Monday, October 29, 2012

On Ann Coulter and the R word

I know this is not going to sit well with everyone. I just feel the need to address this issue in light of the recent use of the word retard by Ann Coulter.

I'm going to make a confession here...until I had Lily, retarded was one of my favorite words. I know- that sounds incredibly insensitive. I used it not to describe people, but situations- for example- I can't believe my dog just ran under the deck to chase the cats, and she is now covered in mud. For the fifth time today. That is so retarded!

I never - EVER - thought I was taking a swipe at someone with disabilities. I never in my mind had an image of a person with Down syndrome when I used that word. Never. It was a word we grew up using - and my mom taught children with special needs for many years while I was a child. I have friends with children with special needs - I never once thought of those friends or their children when I used the word retarded. In my mind it was a synonym for stupid or inconvenient or lame. It was not a word I ever used to describe a person with disabilities.

Sooo... fast forward to today. Today I have an almost three year old with Down syndrome. There are times on medical forms when I have to check a box that says "mental retardation" in regards to my daughter. It's uncomfortable, because I don't ever think of Lily as retarded. Bright, funny, charming, engaging- those are words I would describe Lily with. Not retarded.

I am not a huge fan of political correctness. I think if we banish certain words, people are going to come up with new ones to replace them. Because that is the nature of cruel people- you might change a word, but you are not necessarily changing their hearts. If someone uses the word retard to describe Lily- if they use it on purpose in a derogatory way - I am not changing their attitude towards her by asking them to refrain from using the word retard. Because IF they called her that with malice in their heart...IF they thought of her as less-than-human and thus called her "retard" - they did so with intent. And asking them to never use that word again did not change their intention, it changed their word.

On the flip side- and this is the part that I know people do not agree with me on - if they used that word as I have in the past, to refer to a situation, but in their heart they never, ever thought of the use of that word as disparaging a person with Down syndrome - then I did not change their intent if I asked them to change the word. I changed their word.

So which is more important ? Persuading people to change a word - or persuading people that individuals with special needs have intrinsic value and worth ? Showing the world that our kids, despite whatever challenges they face, are people worthy of respect ? That they are not "less-than-human". They are beautiful, capable, and full of potential. That's the aim of my blog. To show the world who Lily is.

So where do I stand on the Spread the Word to End the Word campaign?

As a family we have stopped using the word retard or retarded since the birth of our tenth child. Not because we used it previously with the intent of disparaging people with special needs. But because we know others find it offensive, and we strive to be kind and thoughtful and above reproof in the Rice family. Do I cringe when I hear my relatives or friends use the word retarded? (Because they do.) Just being honest here - I don't. Because I know their hearts, and I know their intentions, and I don't for one second believe they are using a word they would ever describe my Lily with.

However...I'm writing this post to those who use the word without meaning to hurt - you are hurting people. Because I have many, many, MANY friends who do cringe at that word. I've read their blogposts the past three years and I don't believe they are all just on a bandwagon. I believe that when they hear that word used, they struggle to believe that their children aren't viewed as less-than-human by many in our society. And in spite of knowing that word is thrown around by uninformed or unintentionally-cruel-people, they still have a hard time hearing it. It doesn't - I'm sorry, but it really doesn't - make me cringe. But I know it does have that effect on others. And that's why we don't use it anymore.

If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. Romans 12:18

And one more word about the R word. I can have grace for people who use it like I used to use it. Because I know their hearts. But Ann Coulter ? You really need to consider the effect of your words. And as much as I disagree with our current president on many issues, I have a very hard time seeing Jesus calling him a retard.

May the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be pleasing in your sight, O LORD, my Rock and my Redeemer. Psalms 19:14



Mrs. K said...

Asking people to be considerate of others' feelings isn't offensive to me in the slightest.

My mother always said "you see yourself in others". MMM something to think about I'd say.

BTW who is Ann Coulter? Please don't consider me politically "retarded" if she is someone of importance in politics. :>)

Mrs. K said...

P.S. I LOVE THESE PICTURES OF Miss Smarty Tights. They make me giggle. xoxoxoxoxoxoxoxoxox

EN said...

Wow! Brave post. I commend you for honestly communicating and standing by your beliefs. While I cringe at the "R-word" I am not offended by failure to use people-first language and I know that gets some people really upset. To your point, it's about the intent and generally, when someone calls Josie a "Downs baby," they don't mean any offense. Perhaps it's just because I grew up in a generation where it wasn't considered incorrect to say "Downs". Although, it's good that you and your family are aware and have stopped using that word just like I attempt to use people-first language because it's not worth offending anyone over. I think it's so important that we are careful not to get too high-and-mighty on our PC high horse because the last thing we want is to scare people away from asking and learning about our beautiful children because we've made them too afraid to say the wrong thing.

ckbrylliant said...

