The Mindful Merchant

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Respect July 7, 2010

Filed under: children,education,family,hate,parenting,racisim,respect,special events — MindfulMerchant @ 11:40 pm


This year was a challenging year for our kids at school. More independence, less coddling by teachers, homework and school yard dynamics. Oy!  Some of it we anticipated as part of attending a full day in the primary grades. There were issues with inclusion, speaking up,  hurt feelings and even and a bullying incidence. (which has resolved – fingers crossed)


Some of it, my husband and I were unprepared for.  Like the time our youngest had her pals over for a play date. Sitting around the kitchen table having a snack they sang a new rhyme they learned at recess. It was a derogatory song making fun of a specific ethnic group. Whoa! I cut them off mid song and we talked about the words and their meaning. They were unaware that the rhyme was so awful and felt badly afterward.


One of the biggest shocks my husband and I were not prepared for were questions about unfamiliar words they heard in the playground. “What does “gay” mean, Mommy?”  – “What does “retarded” mean?” Seriously?! Grade 1 and 2 children are running around calling one another these unacceptable words?   Yes.  Unfortunately, some adults are still use them too. 


Perhaps people are unaware that the words are full of hate and hurt.  Many of us grew up hearing the terms and think nothing of using them.  Recently, I asked someone not to use the word “retarded” with me and they argued there was nothing wrong with it – because it was a ‘legitimate clinical word’ and they didn’t say it in a mean way. Ooooh, that was an interesting conversation… 


One of the blogs I follow is Dave Hinsburger’s blog – Rolling Around in My Head. He has worked for over 30 years in the field of disability, is an author and travels the world as a lecturer. His writing makes me think and reflect, sometimes cry, and delivers a powerful message.   


Dave recently wrote about marching in the Toronto Gay Pride Parade with his organization Vita Community Living Services. He wrote, “We had determined we wouldn’t just ‘be’ in the parade, we wanted to ‘work’ the parade. As the parade is, in part, a celebration of diversity”. He had cards printed and with the help of co-workers and other groups marching that day, handed them out to the crowds. I thought they were so powerful I asked Dave if I could share them…he said yes.







After the parade and the crowds dispersed, Dave noticed coming back up Yonge Street no cards were thrown on the ground. An encouraging sign!  I hope Dave’s cards will inspire sharing this message with family, friends and community.   At the very least,  invite discussion, which is always the beginning of change.





8 Responses to “Respect”

  1. Karen Says:

    I am very proud of Toronto that we have a Gay Pride Parade! I like to think that everyone is welcome in Toronto.

  2. Finola Says:

    Some of the “tweens” in our neighbourhood use a lot of these deragatory terms and it always shocks me. We have made so much progress and yet we still have a long way to go.

  3. Unfortunately, these are common terms in school yards…still.

  4. XUP Says:

    I read something recently about the use of the word “retard”. The article suggested that since that word was no longer associated with any group, it was okay to use it in a “joking” manner. Like the word “dumb” or “dummy”. That’s fairly benign these days but certainly not in the days when deaf people were referred to as “deaf and dumb”. Or take the word “goof” – which to most of us is just a silly word, but calling someone a goof who is in or has been in the prison system can get you beaten up or worse. Gay has gone through a lot of transformation, too. From meaning joyful to meaning a prostitute to its current meaning. I don’t know where I’m going with all this except that I tend to feel that words are just a collection of letters — it’s the meaning and intent behind the words that are important. So, I’ve never made a word off-limits to my child, but I have explained to her where the word comes from, how it’s evolved, what it means today in this society and what might happen if she uses it.

    • The problem is that these words are almost always said in the playground or casually in conversation in a derogatory, negative way. I think it is too easy to say the intention was a joking one. People with physical or mental disabilities, gay/lesbian, I think, would agree. Yes, words are a collection of letters but words have power. Years ago, racial slurs were accepted…now they are not. Words targeting a specific group of people in a negative way should not be in our vocabulary. Our language is full of magnificent words…we can find better ones to make a point.

  5. XUP Says:

    I totally agree with you. I know it may not have sounded like that. Saying something racist or sexist or otherwise insulting and saying it’s okay because it’s a joke is obviously not acceptable. I just spend a lot of time pondering the “bad word” issue though. I don’t want to teach my daughter that there are “bad” words per se. That never seemed right to me. The word is not bad. “Gay” is not a bad word. Many people are proud to be called “gay”. It’s not bad to refer to someone as gay if they are gay. Currently, using the word as an insult to someone is what makes it unacceptable. The word “bitch” is supposed to be perfectly acceptable if you’re referring to a female dog, but obviously not if you’re referring to a female human. It’s confusing — especially for kids. They’ll hear the word “gay” all over the place, but making the distinction between why it’s okay in certain contexts and not in others is tricky with kids. And then there’s the whole issue of reclaimed words – words that were once not acceptable but now are commonly used. Saying “oh my god” was once considered the highly blasphemous and would have been completely unacceptable and insulting. Anyway, it’s a big topic that I don’t think has a simple black and white answer. We can say words have power, but really they only have as much power as we give them. And a word that has power today may have none 10 years from now. But I know what you were getting at originally and I’ve veered way off track.

    • Oh…o.k. I understand! I see your point about bad words and context. Sorry, I read it differently first time `round XUP. Yes, I understand the fear of having `bad` words with our kids, since gay is not a bad word. It IS tricky. Children pick up on how we use the words too. If we are using them appropriately, they will not think to use them in any other way. Hopefully. 🙂

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