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Dad, Mom, and baby Meghan

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Monday, August 11, 2008

The R word, my 2 cents

I have been reading for the past few days about the controversy surrounding the movie Tropic Thunder. I do not like hateful language, but what's more, I do not like hateful intent. Sometimes people use the R word in ignorance, sometimes they just do not think there is anything wrong with it, just like I used the N word as a child, I had no idea it demeaned anyone, not until I found a new friend who was African American and said it in front of her. You know up until that time, I did not know it even meant African American people, I thought it was just a word like any other, and unlike the cuss works I got spanked for using, I don't remember getting into trouble for using it.

So I used the N word while I was a guest at a friends home, and my new friend Jo Ann was hurt. Her father made me go home, and I cried all the way home because I did not understand what was wrong. I cannot remember how old I was or what grade I was in, but this was in the 60's. My parents did not use the N word that I recall, but kids at school did, my sister and I did and I think I knew it was slightly naughty, but I honestly cannot tell you for certain that I did. I do know I was terribly ashamed of myself that day.

I came home crying and asked Mom about it, she was not a bigot and rarely had cruel things to say about anyone, I was afraid she would be mad at me but she patiently explained to me why it was not nice to use that word. Mom explained to me that I was to use the word BLACK to describe folks of color (exactly what she said, this was before AA was more commonly used) I did not understand black either, but I did what my mother told me.

So I went back to Jo Ann's house to apologize, I wasn't sure her dad would even let me in the door, he was so angry with me and I was afraid of him, but the look on his daughters face when I used the N word compelled me to return and say I was sorry. I was so scared as I timidly knocked on their door, Jo Ann answered and told me her daddy said we could not play anymore, so I plead my case. I don't remember what I said, but I do remember being forgiven and allowed to play with Jo Ann again.

Jo Ann was what Mom called slow. She did not go to regular school, I know now that she didn't because her IQ that was too low for "normal" school. (This was before IDEA as well) Since she seemed a couple of years younger so I did not expect to see her in my recess, but I knew she never rode the bus. She was my age though I remember that.

Kids in the neighborhood avoided her, they made fun of me because I wanted to spend time with her, they did that for two reasons, neither of which were comprehendable to me I certainly did not understand anyone caring about someone who was slower at learning than I was. I had cousins with Down syndrome, all I knew was that they never got into trouble for being mean, but they seemed like regular girls to me, but the grown ups whispered about them a lot. I also had a beloved uncle with crippling RA in a wheelchair; I loved my Uncle Jack, and never understood people having issues with folks in wheelchairs either. I honestly did not even know that the R word pertained to my cousins with Down syndrome; I thought it meant someone doing silly stupid things. That was the context I always heard it used in.

So I thought Jo Ann was the neatest little girl, she was sweet and kind, we had so many good times together, but they were only there a short time, and one day I came home from school and they were gone. I lived in a Mobile Home Park aka as a Trailer Park, yep, I got called names for that too, Jo Ann and her dad were in a travel trailer and only rented the space for a short time, but she never told me that. I never did get to tell her goodbye either, and I never forgot how badly that one word hurt my friend, I think I still feel ashamed of myself for it deep down.

I think people are curious folk, while I know first hand how much words can hurt us; we try so hard to find more acceptable ways to describe people so we do not offend them. I was a white haired, bland looking little girl who grew up in a trailer court and never wore shoes in the summer, well; imagine the fun folks living in nicer homes had with me. I think my sister still lives with the stigma of growing up where we did. We had a nice home, always spotless, nice yard, fruit trees, veggie gardens, a loving Mother (strict father) and lots of love. When we were children, we loved our life; it was not until high school that we learned there was anything wrong with where we lived. I heard the term "trailer trash" for the first time as freshman. This from folks living in run-down homes, literally crumbling to the ground; we had a brand new trailer, we felt pretty good about ourselves. LOL

Words hurt though, hearing trailer trash did not bother me as much as they do my sister, but others words thrown at me did. I guess it depends on how folks treat you about it, I do not feel ashamed of where I grew up, she does, the term "Trailer trash" wounded her severely.

The N word wounded my friend Jo Ann, and the R word harms so many more people, as it does not play favorites and affects everyone of every creed and color. It was not until my daughter Meghan was born though, that I objected to it as much as I do now. I used it myself, when I made a mistake I would say; "Well that was a retarded thing to do” or I would tell my sons who were being goofy "Stop acting retarded". After Meghan was born the rude stares began, and the later the children who would run away from Meghan at Mc Donald’s or the Mall playground. It began to happen more and more as she grew older and I began to see that parents did not even teach their children about kids born with developmental, emotional, or physical differences, that even the parents seemed afraid or hateful towards my daughter. (“Stay away from her honey, she’s SLOW” or “Come over here and leave her alone”) I began to wonder if they believed Down syndrome was contagious. In the 7 years since Meghan was born I began to see how very hurtful the R word truly was, not just to her, but to my family, how peoples ignorance and fear let them revile my daughter and make fun of her instead of trying to befriend her/us and learn about how truly special she is, how she is more like them than different.

It was not until we told friends and acquaintances that we were adopting two more daughters with Down syndrome that their true feelings emerged. It was OK for us to have a daughter born to us with Down syndrome (well most felt that way), but to actually WANT MORE. Were we insane, and then began the “Will my taxes pay for them” and worse, they just stopped emailing, calling, and most walked away forever, why? What is it that people fear about anything or anyone who is different from themselves?

Actions hurt us, words can hurt us as well, they do hit like a fist and the wounds, though not physically apparent, take longer to heal.

I believe in people first language, I believe with all my heart that who we are should not be defined by how we look, walk, see, hear, think, or where we live…or by our IQ. I also believe that making fun of people with Down syndrome, CP, or other developmental issues has been fair game for Hollywood for a very long time (Mr. Magoo, Laurel and Hardy, Jerry Lewis). For so many years, they made fun of people of different nationalities, creeds, colors, religions, and as more and more lawsuits made it economically unsound for them to continue, they went after the last minority they could, that good old SHOCK VALUE sells tickets don't ya know. It has always bothered me that they felt it was OK to do this, but it bothered me more after Meghan was born, and like anything else in the world, we tend not to notice it unless it directly affects our lives and people we care about. I plead guilty of that as I did and probably still do the same with many other very important social issues.

However I do not like the new terms used for people who do not learn as fast, grow as fast, see or hear as well as, or move as fast or the same as "average" folk, they play around with different ways of say the same thing. Just like the R word, time will come when the new terminology is used in hateful derogatory ways, changing the words will not change the attitudes. We need to work on the reasons people are hateful and unkind, not just change the words they use against others. Yes, and I realize that that may never be possible, as people like to cling to hatred and their hurtful beliefs, but I dream of a better world nonetheless.


Kathy said...

Thank you for sharing the dream. It is so sad that in this day people need the simple messages "It hurts." and "Just stop." to see the light. I hope that the better world stops being a dream and becomes a reality.

GoldenAngelsWorks said...

I agree with you Kris. So many use words that are so hurtful.

ellen charge said...

agree agree did you know that the r in charge acutaly used to or does stand for retdardation mental or groth retardation now its renal abnormalaties there r still thoses who say growth retardation mental retardation but i reckon if we say delay or behind or below average soemthign like that i will say the r word is a big topic often on the charge lsit serve u should c it one day ill put some of it on my blog and u can see tho i believe u know but there r many out there who wouldnt right

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