As with most things political, I am on the fence about this post. Meaning I am able to see both sides. I don't have such a hard time hearing it from young people who may or may not have any life experience with such things, but I have a HUGE problem with adults who use it in my presence and are part of my family. I find it extremely inconsiderate and it tells me they have not for one second considered our journey.

Mrs. Dubose said...

I recently wrote a post about why it isn't nice to call people retarded. I loved the honesty of your post and you have quite the little photogenic girl on your hands. Many blessings to you and your beautiful family.

Murphy's Law said...

Thank you for this post. We are only six weeks into this world of down syndrome yet it didn't take long to experience the range of emotions I feel when I hear the "r" word. Just a couple of days after entering this world I found myself in the children's hospital library looking for resources on the topic and was completely taken aback by a book with the word in the title. Whether I was still in some state of denial or not, I was shocked that the word would be used in a medical book- for parents of all things. Then as I ventured onto the web for insight I looked at some YouTube videos, wanting to actually see how some ds kids or babies looked like, developed, etc. I was shocked by the videos out there having nothing to do with Down Syndrome and so incredibly offensive. Even on instagram, where I have found you as well as other amazing blogging Kansas with DS babies, I see young people making "retarded" faces and tagging themselves with a #downsyndrome hashtag. Wow. I am in my early thirties but seeing these posts really does solidify the fact that the generational gap is widening! My husband and I work for a missions organization and we personally have invested so much of our hearts to social injustices and I feel like that investment is only going to grow as we venture into this new arena of life. My Lily is still so young, but I too just see her beauty and am amazed that God has entrusted our family with her.
As for Ann Coulter, I am aware of her comment, probably because of my new sensitivity to the word. When googling her name and learning that she is a believer I am saddened. I am all for shaking things up, but I think her comment was inappropriate, and unnecessary, especially towards the president. Politics and political correctness aside it is disrespectful to equate anyone with this word. I too, used this word loosely in the same way that you did Patti, and have now stopped. Hopefully Ann, will start rethinking her words as well.
As for our Lily's they are gonna change the world as we know it!
God is still good,
Bethany Murphy
@mamamurph22 on IG

Unknown said...

LOVE this post. My kids use the R word occasionally, with NO intent to harm. I have recently talked to them about it because my sister in law is very offended by it. Our sweet niece has DS and I want our family to be considerate of her feelings, even though there was absolutely no connection to sweet Gracie when the they used the R word. Thanks for the honesty. So happy about baby 11. Praying for your health as well as the baby's.

Unknown said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Sherrie said...

So I have a child with DS in Ukraine adopting another child with special needs and just this week I used the r word referring to myself! I never say that word ..but out it came. I of course meant nothing toward anyone except myself but that is why Grace is needed. I know when someone is being rude about one of my children and I don't need a specific word to show me that, I also know when people have outdated language and no ill intent. It's not the word that's the problem it's as you say...the heart behind it.

Runningmama said...

Oh Patti, I just loved this. This is exactly how our family feels about people first language...I never even knew what it was until Emily was born and I believe the intent is what is important to me. I don't cringe either at every use of the "r" word and it used to not bother me at all because I used to use it all the time too when I was younger. But I will say that lately since there is so much publicity out there, when younger people use it I wonder why they haven't noticed that word is really not appreciated by so many people. Our family is the same way, we don't judge others that use the "r" word, but we do not use it in our family because it is offensive to so many that we love and because we love them, we always keep that in mind. I love this post, you are a much braver woman than I because I have been wanting to share my thoughts on people first language and just haven't had the guts to do it because I know how I feel isn't popular...I hope you are starting to feel better and I am so excited about the 11th baby!

Tammie said...

I will admit that I like you have also used the r word in the same way as you have when I was younger. I believe that back many years ago that it was used that way alot. I think about it now and think Wow, wasn't there other words tha could have been used but if they were not meant to hurt anyone then I guess there would have been no reason to change it. Lily is super cute in the picture where it looks to me like she is giving someone a POUT FACE... CUTE

Danielle said...

Well said Patti (: I won't let my kids use this word but I have used it a lot in my past - w/ a sister with Cerebral Palsy... My family doesn't find offense to it, but I would NEVER EVER want my kids to hurt someone unintentionally by using this word. It makes me sad that Ann C just defended herself instead of apologizing to those she offended. That seems like the simple solution.

Unknown said...

Well said. The heart behind the word!

crystalkupper said...

Thank you for this common sense post; it's the only one of its kind I've found so far.

Rachel Bretbunner said...

We were driving down the road the other day and Megan out of the blue said "mom why is it that people with down syndrome don't have super human strength and intelegence because they get to have an extra chromosomes?" That got me thinking of Matthew and Lily and what a profound thought that was for Megan to think. They should change the wording mental retardation to mental deficiency.

Anonymous said...

Yes yes yes!! I absolutely agree on all points. I frequently used the word myself in the same way you did, but after Moriah was born we talked about as a family and we no longer use it for the same reasons you stated. Thank you for sharing a very well-thought-out post!

cara said...

