Monday, April 14, 2014

An open letter to author John Green on his perpetual use of the r-word

The following open letter was written by a concerned parent and fellow friend to the author of several popular young-adult books, John Green.  I would like to share this letter here with you:

Dear Mr. Green, I’ve just finished reading “An Abundance of Katherines” and have previously read: “The Fault in Our Stars,” “Looking for Alaska,” and “Will Grayson, Will Grayson.” As a woman of 40+ plus I have probably read more of your books than many of my peers. My oldest daughter, who is 17, and her friends are huge fans of your work and I read the above-listed books at her suggestion. I must admit that I have enjoyed your writing style, your penchant for weaving characters together, your ability to keep the reader interested throughout and your sense of humor. Sadly, there is a part of your writing that I have not enjoyed….your repeated use of the word “retarded” and its many iterations as a slur. My youngest son, who is 2 years old, was born with Down syndrome. He was born into a world where many people think he should never have been born, where people think it’s okay to ridicule him simply because he has an extra chromosome. They judge him and the person he will become, before they’ve even laid eyes on him. Now, I’m sure you did not mean your use of the R-word as an insult or a slur towards my son, or those like him. I’m sure your intent was not to offend, but to use vernacular that is widely used by your reader base. What you may not realize, is that your use of the word reinforces the negative connotation and normalizes its use amongst teenagers. When these types of slurs are accepted they enable disenfranchisement on a very large scale. What I didn’t notice in your writing was the use of other slurs. Slurs such as the N-word, gay, homo, fag, the list could go on and on of words that were once widely used and with impunity in our society. These words were often used in order to garner a cheap laugh at the expense of others. As African American and LGBT rights have flourished, the use of these words became less and less acceptable. People began to realize that words have the ability to target and diminish and entire population of people. In today’s world, people with cognitive disabilities and their families and advocates are asking society to stop using the word “retarded” and all of its many mutations for the exact same reasons. It demoralizes and diminishes an entire population of people, sight unseen. At a minimum, I do hope that you will reconsider your use of the word in future writings. It would also be amazing if you would take a vocal stand against the use of the word and join the “Spread the Word, to end the Word” campaign. Just think of the impact you could have. Respectfully, Stacey Calcano (mother of 4, ages 2 to 17)

Twitter: @realjohngreen


  1. Thank you so much for hosting this letter. I am convinced if we can get John Green to speak out against the use of the R-word, it would be real paradigm shift for the next generation. xo

  2. John Green has addressed this before - below is an excerpt from an article that interviewed him, "The videblog is not presented as fiction, it’s presented as my face talking to you: me as a person, my advice, my thoughts and my feelings. An example is the word retarded. I would never use that word in a videoblog. I use that word in my novels when it’s true to the characters, when I want to show them imagining someone or something in a simplistic or unfair, uncomplicated way. So there’s a specific reason to use it in that context.”
    full context of the article can be found in the following link
    I am still not sure how I feel about his response - I understand what he is saying but do notI fully agree with his explanation. I think he is a very educated man, he spoke out on his tumbler blog against use of the "r-word" when Ann Coulter used the "r-word" in a tweet. I still think printing it in literature specifically generated at young adults is harmful

    1. Indeed! His distinction also does not answer Stacey's observation that Mr. Green does not use other slurs, even if they would have been "true to the characters".

    2. Thank you for this, I had no idea he had broached this subject before. Although, given his answer, I still would have written my letter :)

    3. I agree - I think your letter was well written and I LOVE your comment below - we need to be a vocal community. I teach freshman and each year have them participate in the "spread the word" campaign - it is AMAZING how a small amount of education can go a long way! Many of students were unaware that the term is considered derogatory and when explained they stop using it immediately - I have even heard a student correct another student in the hall! Keep up the good work!!

  3. I understand why he would say he uses the word. As one of the most influential voices of our next generation, I think it would be admirable for him to come out against the use of it and to acknowledge that one of the reasons the word is still used so often is becaue of it's appearance in popular culture.


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