The Power of Words: It’s Our Responsibility To Stand Up For Respect


Marci & Daisy

Me and my best buddy Daisy

This week, I felt the overwhelming need to share with those around me my many wonderful  experiences with Best Buddies and the power of words through Spread the Word to End the Word. It all started Monday afternoon, when I gave a persuasive speech on Spread the Word to End the Word, explaining why such words, as “retard(ed)” were so hurtful and misused. I explained that we should find a better r-word. This word being respect.  I was in awe of the incredible impact it seemed to have made on my classmates due to the handfuls of reviews I received in support of the cause.

This was an incredibly satisfying moment to be able to feel like I made a difference especially since speaking up about the r-word can be very difficult. Today was no exception to that.

I was in a morning class, listening to a lecture about roles in our workplace and at home with our families. The professor began to share a personal story; she was describing her sister as being the controlling, bossy, older sibling I’m sure most of us can relate to. She ended her story by making the comment, “Do any of you have a retarded sister, too? “

At this moment, I cannot explain the sense of emotions that overcame me. I contemplated calling her out on her remarks in class or confronting her after but knew my message would be better conveyed through words. I decided to send an email.

The e-mail:

People say that very few things often stand out from their educational experience as a college student but the few that do, perhaps it is just that one comment made by a professor, could make a lasting impact. Before today, I couldn’t give you an example of this but a simple discussion in your management class changed my perspective.The class was talking about roles (in the workplace and at home). You began to share a story about your sister. Starting off, it seemed harmless and humorous because everyone has that one family member that likes to be the boss or make things sometimes complicated for everyone. The comment that stood out to me above all other things, was your ending remarks, “Do any of you have a retarded sister, too?”

I understand that your use of the word “retarded” today was meant for humor not intentionally to harm but the effects of these discriminating innuendos are still there to be perceived by others. In a society that is so diverse and ever changing, it is important that we remain conscious of our actions and how they affect others. I must be completely honest with you, when I heard you so casually use this word, at this point in my life, I have never seen someone in a professional standing, especially an educator like yourself, show such a lack of unprofessionalism and disrespect. Educators are meant to set an example, and quite frankly, I’m not sure if I could follow yours.

It used to be you could call someone “retarded” when they did something stupid, dumb or if they were born with an intellectual disability. But the word “retard(ed)”, is now just another form of hate speech and is just as hurtful as any minority slur. These words are hurtful, insulting, and they lack compassion and understanding.

When I hear the word “retard”, I think of my best friend, Daisy. Daisy is a human-just like you and me but too many people use the r-word, “retard(ed)”, to degrade her because she has an intellectual disability. Although the r-word may be empty to you, it packs a whole lot of hurt and pain to me and many other people who have been blessed with special people in their lives.

Daisy has a contagious enthusiasm for life and unconditional love for everyone that crosses her path. Her smile can light up a room and I bet she would beat anyone in a card game of spades. Having an intellectual disability does not define who Daisy is. The demeaning use of r-word is just another barrier for Daisy and others like her face everyday. People with intellectual disabilities can accomplish great things.

“Before I met you and got involved in Best Buddies, I did not have many friends, or the courage to stand up for myself and to tell others, the word “retard’ is hurtful and makes me feel less of a person.” This is what Daisy told me months after we met. Because of my friendship with Daisy and others like her, it is my life-long mission to find a new word. This word is RESPECT.

To answer your question given in class, “What is your role?” One of my roles is, I am, and always will be, the best friend to someone who has an intellectual disability and advocate for change.

With that being, today, I implore you to think critically about the implications of your word choices. The R-word is so much more than just a word – it is a merchant of derision, scorn and, above all, exclusion. Instead, we should celebrate abilities, promote respect, and champion inclusion.

I invite you to join Spread the Word to End the Word and pledge today at www.r-word.org.

The response:

Marci:

I offer you my sincere apology for carelessly using a word that was hurtful and insensitive.  I appreciate your remarks and take them seriously.  I think you have a unique awareness and sensitivity as a result of your involvement with Best Buddies and your relationship with Daisy, and this speaks highly to your character and kind heart.   I think that also puts you in a position to serve as an advocate and to increase awareness and understanding among others as you have with me today.