Love this post Patti! I also am not offended by certain words. And I do get tired sometimes of SO much political correctness, even in our community with kiddos with DS. It is really the intent of the heart. I was bothered by what Ann Coulter said because I think that it was not respectful to call our President a name. I also do not agree with Obama on a lot, but I think we should address each other with love on both sides, especially if we are claiming Christ. I also did not like how she made no apologies for it when she knew that it did offend many. I really thought it was just about kindness. And when our friends with DS and families of kids with DS explained to her what it meant to them, she did not seem to care. That saddened me.

Thanks for sharing! I think you really explained how so many of us feel. xoxo

Unknown said...

These pics are too cute!!!

I recently tried to reach you via email, but didn't hear back. Knowing how it is with so many emails coming into everyone's Inbox nowadays, I thought that maybe posting a comment would be a quicker and much better way to connect.

I am working with a very special lady, Dr. Julia Kinder, who has an 8 year old daughter with Down syndrome. We're trying to promote A PETITION REGARDING DOWN SYNDROME and I thought you would be a great resource to help spread the word.


We're also having all sorts of activities on her website Celebrating Down syndrome -

We also published a national Press Release about this a few weeks ago, but we need the active Down syndrome community to get involved -

Please let me know if you would help by posting some of this to your interested audience:

Your time and efforts are so important as we try to change the stereotypes surrounding Down syndrome - dispelling the myths - and as we try to CHANGE THE WAY IN WHICH THE MEDICAL COMMUNITY PROVIDES RESOURCES TO NEW PARENTS. We can only achieve these goals with your help!

Thank you so much!

Leah said...

Ann Coulter is a repeat offender when it comes to the r word. She's used it over and over and there's been an outcry every time -- which is, of course, why she keeps using it. This isn't a question of ignorance. She knows what she's doing. This is deliberate cruelty.

Katherine said...

To be fair, I have a very hard time seeing Jesus say ANY of the many vile, even cruel, things Ann Coulter has said over the years.

I completely agree with your take on this, and believe that it can be extended to the word "gay." As a teenager, my friends and I would often say, "Oh that's sooo gay" as an insult, but not in a malicious way. It wasn't until after college when two of our friends came out as gay that it dawned on me how hurtful it might have been for them to listen to their friends throw that word around so callously, regardless of whether or not we "meant" it.

Karly said...

Well said!!

Nina said...

Patti, totally agree with you and applaud your honesty and openness. All I consider is someone's attitude and intent, and that determines my reaction more than their actual word choice. Keep up the awesome work, encouraging all to look at hearts more than anything else, while making sure that we ourselves are reflections of God's love and goodness.

G-31 Toastmasters said...

Dear Patti,
I grew up in a time & place when "mentally retarded" WAS, indeed, the politically correct description of people with intellectual impairments of all kinds... from Down Syndrome to Fetal Alcohol to high fever as a neonate to victims of head trauma. I worked for two years for an ARC - an Association for RETARDED Citizens. It is *so* ingrained in my vocabulary that I struggle - truly strugfle - to avoid saying the word... for people or chemical reactions or traffic jams. I don't use it mean stupid or frustrating, lame or anniying (a la muddy dog). . I use it to mean slowed, as it's truly meant to be used. Nowadays I sometimes have the privilege of teaching a disability awareness class to our town's fourth graders. I love doing it and have done it for years. We teach about blindness, deafnes, dyslexia, wheelchair users, intelllectual disabilities, and more. It is *TRULY* a struggle for me to say "intellectually disabled" each and every time. The words "mentally retarded" want to leap from my lips. Not because I think they are mean words. Not at all! But because I grew up in a time and place and had jobs working with mentally retarded people, and never had any meanness. Those WERE the right words for me to use. Not "idiot", "fool", or "stupid", but mentally slowed, mentally retarded. Why can't we just use words as they are meant to be used? For heaven's sake, someone can say "nya nya a boo boo you are intellectually disABLEd" (or "you have DOWN Syndrome") just as meanly as they can say "retarded". For those of who mean no ill by the use of the word, I wish we'd just be allowed to use it guilt-free! (And, by the way, I have a similar level of annoyance for all the newfangled gender-avoidance words: Sewer or Sewist instead of tailor & seamstress, for instance.) Esther in RI

martha said...

Thank you for this! I was so glad to see you weighing in on it, and in such a sensible, but gracious way. Love every new photo you post!

Offer KINDNESS. Choose GENEROSITY. Give LOVE! said...

You are brilliant and brave and wonderful for your honesty.
Thank you for sharing your words.
I've been guilty of using the R word but I am human and didn't mean any harm.
You bring up so many good points in this post... we all think different don't we.
Well said, all of it.
Baby #10 is delightfully perfect in all kinds of ways. She is darling! Love her piggies.
I'm an IG friend of yours and love your posts.