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Archive for May, 2017

the R-word

I have thought a number of times that the R-word is my N-word.

Well, not exactly.

The N-word, what with its history of torture, pain, and suffering isn’t exactly the same as using the R-word. The N-word I don’t believe has any possible meaning other than to degrade another person.

It’s used between and amongst African-Americans, sometimes jokingly or showing friendship, and sometimes showing hostility or as a put-down. But all that’s another story and another whole conversation.

It’s your European-Americans (white people), and all other nationalities and cultures to whom the N-word is off-limits socially; with good reason. So in the past when I’ve used the word “retarded”, it’s not quite the same thing as a term that invokes the legacy of hatred as achieved through centuries of systemic racism and personal, direct degradation.

So it’s not the same. I think the R-word might be my Confederate Flag actually.

Hold on, though. Let’s take a step back.

The R-word is a real word. The word “retarded” has some varying definitions at this point in time. Google first and foremost returns with its meaning as “less advanced in mental, physical, or social development than is usual for one’s age”, a definition it also deems as dated and also offensive. It also has the meaning of being “very foolish or stupid”, similarly coined as informal and still offensive.

Merriam-Webster: “slow or limited in intellectual or emotional development”, with the post-script sometimes offensive.

We can go on but you get the point; a real word that was taken on by society and used in a widespread way to the point where the meaning has changed.

I grew up where kids called each other “retarded” and no one thought much about it. It was another era, which makes an excuse for then, but is no excuse for now.

It was years ago I first saw a campaign that brought attention to the hurtful and undermining uses of the word “retarded”. It was probably long overdue to shed light on something that has the potential to be as hurtful as this word.

I argue the R-word and the N-word aren’t even in the same ballpark, though I do think they’re similar in the way they’re hurtful words usually chosen to be directed towards someone who has no control over their condition whatsoever or in any way. A person can’t choose their born nationality, skin color, or culture any more than they can their naturally-born mental, physical, or emotional abilities (or inabilities). A person is born an African, a Christian, or with Down’s syndrome as simply as being born blonde, or poor.

We’re moving on from the N-word because the relationship is too weak between that and the R-word.

The R-word is also a verb. It’s used in science to describe the influence of a chemical that can slow down the speed of a reaction, or in general the verb means to delay or hold back progress.

“The process has been retarded by a strong combination of indecision and lack of leadership”.

After childhood I’ve most often thought of the verb form of the word and used it appropriately when speaking.  It rarely came out of my mouth as a means to describe how stupid a process or decision might be – but rarely still does indeed mean sometimes.

I’m not perfect; not trying to be hurtful.

The R-word campaign (R-Word.org) came about years ago to discuss the topic and to ask people to think before the next time they say it. The R-word doesn’t dawn on most people as potentially being all too bad, but if you ponder the social connotations it’s easy to understand how and to whom might be affected by the trivial use of this word.

When I think of my top 10 list of offensive words or derogative terms it wasn’t the first word to come to mind. It probably would have been around #15, after all the various racial slurs and crude terminologies that have been created over the years. So even though I don’t think I ever upset somebody by my use of the word, I could easily and quickly identify the potential. If I’m to minimize the suffering of people around me and uplift my fellow humans around me I wouldn’t want to call them something that would hurt them, even light-heartedly, jokingly, or indirectly.

To go back in time just a little bit, the word didn’t taste like gasoline on my tongue or make me feel ashamed later in the day if I had used it. But I know it wasn’t right. It wasn’t positive. I’ll take sides with the R-Word Campaign people and even say it is probably most often used offensively; even if it has alternative meanings and connotations.

This is what puts it in the category to become something similar to the Confederate Flag.

It’s the ability to learn that makes us a higher species, if you want to call us that. It’s the ability to learn that makes us human in the highest sense of the word; to adapt and to respond appropriately.

The Confederate Flag also has its hurtful meanings to lots of people – just like the R-word.

