The R Word: You’re Not Offended Until it Affects You

Ah man. Last night I cleaned up my Facebook stuff a bit, and ended up missing the official “Spread the Word to End the Word” Day, today.  The word being the “R” word, retarded.

Hearing people use this word messes with my insides. Sadly, I used to use it myself. Just one of those culturally common words that I thought very little about. That is, until we discovered that our son has a significant intellectually disability. I remember being in the dressing room at Target hearing the workers laughing and cutting up. One girl said it. “You are so retarded.” The lack of sleep combined with my grief over our recent diagnosis did me in. I was in tears. When I walked out, the girls asked if I was okay. I shared with them how easy it used to be for me to use that word…until I had a son with an intellectual disability.  The girls just looked at me in shock. I could tell they felt awful. I had been in their spot many times. Throwing the “R” word around and cracking up. Mainly using it as a means of self-deprecating humor. Not so funny now.

buy a dictionary

I like this article (well, mainly #3) entitled “6 Arguments for Using the R Word…and 6 Reasons Those Arguments Make No Sense.” The author talks about “the hills we die upon” and that autism and the “R” word are two of the hills upon which she’ll do battle:

In case you haven’t figured it out by now, autism is one of the hills I will do battle on. Spreading the word to end the word is another. Let’s just take a moment and explore the stages of a person who uses this word and is corrected for it. Most of the time it’s a case of they-just-didn’t-think-or-know-better. They usually make amends, and we all move on. But there are others who cannot take being told their speech is offensive. These are the arguments usually used:

3. You can’t understand why I get so worked up over this word. I can’t understand why you get so worked up over defending your right to it. Hear what I am about to say. You’re not offended until it affects you (emphasis mine). Then you will be up in arms. So understand this is my up-in-arms moment and always will be. This is the hill I am willing to die upon. I have a son with autism so, of course, this is extremely personal to me. Look around, my friend; autism is everywhere. Closer to you than you might even be aware of, and I haven’t even touched on those with other disabilities. If you’re kind enough to hold a door for someone, why can’t you hold your tongue about a single word?

It boils down to this. Be kind. Compassion is missing far too often in this world. You may say, “I didn’t mean your kiddo,” but here’s the thing. You referred to somebody’s kid. Another human being who has a family and friends. Likes and dislikes. Strengths and weaknesses. Something to offer this Earth we all live on. If you have not already, I urge you to take the pledge to end the word at

We all have many battles to fight, but don’t let this be the hill you choose to die upon. Choose kindness. Choose empathy. Choose anything but this word.  Choose to have an open mind.

If you like quizzes, here’s one you can take. It’s called “Do You Get Why You Shouldn’t Say the ‘R’ Word?”

I still hear people using the “R” word. One of my dearest friends said it one day in an attempt to make fun of herself. We have a wonderful friendship and she is a very mature person with a sensitive spirit. I shared my heart with her, she sincerely apologized and thanked me, and I have never heard it come out of her mouth again. I have other friends/acquaintances (one who even works in special education) that will use the “R” word around me and they don’t think much about it. My stomach turns when I hear it. I tense up. I hope that campaigns like “Spread the Word to End the Word” will continue to open peoples’ minds and hearts to realize the hurt that it causes.

I do believe that the vast majority of people do not intend to be hurtful when they use the “R” word. We get so comfortable with using words that are common in our cultural. I am not immune. For a long time, I would make comments about “going to the funny farm” or ending up in the psych ward. Mainly goofy comments made in jest in reference to where I’d be if anything happened to my hubby. Then I read Ann Voskamp’s One Thousand Gifts book. She wrote about how hurtful it was to hear people make jokes like that when her mother had been in a mental institution after seeing Ann’s little sister run over and killed. Ouch. Wow. I had never ever thought about it like that. We live in a day and age where lots of people are struggling with mental illness. Something I shouldn’t flippantly joke about.

I think this “Not Acceptable” PSA is powerful and gets the point across. It’s geared toward a older audience.

If you are still using the “R” word, I encourage (more like beg) you to ditch it. It’s time.


2 thoughts on “The R Word: You’re Not Offended Until it Affects You

  1. Beka March 5, 2015 / 5:47 pm

    Good article, thank you so much for sharing… both in this blog post and bringing it to my attention when I said the word in front of you. It really did open my eyes when you told me, I had no idea I was being so careless with my words. And you’re right… I haven’t used the word since. So appreciate you spreading the word so that others can know and learn not to use the R word. The word really bothers me too, I am so ashamed that I used to use it. Live and learn. Thank you so much for being that friend who cares enough to say something lovingly!

    • Candace March 5, 2015 / 6:12 pm

      Sweet friend, I had no intention of sharing who this was. Thank you for commenting. I seriously wish it were this easy all the time for how people handle conflict. The fact that I was able to talk with you about it, speaks volumes about how comfortable I am around you and how much I adore and trust you. You have a beautiful heart and a sensitive spirit. Meant a great deal that you listened, thought about, and decided to make a change. You are so very dear to me!

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