BUFFALO — Remember the old saying, “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me?” I’m sure many of us heard it on the playground, or maybe our mothers told it to us, after a meanie called us names. But the truth is, I bet most of us remember names we were called or words hurled at us in anger more than any physical pain we may have endured, in childhood.
Several agencies in Erie County are working to educate the community on how, in fact, words can be hurtful. On March 5, the Erie County Office for the Disabled was joined by numerous other agencies in a Community Involvement Day at the Central Library in downtown Buffalo, as part of an annual national effort to “Spread the Word to End the Word.”
The event brought parents, teachers and students together, in an effort to raise societal consciousness about the harmful effects of the word “retard(ed),” encouraging all people to pledge to stop using the word. That gathering also called attention to the many forms of physical, verbal and cyberbullying that occur within our younger population and said they would work to stop them.
“Efforts like this Community Involvement Day help to bring people together to realize how hurtful and destructive language can be and how bullying of any kind is always wrong,” said Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz. “The R-word or any cruel language only demeans and divides people. When we join together and pledge to stop using that language and to stop bullying, wherever we see it, we are reaffirming that we want to live in a community that is respectful, caring and inclusive.”
I’m too young to remember when the “N-word” was common language, but I do remember when the “F-word,” as a derogatory term for homosexuals, was rampant. That word is falling out of favor, and with this campaign, maybe it will take the still-common “R-word” with it.The “Spread the Word” campaign was created by youth with and without intellectual disabilities who participated in the Special Olympics Global Youth Activation Summit at the 2009 Special Olympics Winter Games.
“Today’s event provides a great opportunity for community advocates to assemble and educate the public about language that is hurtful, not to one specific group, but to all people,” said Executive Director of the Erie County Office for the Disabled Frank Cammarata. “We are providing awareness to the entire county that the ‘R-word’ is hurtful, as well as so many other words meant to demean, and needs to be considered before being spoken. Harmful language, bullying and other negative behaviors hurt and have long-lasting effects, so it is essential that we ‘spread the word’ as far as possible.”
Groups like the Erie County Office for the Disabled, Self-Advocates of NYS, the Buffalo & Erie County Public Library and People Inc. bonded together last Wednesday to spread awareness, but it needs to go further than that. Those efforts, I think, start at home.
How often has a “bad word” slipped out around your children? Have you ever heard a kid repeat a profanity and thought it was cute or funny? I admit, it makes me smile when I hear a toddler call his mommy the “b-word,” but then I think about what we’re encouraging, when we let ourselves use demeaning language around children, even by accident.
My grandmother’s generation had to learn not to use the “N-word.” We had to learn that the “F-word” isn’t OK. Now, we’re all working to get the “R-word” out of our vocabulary, as well. Let’s work to eradicate all offensive language, words that put people down, even unintentionally. Let’s learn to speak with respect and kindness.