Sunday, November 28, 2010

Standards of measure

In reality, just as I held the Village of Bartlett to a different standard than bar owners in Chicago, I hold many people and entities to different standards. For example, though we are in the 21st Century and have progressed in terms of inclusion and diversity as a society, a handful of radio shock jocks and stand-up comedians still today use the word midget and people of short stature as the punchline of a joke or routine. For the most part, when the organization Little People of America hears about an offense by a comedian or radio dj, the organization won't respond, for the same reason democrats running for office don't try to convert far right leaning republicans. There isn't much chance of conversion. Instead they target people whose political beliefs fall more toward the center. But, to use the political analogy again, when someone on prime time, mainstream television uses the word midget as a slur or a punchline, it's like a candidate betrayed by someone within his or her own political party. One would expect support from another within your party. And, one would expect that a prime time television program would be more in touch and sensitive to marginalized communities. That's why, in the spring of 2009, when contestants on the "Celebrity Apprentice" -- used the word midget several times, put people of short stature in exploitative positions, and spoke disparagingly about people of short stature -- the little person community responded strongly. It is more dangerous when such an offense happens on prime time because millions of people are exposed to it. And it's one thing for a shock jock to condone ridiculing little people, but if a prime time program condones the behavior, it sends the wrong message to millions of people. So again, just like the Village of Bartlett, Donald Trump and "The Celebrity Apprentice," were held to a different standard.

Recent news from England made me think again about the double standards. Public servants and individuals who are voted into office serve the public. Therefore, one would hope that they are aware of and sensitive to each constituency they represent. But in England, the Prime Minister, David Cameron, recently came under fire for repeating a heightist joke aimed at John Bercow, who is the Commons Speaker. Bercow is 5' 6". Evidently, the Health Minister in England, Simon Burns, crashed into Bercow's car. When Bercow said he wasn't happy, Burns responded to affect of, "Well, which one are you?"(if you are not "Happy," which one of the seven dwarfs are you.) Last June, Burns also referred to Bercow as a "sanctimonious dwarf." The Walking with Giants Foundation (the one representing people with primordial dwarfism), responded quickly, and Burns apologized.

This past week, when talking with reporters, Prime Minister Cameron repeated the "Happy" incident, and the joke, to a group of journalists. The Walking with Giants Foundation again responded. In a public statement, the Foundation said, "It was bad enough having a minister of health make similar distasteful comments but to have the Prime Minister himself glorify the comments in a joke is totally unacceptable and downright appalling." The Foundation has accused Cameron of harassment and has called for talks with the Prime Minister.

I think that people of short stature should hold public officials to different standards. The goal of Little People of America and other groups that represent people of short stature is to impact a world in which people with dwarfism have access to the same opportunities and can live in equality with people of average, or typical, stature. In reality, people of short stature, in the United States, in England, and around the world, are often treated, or viewed, differently than the rest of the population. If we are to have any chance of achieving our goals, we need Prime Ministers, and all elected officials, working with us, not against us. Congratulations to the Walking with Giants Foundations for holding Cameron accountable.

by a group representing people with primordial dwarfism


  1. It is most disappointing when it is someone, like a comedian, that you enjoy. Like finding that someone in office or that you admire and look up to is a racist. People used to think those kind of jokes were funny too.

    Progress is slow.

  2. Cameron was just rejoicing in his own witticism although it was hardly novel or unique. You the know the type, the one who always laughs the loudest at his own jokes.

  3. I also find it humorous that these politicians in public office behave in a manner at the level of a bunch of preschoolers. Such dignity of office.

    Let's hope for the sake of running England that they have other skills which have advanced beyond that level.

  4. For the sake of argument, do you ever think that the firing off of insults in situations such as after a fender bender which brings out the worst in people, may just be a simplistic firing of empty insults?

    I mean people will say things like f'in retard, moron, fat cow, or blind jackass and such in moments like these. But, they aren't really prejudiced against the mentally challenged, or cows, or the blind.

    Although it is another case to repeat gleefully the 'joke' or story at a press conference....

  5. With more power comes more responsibility.

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  7. Sorry Anonymous. I haven't kept up with your comments. To address a few -- yes, I think certain situations (like fender benders) bring out the worst in people. What people do in those situations may not reflect who they are in general. I think each one of us has some evil in side of us. I still we should hold each other accountable.

    your December 1 comment reminds me of John Moe. He is connected with National Public Radio and has a child with dwarfism. A piece he put together a while back said something similar. How his list of people who have perpetrated offensive acts or comments against dwarfism continues to grow. And how it is disappointing because sometimes new list members are individuals he admired or enjoyed. The piece ran after that Mike Myers movie (something like the Guru? I think) was released.