Yesterday, I wrote about Professor Lennard Davis, who lectured on January 29 about the exclusion of disability from the diversity continuum. According to Davis, disability is actually too different on the scale of otherness and therefore does not fall within what society embraces as diversity. On the outside looking in, the disability community does not enjoy the benefits that fall within the diversity umbrella. One significant benefit is acceptance.
Drilling deeper into Davis' theory may give some explanation for why events such as midget wrestling and midget bowling are promoted in bars across the United States. If one were to take a community that is embraced along the diversity spectrum, a bar owner couldn't get away with a bowling or wrestling event featuring that community. I could only imagine the reception that a marquee with the sign "African American Bowling," "Latino Bowling," or "Hindu Bowling" might receive. Some people may scratch their heads in curiosity and wander inside, but once they saw a black man or Hindu being thrown down the alley, curiosity may turn to disgust. Disgust would only be elevated if the terms African American, Latino and Hindu were replaced with slurs, just as dwarf is replaced with midget. Nevertheless, a quick search of the internet uncovers wrestling and bowling events that feature people of short stature, promoted as "midgets," in states around the country. Earlier this month, the House of Blues in Chicago hosted Midget Wrestling. Just last weekend, a place called Jesse Oaks in Gages Lake, Illinois hosted midget bowling. It would be one thing if people of short stature were participating in these events alongside people of typical stature. But in these cases, the "midgets" are the entertainment.
With the Jesse Oaks event, a number of people from the District Six Chapter of Little People of America wrote to the bar, expressing their concern. The responses District Six members heard back varied, but the typical response defended the event by claiming the participate was expressing his own free will. That response circles back to the point I think Davis was trying to make. The managers of Jesse Oaks, and bar owners across the country that host wrestling and bowling events with people of short stature, fail to see dwarfism as a community. They fail to see dwarfism as part of the diversity spectrum. If we were recognized as part of the spectrum, bar owners would realize that their own actions, and the actions of the few people of short stature who participate, are an insult to the entire community, and damage the entire community. Instead they see people of short stature as individuals who are different from the norm. In an attempt to respect them as individuals, they hire them to participate in an activity that disrespects the entire community. Obviously, money is a factor as well as respect. But the situation reminds me somewhat of someone who is homophobic. Let's say the homophobic man befriends a man named Steve. Steve happens to be gay. The bigoted man grows close to Steve and respects Steve, but continues to be bigoted toward the gay community. The bigoted man fails to extend the humanity he applies to Steve to the entire gay community.
After 20 years in Chicago, I am frustrated the city continues to host events that demoralize and degrade the dwarfism community. But as my dentist said on Tuesday when referring to my gum line, "it is what it is." And as Davis said on Tuesday night, we just have to keep on doing what we are doing (raising awareness, promoting disability culture and pride). Hopefully, one day, things will change.