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When Is It Okay to Say the R-Word?

Mic, an American Internet and media company catering to millennials produced a series called “Flip the Script” with feminist and social justice commentator, Liz Plank. In this 2015 episode, Plank answers the question: when is it OK to use the word “retarded” (the R-word)? Plank explains that the word is often used for someone who is inadequate or crazy before going to visit Paul, a young man with Down Syndrome living in Brooklyn. Paul’s mom, Margaret, explains that the R-word, like using the word “gay” as an insult, is hurtful to her son, who is also gay. Plank interviews Paul, who she tells us, doesn’t let his disability define him, and we see Paul participate in singing and dancing lessons. Plank points out that intellectual disabilities are the first thing associated with the R-word and the 6.5 million people living with intellectual disabilities and their families are not comfortable with the word. We see clips of various individuals with intellectual disabilities talking about how the word impacts them. Plank concludes that it is never OK to use the R-word.

discussion

When is the R-word typically used, and when does Plank say that it is OK to use it?

Which two people does Plank interview in this video? Why does she interview them?

How does Plank make her argument about the R-word? Consider how the video is structured and organized. Why does she use examples from media? Why does she use Paul’s story and other testimonials at the end? Why does she use data? How is she “flipping the script”?

Can you think of other words or phrases that could be hurtful to a particular group of people that are used casually in everyday language?