I pledge, as a person who has been called the R word, as a person who is still called the R word, as a person who lives daily with the stigma of being a neurologically atypical person, to call this initiative out as the humbug it is.
I do not support the R-word. It is an ugly word. It is a hurtful word. It is an insulting, demeaning, terrible word. But you know what? It’s not the word itself that makes it so insulting. It’s the society that spawned that word- a society that will spawn another, and another. You know why? Because cosmetic changes to the language without changes to the actual structures of the society change nothing. The problems that ‘people with disabilities’ face don’t come from a nasty word. They come from structural, institutional injustice. They come from a society that is built for, designed for, dominated by, and run by one basic type of person; the ‘able-bodied’ ‘mentally typical’ person- a society that considers one way of perceiving, sensing, processing information, communicating, and moving to be valid at the exclusion of all others. They come, not from the use of nasty words, but from the ways in which this supremacist, normative mindset is built into every institution of our society.
What I see here, what I see every time I see one of these shirts or stickers, is not a movement that promises to change those structures. I see a feel-good effort to make a cosmetic and superficial change to how atypical people are treated by society without actually changing the real conditions of their disenfranchisement. I see a movement that pretends that the real problems facing the whole range of people who get CALLED the R word have nothing to do with disproportionate unemployment, or exposure to quack therapies and abusive treatment, or homelessness, or the rate at which mentally atypical people are victimized by crime, or a broken health care system, or the stigma and disrespect that can be and is very clearly expressed without using the R word, or the patronizing attitudes that this sort of ‘kind normal people riding in to help the mentally disabled’ thing breeds, or the attitude of normativity and supremacy implicit in the entire way people think about mental differences. No, it’s about the R word. If only we can end that word! That awful word! Truly, THAT is the most important “disability rights” issue of the day! Ending the R Word will bring real change to the mentally different, just like ending the N word brought real change to African Americans, ending the F word brought real change for GLBTQ people, ending the B word would bring change to women, and if we just stopped calling the homeless (a disproportionate amount of whom are mentally atypical) ‘bums’, surely their troubles would fly away! Oh, if only we could end the word, and then all the normies could go on home and rest contented that they really made a difference, while the people they’ve successfully rebranded face once more the same, continued challenges they’ve faced before, untouched by this surface change.
So, I don’t pledge to end the word. I pledge to embrace the word. I pledge to embrace every slur and pejorative used against mentally different people. I pledge to own them. I pledge to support the SELF-advocacy of atypical people, whatever their condition. I pledge to fight for the things that really matter to us, because I’d rather be employed, housed, receiving the accommodations I need to thrive in a society designed for someone else’s mental and physical layout, and called a disrespectful slur, than be unemployed, homeless, structurally disadvantaged, and called a polite euphemism. I pledge not to use a euphemism to whitewash and ignore the continuing injustices we face. I pledge to keep using that word to acknowledge and highlight the ugliness of social injustice, until that injustice is no more, and if I can, I pledge to turn that word into a symbol of pride and self-worth. I am a freak. I am a retard. I am a psycho. I am a spaz. Hear me roar.”