Please don’t politicize the “R” Word


Just because a candidate for President of the United States of America mocks a reporter with an imitation of someone with a mental disability, does not make it political. Just because a political commentator who supports that candidate publishes a detailed explanation for his actions, does not make it political. Not in this case. Not with the R Word.

It is usually fine to make a conversation political when said conversation is about a politician or other political actor who brought a whole group of people under attack. But this is a special case because it involves a special group of victims. Unlike when politicians take on entire nationalities, ethnicities, genders and members of interests groups who are able to defend themselves, picking on the mentally disabled is unjust and often involves preying on the defenseless. To do so (or to try and explain it away) should not be an indefensible political act but an indefensible human act.

The politicization of the “R” Word (from both sides) is grotesque.

Simply put, whichever side of the outrage one is on, politicizing the “R” Word is grotesque and unfair to those among us who most deserve fair treatment. For anyone who needs more convincing, I encourage you to watch this teenager’s high school auditorium speech that is the most compelling narrative I’ve ever heard in describing how the “word destroys the dignity of our most innocent.”

Watch the whole thing, If you can’t, I suggest starting around 6:30

The “R” Word is not about Liberal or Conservative ideology. It’s not about polling numbers and it has nothing to do with the winning and losing inherent in elections. Soeren Palumbo, the young man in the video, makes it clear that the “R” Word is about love and hate. Importantly, because most of us won’t identify as being pro-hate, he lets us know that siding with love means more than just not being hateful. When he calls out the school’s teachers who would never tolerate racial or ethnic slurs in class but fail to take a stand when they hear the “R” Word, he is driving home a difficult truth: if we are silent bystanders, we are not with love but rather enablers of hate.

And that is why I believe we should not allow ourselves (nor tolerate it in others) to politicize the “R” Word. To do so is a distraction and risks making the conversation about something it is not. To do so is to enable hate.

This post is an invitation to be the best global citizen you can be. It is an encouragement to respond to the “R” Word in a way that is deserving of and wholly in the service to those it victimizes. It is a plea to side with love.

For resources, ideas and advocacy tools, is a great place to start. There, you can share your own stories, download an “R” Word event planning kit and take a pledge to Spread the Word to End the Word.

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