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To the Students Who Stood Up to Our Classmate About Using the R-Word

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It was a normal day in ceramics class, and a mundane one at that. I had finished my project and was working on a painting for another class, and the girls at the table across from me were chattering while they worked, as usual. Nothing was out of the ordinary, and I was completely in my element since I’m completely at home in an art room.

A couple pieces broke off one of the girls’ sculptures, so she had to improvise while she was painting the sculpture. The part she was painting ended up looking like a character from a popular horror game, which another of the girls and I playfully pointed out.

Then, the class instigator, an unpleasant, obnoxious young man known for being irritating, had to speak up.

“It looks like a retard, that’s what!” he crowed, the usual spark of hateful mirth in his eyes as he lashed out in a way he thought was playful. This certainly wasn’t out of the ordinary — this young man was notorious for saying extremely rude, insensitive things when trying to joke around. It certainly hadn’t made him a class favorite.

As I heard that horrible word, I felt my blood begin to boil. I’m autistic, so that word is a slur in my eyes. I was called that awful word during elementary school because of my peculiar behavior, and I was informed of the negative connotation of the word by my parents at an early age when I tried to throw the insult back at people. I know the implications behind that word, the image it incites and the connotation it holds. It’s a word that makes my skin crawl and my hands go clammy, and hearing it from a classmate’s mouth was never a fun experience.

“Hey —” I started to protest, but the words died in my throat. Usually I had no problem standing up to people who use that word, but this time it was different. This kid was irrational, unable to be reasoned with. Whenever someone would tell him to hush or not do something, he would only do it louder in an attempt to annoy and/or offend. I knew that my protests stood no chance against him, so I clammed up, feeling numb.

Then, one of the girls at the other table spoke. “Hey. That’s not cool. That’s really not something you should joke about,” she said.

“Not cool… Not at all,” agreed the other, a frown on her face.

It was the most beautiful thing I had witnessed all day. Allistic people, standing up against the R-word? That certainly didn’t happen very often. Usually, in my experience, they simply ignored it and went on with their day. But these two girls had gone out of their way to protest against the boy’s use of the word, and my heart felt like it couldn’t be any lighter.

Since the two girls who spoke up are two of the more well-liked students in the class, it shut down the boy pretty quick. He gave a mumbled protest that I didn’t catch, looking belittled and humiliated for being called out. Those two girls had effectively silenced that young man’s hateful words, something I had thought was impossible.

I lack the social skills to thank them in person without feeling anxious and stumbling over my words, so I’m writing this as a thank you to them: M, G, thank you for shutting D’s hateful words down. You don’t know it, but in shutting him down, you were standing up for me as well. I don’t talk to you often because I feel somewhat intimidated by your outgoing attitudes, but I seriously appreciate not only what you did that day, but what you do on a day-to-day basis. You make me smile with your jokes and boisterous natures, and you brighten my day. Thank you for being who you are.

Spread the Word to End the Word! You can head here to pledge to stop using the R-word. It’s a step toward creating more accepting attitudes and communities for all people.

The Mighty is asking the following: Share with us an unexpected moment with a teacher, parent or student during your (or your loved one’s) school year. If you’d like to participate, please send a blog post to Please include a photo for the piece, a photo of yourself and 1-2 sentence bio. Check out our Share Your Story page for more about our submission guidelines.

Lead photo source: Thinkstock Images

Originally published: December 22, 2015
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