language in shaping the cultural norms that ultimately drive social policy and behavior of individuals. We're all part of shaping of culture, and for demanding and creating a society that honors and protects all of us from oppression and exploitation -- even from eugenic targeting. During a time when we clearly see a rise in fascism happening, it's good to remember that fascists rely on each of us to signal for them which among us are most commonly excluded and held in low esteem by the general population -- and therefore, the most vulnerable to eugenic programs. Exactly what happened in Germany.

Yes, I'm all for free speech and have no desire to dictate, or have anyone else dictate what we shall be allowed to express. That would be just like the racists and fascists I oppose. But, this is much more important than being "politically correct." In fact, I believe that those of us who place a strong focus on language as one tool in shaping the course of events are commonly derided and dismissed as "politically correct" in order to keep fascism and its adherents on their historical course of oppression and elimination of the weakest among us.

My pledge: I am aware that the socialization of my white, heterosexual, educated and temporarily-abled mind and body has covered my eyes and ears with a veil that presents the world to me in a way that sustains oppression. I will read and listen intentionally to understand biases that I may not hold myself, in order to see more clearly. I seek the voice raised that is different from mine. I will strive to use my intellect and abilities with communication to promote peace and to uplift all of humanity. My purpose is to help people develop critical consciousness about themselves and the culture in which they live, a consciousness that also serves to actively confront all forms of oppression.

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