Sunday, October 28, 2012

Language impacts everyone

Sometimes, when talking about language, people of short stature connect use of the word midget to use of the n-word.  I've done this also, yet I qualify the comparison by explaining that use of the m-word stimulates the same visceral reaction among people of short stature that use of the n-word produces among the African-American community.  The problem with making this comparison is that it is easy for an audience of listeners to believe that the experience of people of short stature and the experience of African-Americans are being compared. This can create problems and can quickly turn an audience off from the point which is person is trying to make.  In my last post, I wrote about Bob Levine.  He wrote a letter in response to the Saturday Night Live's use of the m-word.  In his letter, he made the comparison.  He wrote, "The “M-word” should be considered as unacceptable as the “N-word.” Would you use the N word to describe black people, the S word for Hispanic people, the C or J words for Chinease or Japanese people, no."  Though he wasn't equating the experience of a person of short stature with the experience of an African-American, or a Latino, or an Asian.  Yet, he was attacked in the comment section of the website as if he were. 

The comparison between people of short stature and other marginalized groups can draw antagonistic response even within the dwarf community. Prior to Facebook and similar social media, there was an active dwarfism listserve on Yahoo.   Once, a discussion on the listserve that compared use of the m-word with use of the n-word drew the ire of an African American dwarf who was part of the discussion.  I can't quote what he said but the bottom line was that the African American thought it was inappropriate and insensitive to make the comparison.

Comparisons between dwarfs and other marginalized groups have their place. At least I think they do.  If I am speaking with someone unfamiliar with dwarfism, a comparison to something with which he or she is familiar is a way to draw empathy.  Yet, too many times the comparisons don't work.  For one reason or another, they draw attention away from the point that is trying to be made. 

The good news for people of short stature is that we don't need to use comparisons to other marginalized groups as strongly as we needed to in the past.  We still have far to go in terms of equality and equal treatment, but on the whole, society is more familiar with dwarfism than it was in the past.  With this in mind, the dwarf experience can stand alone.  We can speak about our on experience and use it alone as a justification for asking people not to use the m-word and for demanding a level playing field.

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