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Before Having a Child With Down Syndrome, I Used to Think the R-Word Was Funny

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A comedian, whom shall remain nameless referenced our civilized society’s unacceptable use of the R-word  in a  comedy special streaming on Netflix. Instead of using the R-word, he suggested saying  “extra 21st chromosome.”


But being so “extra 21st chromosome,” actually means being:


At least these are a few of the words I would use to describe my daughter, who has Down syndrome.

I will assume this comedian has never seen his child fight with relentless determination to survive when medical expertise said it was unlikely. This extra 21st chromosome came with vivacities in her eyes, a wildly facetious sense of humor, a veracious spirit of kindness. Although there are some delays, she has exceeded archetypal peers in some areas.  (There are a lot of impressive words in this paragraph. Little secret: I just right clicked and found synonyms — that’s a fancy word for other words with the same definition).

I could let this go, hope it goes away, but I can’t allow Down syndrome to be a punch line in a pathetic attempt at a joke. I mean, is it really that funny when someone lacks such a grasp of the English language that they have to be grossly offensive to someone who isn’t like them?

Since I first learned our daughter had Down syndrome, I have had two reactions to hearing these derogatory terms used to describe people with disabilities. I was either rendered speechless and said nothing as I envisioned myself tackling the person to the ground, pounding their face in as I repeated, “Stop saying that word.” Or I was condescending toward the person. Neither response is very helpful.

I guess I have not evolved emotionally enough to let this roll off my back. I really want to forgive their ignorance and prejudice. I wish I could educate and offer compassion and forgiveness. But I just have not been able to work through my rage in order to face the reality of my own history.

As it turns out, I need to forgive myself. You see, since my daughter was born, I erased any memory of ever using the R-word.  In order to express the hurt this word causes and to forgive those that use it, I have to own that I once said it.

I said it to be funny.

It was never funny.

I said it when I thought I did not look good in a photo. The way I looked has nothing to do with anyone with a disability.

I said it when I thought a school assignment was arbitrary. I knew better words (ie. arbitrary). Why didn’t I just say that?

I said it when I thought my boss was making stupid decisions. I believe the word I was looking for was “A-hole.”

I said it when I made a mistake. I should have just said… “Oh shit, I messed that up.”

Of course when I said it, I didn’t actually mean people with disabilities — you know,  “those people.” But I did mean that. Yikes. What an ignorant ass I was.

Look, using the R-word or the many variations of it  was never funny. These terms do not describe our children, siblings and friends.  The individual using these terms is the one who looks stupid. That used to be me. I am so embarrassed. Oh shit, I really messed that up!

I need to finally stand before my friends and my family and ask forgiveness.

To my amazing, lovable, and talented daughter and to all of our friends with an extra chromosome (or any disability),  I am deeply sorry.

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Originally published: January 23, 2018
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