Grow Up: “Retarded” Stings

The “R” word is more powerful than you think.


Bryan Castillo

Erase the word to end the word.

Savannah Jackson, Writer

Behind me, a girl leaned over to her friend and said, “You know the little boy in the retarded class? The one that makes funny noises and walks weird?” They both started laughing and kept talking about the boy. Little did they know, they were talking about my brother.

I was in biology class during freshman year, watching a video about a boy with special needs talk about how much he loves boxing. I heard scattered laughter among my classmates, mimicking the way he talked.

My brother, Cameron, was the smallest kid in his special needs class. The way they described him let me know they were talking about my brother. I tried ignoring the hateful comments they made about him. I sat there while tears filled my eyes. My brother’s disabilities are not something he can change and hearing them talk about it offended me.

My friend sitting in the desk in front of me knew also they were talking about my brother. She told me not to worry about it and just ignore them, but I couldn’t. I turned around and said, “That’s my brother you’re talking about.” The two girls fell silent. I walked up to the teacher and asked to go to the bathroom. I walked out of the classroom with tear-stained cheeks.

Throughout the year, I had to hear people talk harshly about students with special needs. I would see my brother in the cafeteria sitting with his class and, when I looked around,  I could see other students look at him and stare.

My whole life I’ve had to deal with scenarios like this. Growing up, I didn’t understand why people always stared at my brother. Every time we went grocery shopping, I would catch kids and sometimes adults staring at him. I’d ask my mom why people stare at my brother and she’d always tell me that people judge what they do not understand.

Having a sibling or family member with a mental and/or physical disability can be hard. Sometimes, I’m afraid for new friends to come over and meet him. I worry they’ll feel uncomfortable around him, since he makes noises and yells out at random times. For some people, it’s not normal.

I always thought that he was normal. I was raised not to say the “R” word, not really understanding why it is such a bad word until I got into middle school. Then I realized how offensive the word actually is.

The R Word. We all know it. It’s the one word I will never say. The word that sounds like nails on a chalkboard, and makes me cringe when I hear it come out of someone’s mouth.

Whenever a friend of mine says the word during a conversation, I will always tell them “please don’t use that word, especially around me.” They will say okay, and carry on with the conversation, but then disregard what I told them the word comes out of their mouth again.

In class, I hear students calling their friends “mentally retarded” as if using that word is okay.

People say it’s not a bad word and that they aren’t talking about those with special needs. They don’t really take into consideration how the word itself is offensive. The word was created to infer that someone is slow or less advanced in mental, physical, or social development than what is usual for one’s age.

In today’s society, teens and some adults throw the word around like it’s nothing, not thinking anything of it.

I want everyone to be aware that the word is hurtful and can really offend others. The “R” word is not taken lightly by people who have siblings and family members with a disability. You may just be joking around with your friends and calling them the word and not mean to offend anyone. But if I’m around and I hear that word come out of your mouth, I’m going to feel hurt and offended. The word is more powerful than you think.