In my view, any word can be offensive if it is used to demean, to hurt, to marginalise, or to belittle. Words can start out meaning one thing and then acquire new connotations – some more positive such as ‘gay’ and others more negative like ‘queer’. These two confuse the heck out of many older people who haven’t fully made the shift. So what’s a handy rule of thumb? Well, it seems to me that if the people to whom a currently derogatory word is applied don’t use it themselves about themselves, you shouldn’t use it at all. If they do use it themselves about themselves, you should only use it in a context of mutual trust and never to be derogatory.
The post by John Franklin Stephens about the use of the word ‘retard’ is an exemplar of balance, consideration, and thoughtful opinion. Just the opposite of the way in which Ann Coulter, a lawyer, used it to describe Obama recently. Please follow the link to read John’s open letter.
The following is a guest post in the form of an open letter from Special Olympics athlete and global messenger John Franklin Stephens to Ann Coulter after this tweet during last night’s Presidential debate.
Dear Ann Coulter,
Come on Ms. Coulter, you aren’t dumb and you aren’t shallow. So why are you continually using a word like the R-word as an insult?
I’m a 30 year old man with Down syndrome who has struggled with the public’s perception that an intellectual disability means that I am dumb and shallow. I am not either of those things, but I do process information more slowly than the rest of you. In fact it has taken me all day to figure out how to respond to your use of the R-word last night.
I thought first of asking whether you meant to describe the President as someone who was bullied as a child…
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