Taking back the R-word


Over the past few months I have felt a growing sense of discomfort in relation to the r-word.

The use of the words retard and retarded is at best borne of ignorance or thoughtlessness and at worst is deliberately, maliciously and serially insulting and offensive.

  • even and perhaps especially when used in the clinical sense, by so called professionals

There didn’t seem to be anything that that I could add to the understandable and ongoing outpouring of outrage from the social media Autism community.

  • and there still isn’t!

This post isn’t about outrage, it is about empowerment.


What’s in a word?

A few weeks ago I learned about a campaign to stop the use of the R-word and checked out their website.

  • Seems I live a more sheltered life than I realized :-/

Their goal is to:

‘Eliminate the demeaning use of the R-word’ which I fully support, except for one thing…..

It isn’t actually a campaign to eliminate the R-word!

It’s a campaign to eliminate the demeaning, malicious and frankly destructive use of 2 words:

  • retard (a noun)
  • retarded (an adjective)

To my knowledge, nobody has ever been berated for saying ‘r-word’ in a derogatory way.

  • nor has anyone to my knowledge ever said ‘r-word’ in a derogatory or demeaning way


Hog tied

When people understandably protest the use of ‘retard’ or ‘retarded’ they rarely mention the actual words.

  • they refer to the ‘R-word’

The result of which is to tip the game in favor of the person who has used the words ‘retard’ or ‘retarded’

He or she KNOWS that there is power in those 2 words, just by seeing how people always react to them, over and over again.

  • and he or she knows that ‘R-word’ doesn’t come close to matching that power!

This isn’t just a case of going into a fight with one hand tied behind our back.

  • We are actually being hog-tied
  • and we are hog-tying ourselves!



I would like to suggest that we in the Autism community are NOT being derogatory if we refer to those 2 words when we protest their use.

  • This applies equally to any other group or person that is made the subject of these offensive words

I would also like to suggest that IF we mention the words ‘retard’ and ‘retarded'(instead of R-word) when we protest their use, our message is empowered and WE are also empowered, individually and as a community.

This doesn’t just apply to the words ‘retard’ or ‘retarded’ either:

One of the most powerful responses to an accusation (or a generalization) is to turn the accusation or comment around.

  • Not as an angry response
  • Just repeating the key word back to the accuser

Try it for yourselves:

A: ‘I thought that was really thoughtless/irresponsible/careless (fill in the blank) of you’

B: ‘Thoughtless?’/’Irresponsible?’/’Careless?’

The empowerment here, is that we are not reacting emotionally

  • We are responding thoughtfully (instead of taking the bait)
  • We are using the accusers own words
  • We are responding with curiosity, rather than judgment (and who knows what else)

When we respond (instead of reacting) with the actual words used, I believe they carry a greater potency than that of the accuser.

  • Because we haven’t reacted in kind
  • We have responded thoughtfully
  • the full force, significance and implication of the insult is directed back at the accuser
  • like holding up a mirror
  • but without the background noise of an emotional and judgmental reaction, justified as it may be

and unless he or she is a sociopath (and I am using that word in its pure clinical sense) they will likely feel:

  • a sense of SHAME

Let them see it, let them feel it, really feel it.

Let them discover for themselves that their words destroy people’s joy, dignity and self-respect.

Not with a sanitized acronym but with the full force of the despicable noun and adjective that they are:

  • Retard
  • Retarded

The real R-words.


A different drum

People are rightly outraged, disgusted, hurt and feel contempt for those calling them, or perhaps worse still their loved ones:

  • Retarded
  • Retard

It may take great courage and a leap of faith, but try and give yourself permission to properly identify those offending words:

  • Feel the power that comes with the Truth, when you are in the right

Those 2 tiny words are NOT the exclusive property of the ignorant, the thoughtless and the malicious.

  • for their cruel amusement

You are committing no offence when you remind them that they used those words.

If that is a bridge too far for you, I respect your choice, I feel your pain and I am on your side because I have been there.

  • and I say this with reverence

My goal here is to offer perhaps a slightly different perspective on how we respond to demeaning insults.

To help our community to take back the r-word, empower ourselves and disempower the ignorant, the thoughtless and the malicious.



There is so much more to the emotive issue of the use of the words Retard and Retarded, which could easily occupy another 5 or 6 posts.

I chose empowerment, in response to what I see as a crisis of disempowerment, about which our community thus far, seems to have been silent.

I have wrestled long and hard over this subject and I need to acknowledge someone whose words finally persuaded me that I needed to write this post.

Quentin Tarantino was being interviewed by Sway Calloway about his latest film Django.

Tarantino talked about the personal struggles he had in using 100’s of Black-American extras as slaves.

He even considered filming in another country, to give the movie a ‘once removed quality’ from the historical tragedy!

Finally he took a meeting with his friend Sidney Poitier whose advice was to: Man up!

  • Stop being afraid of the movie
  • and be faithful to the TRUTH (my paraphrase)


Here’s the interview in full (ffwd to 2.20 for the ‘Man up’ segment)


1 Comment (+add yours?)

  1. Cassie Zupke
    Feb 23, 2013 @ 17:43:51

    I agree with your post. Words have the power we give them. And really, the problem is that people are insulting folks by comparing them to people with intellectual (or other) disabilities, thereby demeaning people with disabilities. Whatever words they use don’t matter — it’s the practice that’s insulting. If we make the word retarded unacceptable but then people start using whatever the new politically correct word is as an insult (which is what often happens) then have we really solved anything? We shouldn’t be saying “Don’t use the word retarded.” We should be saying “Quit insulting retarded people.”


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: