This morning I sat listening to my girls talk about swearing at school. This may seem like bad parenting, but hey I never professed to be perfect (especially when you read further), there is a rule that I have at our house, the big kids are allowed to swear as long as I don't hear them, not in front of any little people, and no other adult hears them, and if they get in trouble for swearing at school they are on their own. Lets face it ... swearing is a lot of fun, and does come in handy when you smash your toe.. it's so expressive. Having said all of this I don't swear in front of my kids, well again I can't pretend to be perfect. In cases of pain, the F-bomb has fallen from my mouth, but always under great duress.
This morning the two big girls were talking about classmates who swear a lot at school. Gracie said that one girl in her class calls people the "N" word. I was shocked to my core that anyone in this day and age would still say "THAT" word. It is such an ugly word, why when the world is full of so many wonderful descriptive words would anyone choose to use that ugly word? It was at this point that it felt like I was smashed in the back of the head by a horrid realization, words have more weight than I have ever given them credit for!
Growing up I was never allowed to use the "N" word, even when all the other kids would use the "Eenie Meenie Minie Moe catch an "N" word by the toe", instead we used "tiger" by the toe. We were not allowed to call anyone "a retard". We were not allowed to call anyone "gay" or a "queer", or "homo". I felt like I was being denied something magical that everyone else at school had. It turns out my mother was right (please don't tell her that I said that). I was being denied the right to the use of hate words.
When I grew up and was out from under the oppressive "no hate words" ban of home, I threw around "retard" and "queer", although the "N" word has always been off limits. I'm going to be honest here, up until this morning I did. I never used them as "hate" words, but rather descriptive words. I would never ever call a mentally challenged person a "retard", nor would I ever call a homosexual person a "Gay". I did not use them in a hateful context, but rather a descriptive context such as "that is such a retarded dvd player". I felt like because I did not use them to spread hate, or put people down they were acceptable to use. They were just words and could only be hurtful if that was the way they were intended.
I personally know mothers who have mentally challenged children and they have long pushed to remove "retard" from our vocabulary. There have been public service announcements about it. I cannot imagine how difficult the role of a parent with a disabled child is, I would never pretend to even imagine. I say this, but thought that their objections were hypersensitivity. After all I told myself, I never say it in a hurtful or mean way. I would never ever in a million years ever call a mentally challenged person "a retard", I'm not a monster.
This morning in my outrage that someone in this day and age would ever use the "N" word when they know that it represents hate, I was struck with my own hypocrisy. I was judging this child and her parents for using a word that represents hatred, and yet I felt comfortable using almost equally hateful words. It occurred to me that there is never ever an acceptable time to use the "N" word, so why would I tell myself that to use "retard" or "gay" was ever acceptable, even if not meant in a cruel way. Those too are hate words. They are used to put people down and keep them down. I sit here and feel ashamed that it has taken me this long to realize that.
So there is my big moment, my smack to the back of the head by the universe. I who pride myself in my kindness and generosity have been using words that would suggest I am anything but. I have never used these words to put down the people they are intended for, but I have used them as descriptive words. Words have power. We... no I need to remember that words have power. They have the power to make someone feel less than. If I would never intentionally hurt anyone, why would I use words in my everyday language that would?
From this moment on I will remove "hate" words from my vocabulary. I will remember the power of words, and even if a cruelty is not intended, by using those words I am a contributer. Now that I have clarity, and knowledge (it only took me into my middle age to figure this one out) not only will I not allow myself to use them, I will not allow my children to use those words. The world is full of so many beautiful and descriptive words, why would I choose words that are anything but?