A couple of weeks ago I was in a situation where someone used the "r-word" in a conversation with me.
I was in a store, checking out, and found myself at the register with a guy who had the word "manager" on his name tag.
I scanned my shopper reward card and as my information came up on his screen he attempted to address me by my name. As he got to my last name he paused and stumbled a bit in trying to pronounce it. I said my last name for him.
That's when he said, "I have trouble pronouncing names, I just end up sounding retarded."
My mind is thinking: You're the manager of the store. You should present yourself as more professional, especially when you're checking out a customer you don't know. You really had to say that? You couldn't stop at just saying 'I have trouble pronouncing names.'
And what does that even mean? You have trouble pronouncing names so you sound retarded.
So you sound like someone who has an intellectual disability and has trouble speaking?
So you sound like someone who has an intellectual disability and low muscle tone which makes enunciating certain sounds difficult for them?
So you sound like someone like....hmmm...my daughter? Someone who does her best to speak her words and tries to get her brain to connect the dots between making her mouth, tongue, and lips all work in sync to come together for perfect speech ... yet it doesn't happen. There are still times we, her family, have trouble understanding her. Hence the whole "Ms Frog had a baby snake" conversation.
Of course this guy knew none of this. Kayla wasn't with me. He didn't know I have a daughter with an intellectual disability.
But the point is, there was no reason for him to make that comparison in the first place. There was no reason for him to compare his trouble pronouncing names with sounding 'retarded.'
Was he expecting me to laugh at his little joke and find that funny?
I didn't immediately say anything (you know, my issue with uncomfortableness in confronting someone about their usage of the r-word). But while he was finishing with my transaction I kept telling myself to "say something! Find your backbone! Speak up! Advocate! An opportunity presented itself for you to find your voice...use it!"
So I did. I wouldn't say I was eloquent. I didn't know what to say and I know I spoke quickly and stumbled over myself. I just said something like, "Next time could you not use the word retarded? I have a daughter who has an intellectual disability and I'd just ask that you think before using that word again."
Of course he was apologetic and appeared embarrassed. I think we both felt a bit awkward. But I did it. I finally spoke up. I finally let someone know how I felt after hearing them use the r-word. I finally found my voice and my backbone.
And maybe, just maybe, (and hopefully), he will think about it the next time he goes to casually throw out that word in a conversation.