Having a child born with Down syndrome is an education in about a million different ways, most of them good. From Jillian, our family has (re)learned the power of kindness and what it means to be empathetic. We’ve discovered the magic of the moment. Jillian slowed us down, never, ever a bad thing the way our lives are today. She rarely has a bad day. Her actions make us wonder why we ever have one.
Indirectly, Jillian also showed us the power of language. Words are perception and too often, perception is reality.
We have effectively taboo-ed the N-word. It is seen nearly universally as hateful. I have changed my position re “Redskins”. As a sports journalist who works in the words business, I should have realized the power of the pejorative. There is context and intent, of course, and each should be taken into account. There is no positive context or intent associated with the R-word.
It’s time to get rid of it. Past time, actually.
No one has ever used that word to describe or deride my daughter, thank goodness. Kids were never mean to Jillian. They became distant instead. Sometime late in elementary school, kids stopped inviting Jillian to their sleepovers and birthday parties. That was awful, but it didn’t perpetuate a stereotype. Thankfully, I’ve never heard the R-word used in her presence.
It’s out there, though. LeBron James has used it publicly at least twice in the past four years, in reference to media questions he didn’t like. George Clooney used it in an Oscar-nominated movie, The Descendants, in 2011.
It’s a useless word. It needs to go away.
Here’s a great story from ESPN.com, about the efforts of Cleveland Browns all-pro cornerback Joe Haden, whose concern is prompted by his younger brother, who has a cognitive disability. Haden is a spokesman for Spread The Word To End The Word. Have you heard of this organization?
“Open up your vocabulary, people,” Haden says in the ESPN.com story. “The R-word is hurtful, hateful and ignorant. Like the N-word, it should not be part of our language.”
Henry David Thoreau said, “It’s not what you look at that matters. It’s what you see.”
Anyone taking the time to See our kids, rather than simply Look at them, would never consider using the R-word again.
Expect. Don’t Accept.
Thanks for reading.