Some responses are complimentary — others are not. And some, well, maybe it’s the egocentric side of me that compels my wife to remind me that I’m not the object of all the anonymous ire flung between usual posters.
This experience, as well as others, has reinforced what I have known all along; that the childhood ditty about sticks and stones, so often repeated within the sometimes cruel confines of a playground, is a lie. It’s a lie because, despite our cultural tendency to convey self-confidence outwardly, we ignore the effect of what goes on inwardly. The same thing occurs in the realm of political correctness. Naysayers bemoan their inability to keep up with what they deem an endless list of disingenuous and ultimately, meaningless, altruism. In taking this stance, however, such persons conveniently forget the power of the spoken word and that words do matter.
In fact, they matter so much that our collective eyes were glued to the television as a Los Angeles detective confessed his past use of the N-word during the O.J. Simpson trial. More recently, similar racial epithets created a political firestorm forcing the ouster of Trent Lott as the U.S. Senate majority leader. Truly, the N-word has found its rightful place in our society, as a wholly unacceptable conduit of spreading hatred.
Taking a page from the children’s program“Sesame Street,” today’s column is now sponsored by the letter “R” and the illicit word which follows it is “retard.”
In preparation for this article, I scoured the many legends on the Internet to find out the history of this word and how it became a descriptor for those with intellectual disabilities. Like a needle in a haystack, so is finding the truth on the mighty Web.
I did, however, find a story which referred to Italian immigrant children being called the “R” word because they were “slow.” (Online posters: When you read this at 2 a.m., please feel free to tell me your version of the real story.)
Do I really care if this story is the gospel? Absolutely not. What matters to me is that today’s disability community has universally decried this label; that whatever image the use of this word conjures up is negative and even hateful — and that reasoning alone is good enough for me.
Unfortunately, the validity of this argument has not translated to the mainstream. In a routine trip to the grocery store, self-deprecating neighbors will declare themselves as being just one of the “R’s” as they chat about their daily folly with one another.
Even President Barack Obama found himself in an embarrassingly inappropriate situation when he likened his bowling score to that of a Special Olympian as he tried in earnest to match wits with Jay Leno.
Similarly, Obama’s chief of staff, Rahm Emanuel, found himself in a similar foot-in-mouth moment when he referred to Congress by using the “R” word.
In the days, weeks and months that have followed, the obligatory calls were made offering apologies for these remarks and for this, I am grateful. But the best apology is yet to come — when we stop using the word altogether. After all, there are 24 other letters in the alphabet besides N and R. It’s time for a new sponsor.
Shawn Murinko is the state Department of Transportation’s ADA compliance officer and serves as a commissioner on the state Human Rights Commission. A member of The Olympian’s Diversity Panel, Murinko, who has cerebral palsy and uses a wheelchair, can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.