It has a history that differs from some of the current-day definitions and emotional responses it causes – just like the R-word.

It too is something a person can use without the intention of hurting another person.

In effect, the R-word is a thing I don’t have any problem with in its original form. But after I see how other people have used it, which has been to isolate, or hurt the dignity of another human being, then I see the harm it can cause.

Once I came to learn and realize that although this word isn’t by definition a bad thing, but to entire populations of people it is something that causes hurt or insult, then I had to adjust myself.

My speech. My thinking.

Once my thinking changed that is when I had learned, adapted, and essentially one tiny cell in my body and one small component of my soul evolved into something greater, though miniscule as it may be.

And therefor I remain dumfounded by the Confederate Flag and the adamancy with which people defend its symbolism.  It has a history, the various components of which one can argue until the end of time, but it is also something that time and society has altered. The Buddhists don’t continue to capitalize on the symbol that later became the German swastika even though to them it was a religious symbol centuries before the Nazi Nationalist Party existed.

People often use the “old days” or “I’m from another generation” as an attempt at reason in trying to dismiss or legitimize the continued use of the N-word. Similar claims of “heritage” and “history” tend to surround the prolonged use of the Confederate Flag.

They both should have been long retired.

I feel that way about the R-word nowadays. We might have made mistakes in the past or maybe things have just changed in the world we live in, but we have to change with it either way. We have to accept what people tell us when they say something causes suffering. I don’t have any intention to argue with someone that the R-word has meanings that don’t have to be necessarily insulting or offensive. I instead attempt to understand, and once I understand, I accept.

Today the final Confederate statue came down in New Orleans. I hope one day I’ll look back on this day and realize how much further we’ve come since this day; it was yet another small step to discontinue the idolized worship of our most misled and embarrassing 4 years as a young country. Holding on to the ideals of this era demoralizes the common man and woman. I hope in my example of learning, realizing, and accepting the hurtful use of the R-word that others might come to similarly learn, realize, and accept the hurtful use of the Confederate imagery.

As New Orleans’ Governor Mitch Landrieu said to his fellow New Orleaneans today, we are able to “choose a better future for ourselves, making straight what has been crooked and making right what was wrong. Otherwise, we will continue to pay a price with discord, with division and, yes, with violence. To literally put the Confederacy on a pedestal in our most prominent places of honor is… an affront to our present, and it is a bad prescription for our future.”

The lesson for me is when someone tells you you’re being hurtful you should believe them. Reach into the deeper parts of your soul where you find your humanity, and love for others, and try to understand why. If it challenges one or many of your long-held beliefs then give it time and continue to think about it. Return your thoughts to the first step – listen – as you struggle to move onto learn. If you believe you’re on a path to reduce suffering you will eventually find yourself at the final step – change.

Our stubbornness is nothing more than a break pedal on the highway of life. It’s the changing of our minds that is the changing of gears allowing us to go forward faster.

Think with positivity. Speak with compassion. Act with empathy. Breathe with the rest of humanity.

Retire the R-word.

Retire the Confederate flag.

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Ten Poems

1.

Peace starts with me and the people that I talk to

Love is as old as the hills that I walk through

Freedom is expensive and you’re gonna have to argue

Justice only shows its head when life has double-crossed you

The lessons come with patience and a price that’s unexpected

But happiness is with me every second

We’re connected. 

 

2.

