Trigger warning: The R-word will be used throughout this blog for impact and clarity. It is not the intention of the author to engage in hate speech

I feel like I surround myself with wonderful women, women who are fun, successful, intelligent, great parents, great people. But sometimes great people need to grow and change.

This is to all the mommies out there who still use the R-word. This is not a high-horse or a moral high-ground. This is not me being too “woke.” This is not even me saying you are a bad person if you still have the R-word in your lexicon. This is me saying, “You are an amazingly smart woman and holding on to the R-word is ignorance.”

When spilling something, out comes, “I’m a total retard.” In hearing about someone’s ridiculous actions, you quip “He’s such a retard.” In a playful tone, you might exclaim after a mistake “I’m a ra-tard.” As you privately share about your husband’s inadequate habits, you might knowingly share, “He’s a re-re, if you know what I mean.” If you keep up with the latest slang, you might have started using ‘autistic’ as a replacement word or even ‘acoustic.’ When you notice someone doing something that you might not choose for yourself you might banter, “That’s so autistic.” 

Using the R-Word is Ableism

When I point this out ladies, and I share that these words are ableism, your responses are all very similar. Mostly, there is a “Come on, it’s just us.” Sometimes I get, “Oh, I forgot you don’t like that.” I even get, “I can say it because my kids, ya know…special.” Almost always, others might chime in and say, “It’s not bad, you know what I mean.” Sometimes someone will take me down a walk through history and say “It used to be the actual technical term” or fill me in that this word is part of our collective childhood. 

I was a child too with you and I learned that it’s hate speech to use these words. 

So, I stopped. 

I stopped entirely.

I didn’t just stop at my workplace or in front of my children. I didn’t just stop in public with people that I don’t know. I stopped entirely. That’s the thing, words change over time. The meanings of words change with time. We change over time. This word, the R-word, has changed over time. Now we know with certainty that this is discriminatory language. 

I remember how we used it in the 80s and 90s. I actually remember because it’s how it is used now. The issue is that we think it isn’t bad because we are not yelling it at someone. Not one of you fabulous females would walk up to an autistic person and say, “You’re a retard.” We would not do it because we know that this is discriminatory and hate speech.

It is so clear in each and every one of your hearts that you would not even consider engaging in this way. The reason is that you are not actually ableist in your heart. Your heart is inclusive of all kinds of diversity experiences. You are a kind and loving person. Because I know this about you, that is why I know you can stop using the R-word in any circumstance. 

This change matters because when you say this word in a private space or just to a few people or only with your close circle, you are still engaged in hate speech.

That is not who you are. That is not who you want your children to experience – a person who does not care that they are discriminating against a marginalized group.

When you say this word, you are saying that those people – disabled people, autistic people, neurodivergent people – are bad or lesser than you. 

I have created an easy litmus test for those that are still questioning taking on this change. Change out your R-word for the N-word and if that disgusts you and you’d never ever say the N-word, then stop using the R-word. They are one in the same. On occasion, I even get disagreement here, where women will share that “It is not the same.” When you take on this argument, what you are saying is that using discriminatory language is less bad if it’s towards disabled people rather than discriminating on race. Both are bad. Both are ignorant.

If you still want to keep this word as a relic of your past, consider this. Think about how many other words that you know and can use instead. Even if you don’t wholeheartedly believe that using the R-word is hate speech, be smart enough to use another one of your words. We all went to college. Lots of us play Scrabble.

Choose another word. 

Here are Five Reasons You Can Keep Using the R-word 

  1. You think you are better than disabled peopleIf you do, continue on. The R-word dehumanizes and devalues others. If that is your purpose because you are better than others, then keep on talking.
  2. You want to raise bigotsIf your goal is to raise your children into bigots, people that hate or refuse to accept specific groups including autistic people, then using the R-word furthers your goal. When you model language, your kids will learn quickly not only the word but your values and beliefs. If having a future generation of bigots sounds perfect, then keep on keeping on with your R-wording.
  3. You have a lot of autistic or disabled friendsSome people feel like it’s okay to use hate speech if you know and like someone within that group. If you want to further marginalize and create barriers for people that you love and like, go ahead and use the R-word.
  4. You like to move slower than our governmentIn 2010, federal law eliminated the word ‘retarded’. If you are a person that wants to move even slower than the government to engage in change, then the R-word is for you.
  5.  You don’t mind being an ableist a**holeEach and every time you use this word you are demonstrating your ignorance and disrespect for diverse ways of being human. If you want to continue being an ableist a**hole, then don’t stop saying the R-word.

This Change Matters

But I know you, smart and fun mommies. I know you can change. I know part of examining this change is that you have engaged in this pattern for so long that it might create a tension in you to see yourself as engaging in ableism.

This change is simple. The first thing to do is acknowledge that you are now clear on the R-word being discriminatory. Second, internally accept the challenge to create new habits and use other words for your experiences. Once embarking on this shift, you’ll need to learn to recover from your mistakes.

If the R-word is suddenly out of your mouth, recognize it and adjust it with clear and transparent language. This might sound like, “I apologize for that. I’m not saying the R-word anymore. It’s discriminatory.” Finally, be an activist and create experiences where other people can make this shift. When we commit to something as important as non-discriminatory language in all spaces, we create a better world.

In doing this ladies, I assure you, you will not miss this word. You will feel empowered that you have made an individual adjustment that has generational effects on each of us. 

Respect is my new R-word. 

What about you?

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