Nearly two weeks ago, on February 8, Rosie O'Donnell interviewed Chelsea Handler on The Rosie Show. In the interview, O'Donnell confessed a fear, or a discomfort with, little people. She confessed to Handler because of Handler's familiarity with little people. She works with one on the talk show "Chelsea Lately" and on the sit-com "Are You There, Chelsea?" After the confession, the conversation that followed both infantalized and dehumanized little people. The reaction to the insulting conversation was stronger and larger than when Representative Ritch Workman introduced HB #4063 (the bill that would have repealed a ban on dwarf tossing in Florida). Many people have posted video responses, have contacted O'Donnell through Twitter and Facebook, and have sent a message to O'Donnell through the media. The overwhelming majority of the messages have been critical of O'Donnell, not just for confessing her fear, but for using the confession as a vehicle to exploit the differences between people of short stature and others, and to exacerbate stereotypes directed at people of short stature. Along with all the others, I got into the act. I posted messages on her Facebook and Twitter page. I even posted a Huffington Post blog.
Most people who speak out are asking for one of two things. They ask that O'Donnell issue a public apology, or that she hold a second conversation about dwarfism on her show, one that includes a little person and one that addresses the misconceptions that she created in the conversation with Handler. O'Donnell has issued a few apologies, both over Twitter. Though I believe Twitter is considered public, I don't think a Twitter apology is what most people had in mind. While media coverage hasn't been overwhelming, the coverage that does exist has portrayed people with dwarfism as a strong, united community. More importantly, the media coverage has listened to what was said by the community and has correctly communicated what the community has said. This could be a great help for the community in the future. Because of the media reaction, whether O'Donnell apologizes again or not, or if she addresses the issue again on a future show, chances are the media will continue to listen the dwarfism community in the future.
I believe that many times on this blog I have written the disclaimer, "I am not a sociologist." In this entry, I will add the disclaimer, I am not a researcher. I am just a blogger. But from my blogger point of view, I believe that O'Donnell's comments are indicative of a community wide transition in terms of superficial reactions to people with dwarfism. Over the past few decades, the overall population has been bombarded with a lot of information about dwarfism. Within that information has been the message that the m-word is unacceptable as well as the message that people with dwarfism, while physically different, have the right to be treated as others are treated. As a result, outright discrimination against or exploitation of little people simply because of their difference is generally not acceptable. Entertainers as well as members of the general public can no longer as easily get away with poking fun at or objectifying people of short stature because of their physical difference. With the decline in exploitation of people of short stature, there has been a rise of 'phobia' toward people of short stature. Just today, on my way to get a haircut, a woman cowered against the side of the building when she saw me, explaining to her companions that I scared her or freaked her out. I get the 'phobia' reaction much more than I did 10 or 20 years ago. It is my hypothesis that people have fallen back on the phobia reaction because outright ridicule of the community is no longer as acceptable as it once was.
My hypothesis is only based upon two observations. The first is that, according to my wife, no such dwarf phobia exists in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. The second is that I've never witnessed or heard of anyone express or display a so called phobia when he or she is alone. The so called phobia has only manifested itself within individuals who are around their friends, peers or colleagues. This leads me to believe that, because bigotry against little people will be frowned upon, the phobia is a vehicle to get a reaction out of, and to get attention from, their friends and peers.
But who knows, perhaps O'Donnell does have some issues. But even if she does, the dwarfism community deserves better from someone who claims to be a champion of inclusion.