Glee Stars Speak Out About The ‘R-Word,’ A Slur Like Any Other

Is it okay to compare one derogatory slur with another?

By Julianne Hing Jun 01, 2011

Two Glee stars are in a new PSA together to encourage folks to stop using the word "retard" and its variants. The commercial opens with a black man in a coffee shop looking into the camera and saying: "It’s not okay to call me a nigger." And this begins a steady stream of people decrying the slurs used against them, a Latina standing in the meat aisle of a grocery store says, "It’s not okay to call me a spic," an Asian-American woman chimes in with, "to call me a chink," a young white man says, "to call me a fag," an older white man on a park bench says, "It’s unacceptable to call me a kike."

The camera then turns to Lauren Potter, who plays Becky, a Cheerios cheerleader and villainous cheerleading coach Sue Sylvester’s sweetly evil henchwoman on Glee. Potter also has Downs Syndrome. She says, "It is not acceptable to call me a retard, or call yourself or your friends "retarded" when they do something foolish."

"The R-word is the same as every minority slur," adds Jane Lynch, who plays Sylvester on the show. "Treat it that way and don’t use it."

It’s a bit of a shock to hear all those slurs popped out in a row and not everyone’s loved the PSA for exactly that reason. But derogatory language, if not these explicit slurs, abounds on television and in daily life. The r-word, I’d add, is not the only derogatory slur that compassionate, thinking people should consider dropping from their lexicon.

The real question, it seems, is whether or not it’s okay to compare one derogatory slur with another, which can often feel too much like equating the suffering of one group with another. In the end though, the PSA is meant to create awareness about a word that’s hurtful to people who are disabled, and those who care about them.