So we were headed to the elevator when one of the three women, all pushing their babies in strollers, used the ‘R’ word in a sentence. As it turned out they ended up right behind us as we waited for the elevator to arrive. The door opens. I turn to both back in and to face them.
Now, you may find this hard to believe but I find it very difficult to confront strangers in situations like these. My heart was pounding in my chest. And the reason I continued, the reason I spoke up, was because my heart was pounding in my chest. I care about this. Nervous or not, I care and my voice is necessary.
I said calmly, “Excuse me,” I spoke to them as a group even though I knew which one had used the word, none of them stopped her, which meant all of them did it, listening without complaint is no different than saying it yourself, “I don’t mean to enter into your day but I have to, I heard you use the “R” word and I’m asking you as a disabled person to think about the words you use. That is a really hurtful word. It can devastate someone’s spirit. So please don’t.”
They were thunderstruck.
The elevator door was trying to close but jumping back as soon as it started, as if it were scared of me too.
Then one of them, one who did not say the word said, “It wasn’t us! I would never, ever, use that word. Ever!”
I had no intention of pointing out the one who had spoken the word, I could see the emotion in the group and felt that now was the time to leave it to group dynamics. I said, “Oh, if it wasn’t you, I apologize. I heard the word used behind me and I feel that, as hard as it is, I need to speak up. Everyone deserves to be safe in the world.”
I backed in and the door closed.
Even though they denied it and I knew that one of them had said the word, I apologized. It was important to simply not look like an asshat at that point. I didn’t want them to easily dismiss me.
Working towards social change sometimes takes more courage than I want to have and the ability to appear calmer than I ever feel.
But there are times when our voices are needed and necessary.
This was one of those times.