Monday, February 23, 2009

Now I know why I don't vote Republican

A friend of mine said that comedians, after several punchlines have dissolved within an impatient audience, will pull out the midget jokes as a last resort. Last week, Republican National Committee Chair Michael Steele pulled out the midget jokes. In an address to publicize a public relations strategy designed to energize the party, Steele said he doesn't want to leave anyone out of the party's outreach efforts, including "one-armed midgets,"(New York Times).

In a mere three words, he has not only left-out, he has alienated the majority of people of short stature. Though, at least in my case, the adage names will never hurt me is not true, I understand that within certain circles, the word midget is still in heavy circulation. A few morning disc jockeys, a few people of short stature who pretend to wrestle, some bloggers, and some tired comedians, all continue to wear-out the word. But I try not to spend much energy on the people who use the word. Because in 2009, people who use the word are not trying to build bridges that will create a more tolerant, inclusive, unified society. I take it for granted that people who strive toward inclusivity, acceptance and diversity know the power of language and will not speak words before understanding the impact. Which is why what Steele said on February 19 is so difficult to bear. Here a man charged with rebuilding an organization uses the one word that represents generations of stigma, objectification and isolation for people of short stature.

There are only two explanations for Steele's comment. Either he doesn't know the history behind the word midget, or he doesn't care. Whatever the reason, what Steele said caused damage. In response to his remark, Little People of America sent this statement:

I question the sincerity of a political leader who uses such a poor choice of words to joke about his party’s efforts to outreach to people with disabilities, a group that traditionally has been marginalized in terms of opportunity and participation. Republican National Committee Chairman Michael Steele used antiquated language that is considered objectifying and contemptible by the largest organization that represents people of short stature in the United States. His supposed joke, “We need to uptick on our image, including one-armed midgets,” trivializes the interests and concerns of people with disabilities.

In the future, rather than craft “off the hook,” public relations efforts, my hope is that the Republican Party engage in genuine dialogue with the communities it purports to represent.

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