Stop using the “r” slur: The harms of thoughtless language

Stop using the “r” slur: The harms of thoughtless language

Hannah Moss, Contributing Writer

As Horace Mann continues to evolve into a more inclusive community, eradicating the use of the r-slur in conversations is essential. I have often heard students use the word as a casual insult or a replacement for “stupid” or “silly.” People who use this word do not realize that the r-word carries a much harsher meaning than its alternatives.

The offensive term is often used as a casual insult amongst friends. When people use it against someone else they are often implying that they are smarter or better than them which directly implies that developmentally disabled people are the opposite. The kids who use it do not realize the word’s demeaning history and how it was used harshly against an entire group of people.

Though ableism has only recently become a topic of public conversation, the hate and negative context behind the r-word extends back as far as the early 20th century. Once used as a medical term, the word soon became a standard for describing both people with developmental disabilities and people who are not smart — which is simply untrue. 

In various books, TV shows, and most commonly in conversations, the r-word is used to insinuate that someone did something silly or not worth respecting. The advertisement of the word even as a medical term put negative connotations on discussing those with developmental disabilities. Rather than discussing their differences, the use of the word only focused on their “weaknesses.” 

The r-word is extremely harmful when used to attack disabled people. Each time it is used to call something or someone stupid or worthless, it disrespects the disabled community. Whenever it is used, it implies that developmentally disabled people should be equated to the negative adjectives that society has associated with “the r-word.” 

This language is not only normalized in conversations but is also displayed on the internet for everyone to read. According to Special Olympics, an organization that provides developmentally disabled children with opportunities to engage in sports, 70% of all social media posts regarding developmental disabilities contained negative language, and 60% contained slurs. This statistic shows that the large majority of content about developmentally disabled people is hate, which is more than enough evidence that we need to take action as a community to work to reduce the levels of disrespect. 

One time in sixth grade, I was sitting on the bus on my way home from school, and next to me were a group of eighth graders who were using the r-word repeatedly in casual conversation. They were talking about something silly their friend had done but felt the need to keep saying the word. I finally mustered up the courage to tell them to stop, explaining to them how they should not casually throw the word around. 

One of them responded, “Why do you care so much — who do you even know that has Autism?” My older brother has autism and my whole life I have had strong feelings towards wanting to remove the word from everyone’s vocabulary. I looked him straight in the eyes and replied, “my brother.” Although that was enough to make him stop for the day, he continued to use it in conversation. This insinuated that he did not care enough about developmentally disabled people to change his language. 

Four years later, I walked into the library at school and heard someone in my grade use the word in casual conversation. Again, I calmly approached the situation and explained the ramifications of the term and why it should not be used. I once again was glared at and the students proceeded to use the word multiple other times in the next sentence. At that point, I felt helpless. I was trying to explain the harmful implications of an extremely hateful term, but I felt like I was talking to a brick wall. 

I realized that in order to get my message heard, I would have to display it on a much larger scale. Instead of dwelling on one person and their disregard for developmental disabilities, I looked at the school community as a whole. In my sophomore year, I decided to start the Autism Acceptance Club to bring awareness to the discrimination and hate towards the developmentally disabled community.

There are myriad reasons why you should not use the r-slur in your conversations. As of 2010, it is no longer a medical term, so no situation necessitates its use. Using the word as a replacement for a harmless word like “silly” or “imbecile” directly implies that developmentally disabled people are not as smart or unable to accomplish great things. 

Thousands of other words, which do not carry the same harmful meanings, will accomplish the same goal in the sentence. Choosing another word takes virtually no effort and contributes tremendously to ending the use of such a dehumanizing and harmful term. 

When members of our community hear the word being used, we must act with more urgency. The bare minimum an able-bodied person can do to show respect for developmentally disabled people is to not use a word that has only demonstrated hate and disregard towards their community. Instead of allowing a friend to keep using it, correct them. As we continue to become a more accepting school, we must continue to watch what we say and take steps towards correcting ourselves and our peers around us to eliminate the use of slurs and derogatory language.