This past Friday, I went to my usual afternoon tea destination, Bridgehead, and decided to hit the books and get my weekly readings out of the way earlier than usual. I was particularly aware of my surroundings sounds that day. The incessant hiss and whir of the espresso maker, the stirring spoons clattering against metal cups and my neighbor’s noticeably loud conversation.
As an aspiring journalist, and a naturally curious person, I really couldn’t help but eavesdrop on my neighbor’s loud chitter-chatter. Their conversation drifted from their new classes, to boys and back to school. I was fairly disinterested until one of the girls used the word ‘retarded’ in a pejorative sense to put down her friend.
My ears perked up. And, I shuddered on the inside. Though I don’t identify as someone with a disability, I have witnessed how the use of the ‘r-word’ affects people in ways that hurt far worse than I can imagine.
My thoughts were racing. I know that my first reaction should have been to politely ask them not to use that word and to simply explain why.
Hi. Excuses me. Sorry to interrupt your conversation. I overheard you use the word ‘retarded’ and I just wanted you to consider that it hurts people that are affected by special needs and those that love them, even if you didn’t intend it that way. Your words matter a lot. And, really, the use of the r-word isn’t’ necessary. Luckily, there are plenty of wonderful words in the English language that you could use instead.
Yet, in that moment, I chose not to speak up.
My fear of ‘social judgment,’ and being embarrassed if they responded poorly, prevented me from say anything at all. So, shamefully, I had delayed my response until the opportunity to say something had vanished.
When this incident occurred I was in the midst of reading this class’s reading by Baym. And, it occurred to me when she said, “the mobility of some new media means that we can now have conversation that would have once been held in our home (café)” and can now be held “wherever we are” (fb, twitter, blogging)…” I realized that I could take this conversation online.
And so, as a response to what happened I decided to do a self-motivated seven day social media challenge. I decided to tweet and post on *facebook once a day about why it is not okay to use the ‘r-word.’
Currently, I am on day five of my challenge and like Baym, I have begun to realize that “through communication, people assign symbolic meanings to technologies.”
For me, that has been to personally begin to associate social media as a tool for activism. Realistically, I don’t expect the ‘r-word’ to disappear anytime soon. And, I still wish I said something in person to those girls, but maybe, just maybe, this exercise will raise a little bit of awareness.
Time to share. Do you use the R-word? Would you make a pledge to stop?
What are your thoughts on the effectiveness of online activism?
Baym asks us to consider these questions when faced with a new communication medium. Let’s apply it to online activism. What benefits might it bring? What are the risks? What are the challenges for users and non-users?
*As not all of you will be able to access my facebook account, I have included my daily posts (Plus, if you’re still not convinced, hopefully these posts will help).
Friday: Spread the word: The R-word hurts! http://raregemsblog.wordpress.com/2011/03/02/the-r-word-hurts/
Saturday: Not Acceptable: Watch this PSA!
Sunday: Join the Social Challenge today! Through this site you can anonymously “challenge” Twitter r-word users. Join: http://www.thesocialchallenge.org/index.php/functions/register
Monday: A story: “The retard in the next booth”http://www.jcwert.com/2011/03/02/the-retard-in-the-next-booth/
Tuesday: Check out this blog called ‘Love That Max – a blog about kids with special needs who kick butt.’ Article: If you ask people not to use the word ‘retard’: http://www.lovethatmax.com/2011/03/if-you-ask-people-to-not-use-word.html
Wednesday: A moving blog post. Spread. The. Word. http://laviepetite.blogspot.ca/2011/03/spread-word.html