I stand in the wind both arms in the air

hands to the sky, chin high unaware

One being, flesh & bone seeing life in his eyes

sunlight be the whole key invited to rise

like sight to the blind or light to the sightless

vision to the young women, men & the righteous

now we gonna light this torch with the passion

fire on the rise these hands gonna pass it

head in the clouds how long has it lasted

face in the past both hands unmask it

step out the race break away unfastened

chill for a minute with your legs on the hassett

speak til you’ve lost all blood in your cheek

fight for the weak, life’s bleek for the meek

try’n to plug these leaks going week after week

my hunger for love gon’ flood these streets

I’ll keep to the script, tight lipped with the secret

frequent the sequence known to defeat shit

freak with sinking ships thinking I’m deep

    thinking I’mma walk both sides of the street

my wise poetry hides potency openly

speaking real words til the world starts noticing

dig with a pen, these seeds grow hope

just feed what you want and starve what you don’t

break bread with your best friend, breath with your brethren –

listen to the lessons – they’ve been referenced

next in the line, you’re destined to rise

this light gon’ shine

    my life in the sky

draw heat from your whole heart, march to the beat

compete with yourself to clean what you think

speak to your weakness, get your holes filled in

give to the children what you been building

love your brothers, all race and all colors

no hope in the world if we don’t love others

 

3.

The day we die we’ll realize how silly we were

Until that day we’ll think but never be sure

We’ll remember our roots that stretch through and through

That we have the same baseline, heart rhythm too

We’ll see how fast the years passed by and wonder if 

we lived it to the fullest or did we blunder it

We won’t be concerned about money

We’ll be thinking about our family

We’ll be smiling at our friends

transcending gravity

The day we all die and say bye to the world

we’ll realize how silly we were

for sure.

 

4.

You’re the light in my eyes

You’re the sight in my life

You’re a blinding surprise until I close them at night

You’re my wheel on the runway

landing at home

Where the cardinals chirp

to the beat of this poem

 

5.

I remember holding a pen-cil
getting started back in kindergarten it was intense still 
I’d sit ’til I mastered the print while my friends studied the sten-cil
My lines got nice as I worked it
from block letters to cursive
my classmates copied off the wordsmith
but grades were not the purpose 
A’s were just my service
the days would pass I’m sure it’s
how a hobby starts to surface
Then I turned up the ways
I could turn out a phrase 
My knowledge grew on college ruled I could fit more words on a page
this amateur walked from pencils to Manitowac Bic pens
It instilled some big grins
I’d read what I’d write share it with kids and get friends
While some sat limp in their chair like a test dummy
I felt I had an outlet that let out the best of me
I read more and saw Dr. Seuss as truth
the places I’d go if I grew my roots
and I loved The Grinch it’s
a mastery of balancing Halloween with Christmas
the green monster sponsored me to write some stories
with some children’s poetry that I expect was boring
But I wasn’t up for recognition fame or exhibition
just a game to stretch the little thoughts envisioned into diction
I’d hit the pages with the best imagination
writing nonsense in a way that would last from days to decades
still thoughts flipped fast to pass as animation
ink for the script but lead for the test page
I knew the best ways to skewer essays
get the best grades and start the next phase
I make change in the wake plus make what’s in front of me
I try to stand tall to get these words from under me

 

6.

She’s my angel out of thin air. She carries thoughts of contentment from which the smell of Spring receives its sweetness. The dew drops fall more thickly from the petals that surround. The clouds roll as oceanic ripples from her heartbeat. She is epic. 

 

7.

 

 

 

 

8.

the rain

like tiny drops of heavens

falling down to all of us

tapping my shoulders

wetting my head with love

feeding the soil and my soul

 

9.

fire flies

fidgeting flights of twilight

jittery whimsical sights 

flashing signals of life

a quick glimpse for tired eyes

flittering fluttery heights

shining slowly 

flashing hiding

flying glowing

making their rounds at nights

tiny invaders

silent indicators

rising with flare

riders on an invisible carousel of air

quietly drifting

calmly shifting

at dusk we all come here

 

10.

I’ve learned

it’s easy to make life look normal

it’s easy to make life look fun

it’s easy to make life look.

 

I’ve learned

it’s possible to go far

it’s possible to change course

it’s possible to.

 

I’ve learned

we all are on our way

we all are important

we all are.

 

I’ve learned

there’s a way for you

there’s a way for them

there’s a way.

 

I’ve learned

you have to sing

you have to try

you have to.

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