By Alex Villanueva
Mental retardation is a phrase used to describe people with intellectual disabilities. However, when the word “retard” is used to describe someone or something considered negative, it becomes just another hate word, now known as the “R-word.”
Taking that into consideration, it is important to be mindful of the word’s use and to what context it’s being applied, as individuals, and by extension, their families, can fall subject to its potential for insensitivity. When hate speech is not addressed, it becomes a social norm, as in the still all-too-frequent use of the r-word.
Groups across the United States are taking action to counteract the use of the R-word. The first step is getting people to recognize that casual use of the word is damaging. Seven years ago, the website rword.org, launched the “Spread the Word to End the Word” campaign to build awareness in order to stop the use of the R-word, and they have seen lots of progress (click to learn more).
When a person commented that going after hate speech was a “waste of time,” activists quickly pointed out that hate speech is the first step in a chain of hate, moving from words to action. We must not forget that in Nazi Germany, developmentally disabled people were routinely killed.
The “Ladder of Prejudice” is a device that highlights how the continuum may start with hateful words and extend from there, not unfamiliar to the history of human hate. Therefore, it is important that these actions are recognized and we work to handle it as soon as possible with both youth and adults alike.
The Ladder of Prejudice and more info can be found at tolerance.org/exchange/ladder-prejudice.
Alex Villanueva is an intern for Not In Our School.