The “R-word”: a slur that was originally a medical term used to describe people with intellectual impairments, is now at the forefront of harmful rhetoric used in our society today. It is as dangerous as any other slur or form of hate speech but appears more prevalent and casual. Why is that? Why is it that a slur towards the disabled community is more comfortably said than any of the others? Why is it that in practically every living unit on campus, the word is uttered daily without a second thought?
Consider what is meant by using the r-slur casually to your friends, where it may seem an innocuous enough use of the term among close company. You might reason that no one in your company would take the term as a personal affront to their identity – surely, none of us at Wabash could account for ourselves for using the term in reference to its historical victims – but what does it mean that we are so comfortable and unthinking in our use of the term towards our friends? The offense doesn’t cut short within our circles – in its casual and repeated use, we reinforce the term as sufficient language for describing people and their behavior. When we give oxygen to such language, we sustain its harmful meanings and continue to marginalize those for whom the language was built to reduce.
Additionally, humor is not an excuse to spew artifacts of hate. Even if you do not believe you are an ableist, your use of this slur innately is, and there is no way around that. Just because it was “just a joke” does not make it okay. As members of the Wabash community, we should hold ourselves to a higher standard than allowing humor to be a trojan horse for hate speech and harmful rhetoric.
These claims might seem obvious, well-worn, or possibly tedious to some on campus, but we encourage those who find themselves comfortable (or perhaps, indifferent) with this ableist language to think critically about how this slur could still find a home at a school that prides itself on gentlemanly conduct. We implore you to rethink the ease with which you say this word, as well as how easily you may accept others’ use of the word. Even if you don’t mean to be hurtful, saying this word as synonymous with “dumb” or “idiotic” equates the disabled to such things. You simply cannot say this word without innately reducing the disabled to less than, and we ask that, in the pursuit of a more inclusive and thoughtful community, we collectively abolish such language from our vocabulary.