I appreciate your comments and your advocacy for change.  Your words are very meaningful to me as I would never intentionally be hurtful to anyone. You have certainly increased my awareness of how easily that can be done without intent, and I will certainly digest your comments and embrace an increased awareness and sensitivity moving forward.

Thank you for sharing your thoughts and concerns with me.  Again I apologize for the use of the word and for the hurt and negativity it implied.

Don’t be afraid of how others will react to you, as humans it is not only our right but our responsibility to stand up for RESPECT. I challenge all of you to join me in my efforts for change. Today, we begin to celebrate diversity and show appreciation to those around us. We can begin to inspire and redefine the word. Let us Spread the Word to End the Word.

The Spread the Word to End the Word campaign asks people to pledge to stop saying the R-word as a starting point toward creating more accepting attitudes and communities for all people.  Language affects attitudes and attitudes affect actions.  Pledge today to use respectful, people-first language. Visit www.r-word.org to take the pledge or learn more.

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About Marci Gaines

I want to live a life designed in kindness, purposed in love. | Baton Rouge, Louisiana | Southeastern Alumni | M. A. of Philanthropy and Development

15 responses to “The Power of Words: It’s Our Responsibility To Stand Up For Respect”

  1. John David Arroyo says :

    Wow. I admire how you handled the situation! I’m sure it was difficult to hold back being upset, but your email hit it home. Great job!

    • Marci Gaines says :

      Thank you, John! I really appreciate you helping me with sharing this today. I hope more people feel inspired to share their stories too! You’re awesome. So thankful for a friend like you 🙂

  2. Nancy Auth Martin says :

    How wonderful that a new generation is tackling this age old slur. My eldest brother who is now 63 endured years of taunting and this word came to be one of the most hurtful things for him. I, in turn, taught my children to never use this word, even in jest as many their age were doing. It is painful to watch someone you love treated with this much disrespect. I chalked it up to ignorance but I am glad you spoke out.

    • Marci Gaines says :

      Nancy,
      I can relate to your hurt, and I am sorry you have endured this. Unfortunately it does happen, but it takes people like you to stand up and teach others about the implications of their word choice. I am inspired by your dedication to your family and thankful for people like you. Thank you for the words of kindness you shared, I appreciate them.

  3. Betsy Townsend says :

    bravo to you for standing up for people with disabilities with such a mature, respectful attitude

  4. Sheila Proteau says :

    Marci, I am amazed and humbled at your eloquent and thoughtful response. Good for you. Very proud of you.

    • Marci Gaines says :

      Sheila,
      Thank you so much for responding. It certainly is overwhelming receiving these responses and thank you for being one that took the time to share. I hope you enjoyed and passed along 🙂

  5. Desiree Lynne Cresta says :

    Amazingly written! My six year old daughter is special needs and I have to fight the urge to scream every time I hear that word. I’ve written many letters like that to try and convey my point and have succeeded in making my place of work r- word free, but my letters don’t hold a candle to how well yours was written! Myself, my beautiful daughter Aubrey and her siblings and father thank you for your courage to do what you did….and continue to do!

    • Marci Gaines says :

      Desiree,
      I am inspired by the parents like you. I have been working with people with IDD for many years now and I have no greater respect and appreciation for the loving courageous people like you. Thank you for responding, it means the world to me.

  6. Lisa Van Drese says :

    Thank you for helping your professor realize the importance of respect for everyone. I am finding myself having to ask people to use another word. It literally breaks my heart to think that people with challenges would have to work so hard to gain respect. This attitude begins at home, and parents need to teach their children to help others. Personally, I wouldn’t use the r-word to describe a person with a challenge. I consider them to be over-achievers, because they often have to work a lot harder to accomplish things the average person takes for granted. My two year old son has DS, and we wil never focus on anything but his abilities. God bless all of you for bringing about awareness.

    • Marci Gaines says :

      Lisa,
      You are so incredibly right when you say people with IDD are over-achievers. They are the real champions and ones to be inspired by. Because of your son and my friend, Daisy, I strive to share their accomplishments and promote change. Your son is so blessed to have such a loving mother like you.

  7. Marci Gaines says :

    Stand Up for Respect: Here my interview with Special Chronicles Podcast about my article: “The Power of Words: It’s Our Responsibility To Stand Up For Respect”.

    You can download/listen in iTunes or online at SpecialChronicles.com/Podcast60.

    Thanks for the support!

Trackbacks / Pingbacks

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