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EDITORIAL: Continue the shift away from the R-word

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Conservative author Ann Coulter ignited controversy after using the R-word in a tweet Oct. 22. / Photo by Kyle Cassidy

If you’ve even glanced at the Viewpoints section this semester, you would know we think this election is pretty important. But as Nov. 6 approaches, we are growing more and more disappointed with how politics is making some people act.

One of the most upsetting remarks this election season occurred at the end of the third presidential debate when conservative commentator Ann Coulter called the president of the United States a “retard” on Twitter.

Many people of our generation may have grown up using the R-word as kids, but as we got older, we’ve realized how objectionable it is. Unfortunately, Ann Coulter cannot say the same thing. 

Last Friday on Piers Morgan Tonight, Coulter defended herself, saying she’s “had it with the language police.” She said she was not referring to anyone with Down syndrome and that the word is “a synonym for loser.” She denied that the word has ever been linked to those with mental disabilities and said she would continue to use the word in the future.

It’s hard to believe that an author and political commentator, someone who should be hypersensitive to the implications of language, would claim ignorance on such a delicate subject, one that has been in the national spotlight in recent years.

After Coulter’s now infamous tweet stating, “I highly approve of Romney’s decision to be kind and gentle to the retard,” she received a passionate message herself. This time it was from someone whom she directly offended, and we’re not talking about Obama.

We’re talking about John Franklin Stephens.

Stephens is an athlete and global messenger for the Special Olympics and has spoken and written many times about the use of the R-word.

We couldn’t be happier about Stephens’ letter and the attention it is receiving. Here is a 30-year-old man with Down syndrome standing up to bullies like Coulter for himself and thousands of others.

In his letter, Stephens says he feels alienated and alone by the use of the R-word and would like to see it stopped. So would we.

Luckily, we’re starting to head in the right direction.

In 2010, Congress banned the use of the words “retard” and “retardation” in federal health, education and labor laws. The American Psychiatric Association also plans to replace the term “mental retardation” with “intellectual development disorder” in the 2013 edition of The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders.

But it’s not just government changing the ways policies are written; it’s everyday people changing their everyday speech.

Perhaps the most interesting thing about this situation is the overwhelming amount of criticism and negative reactions Coulter received. This is because the sentiment surrounding mental disorders has changed dramatically and will continue to do so.

So many people have posted, tweeted and talked about Stephens’ response to Coulter. The story made headlines across the country.

The use of the R-word is changing. Campaigns like Spread the Word to End the Word are working. Coulter’s statement is drawing attention to this issue, and thus attention to our language.

We encourage you to continue helping the movement. Call out the people you know who continue to use the R-word. If you are someone who still lets the word occasionally slip, be more cognizant of that.

Of course there are other harmful words out there that should not be used. We can think of quite a few that bother us, and you probably can, too. So embrace Marquette’s mottos: Be a man or woman for others. Care for the whole person, no matter who he or she is. And don’t hesitate to be the difference.

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2 Comments

2 Responses to “EDITORIAL: Continue the shift away from the R-word”

  1. Harry Lime on October 30th, 2012 10:33 am

    The world is round. Coulter is one of the best-selling authors of the conservative movement, while at the same time she is suspected by some of being transsexual. She has a heavy brow ridge, a strong jaw, big hands, big feet, a thick waist (in spite of the fact that she is generally thin), and an Adam’s apple, and she is taller than most genetic women. There are no records of an Ann Coulter born in Connecticut in 1962-63. Some say she was born Arthur Coltrane, but that (indeed all of this) may be on a par with the
    whole “Obama was born in Kenya” thing. It is approximately as right for anyone (as here) to make up or repeat stories about Coulter’s sexuality as it is to make up or repeat stories about Obama’s birth. It is approximately as morally right to call Coulter a “transsexual” as it is for Coulter to call Obama “retard.” It is precisely as morally right to call out anyone as a transsexual or a retard, regardless of their sexuality or their mental acuity.

    And there is no question that associating Ann Coulter with transsexuals demeans transsexuals.

  2. Carole Burns on October 31st, 2012 4:42 pm

    Dear Harry – I think you missed the point of the article.

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