Sunday, February 24, 2013

A sweet tasting pickle

Prior to the days of Facebook and other social media, a lot of little people in the United States and around the world were part of a yahoo list serve for people with dwarfism.  The list serve was a great way to connect with other little people to share resources, share experiences, and ask questions.   A guy I know named Danny would periodically post on the list serve.  In my memory, though in reality it's probably not accurate, I remember Danny posting every year on April 1 -- April Fool's Day.  He would concoct a satirical story about a pickle company abolishing the name "Midget Pickles" from its catalog of products.  I was always kind of annoyed by the April 1 postings by Danny.  For one thing, it would have been cool if the company actually did abolish name.  The fact that the name wasn't abolished was disappointing.  Also, Danny runs an operation in which he connects little people with businesses or individuals who want to hire dwarfs for entertainment gigs.  In his business, Danny promotes his talents using the m-word.  Though I don't know what is going on in his head, I've always believed that he would flaunt the m-word the word on the list serve, and later on Social Media, as a way to annoy people. With the story about "midget pickles," he wasn't trying to be funny.  He was trying to get under people's skin. 

Like all other uses of the m-word, I've always found "midget pickles" very tiresome.  In college, I remember grocery shopping with a friend of mine.  We were picking up food for a picnic.  While in the condiment aisle, we came across a jar of "midget pickles."  The pickles made me very uncomfortable.  I've never tried to do anything about the pickles, either on my own or in my role with LPA.  I figured, eventually the term would cycle out of the pickle industry.  And since the word wasn't being used in an intentionally derogatory way, I figured I could wait.

I am happy to report that a mother of a very young girl with dwarfism in Rhode Island didn't want to wait.  A while back, soon after she gave birth to her daughter, she came across a jar of "midget pickles."  She was outraged.  Talking about the experience to the media, she said she wanted to smash the jar of pickles right there, on the floor.  Instead of taking out her anger on the jar, she established communication with the pickle company -- Cains.  Eventually, after listening and considering the mother's point of view, Cains decided to change the name. (Thank you Cains!) The story was picked up by the media and reported on February 19.  In the days that followed, many other stories appeared.  Here is a link to the first story I read, which was in the Providence Journal.   

Since the story first broke, there has been a significant backlash against the mother.  Thankfully, in response to the backlash, there also has been a significant outpouring of support for the mother.  The backlash has been surprising.  I didn't expect people outside the dwarf community to care about the name of a pickle, especially if they knew that the name change was celebrated by a community of ten of thousands of people and their families who hate the m-word.  Yet, they claimed to care.  In the comment section of online media stories, some people would criticize the mother, asking her why she didn't spend her time trying to solve world peace, or climate change, or the fiscal crisis.  For me, that kind of argument has always been a cop out.  I wouldn't be surprised if the mother is trying create world peace and end hunger.  All of us fight many battles day in and day out.  Most will never be won.  Kudos to this mother for winning one, not just for her and her daughter, but for dwarfs around the world.

In reality, I think the people who are upset aren't mad because the mother focused her energy on a jar of pickles.  They aren't mad because they wish she spent her time on other issues.  I think they are upset because the playing field on which all of us participate in this world became a little bit more even for people with dwarfism.  The world can be a scary place.  Unfortunately, some people defend themselves against the insecurities of the world by grasping at what they believe makes them superior compared to others.  For people with dwarfism, the label of midget dehumanizes us.  When all the negative baggage that comes with the word is thrown onto the backs of people of short stature, it is easy for us to be treated as unequal participants in the communities in which we live.  As we continue to raise awareness about the m-word, we start to shed the baggage that comes with the word.  We have a long way to go, but the more baggage we shed, the more level the playing field will become for people of short stature.  Some people, to fight against their insecurities in the world, grasp at anything that makes them feel more powerful.  Perhaps, for some of these people, the deconstruction of the m-word, and the emergence of dwarfs as people, not "midgets," threatens their power and exposes their insecurities.

Of course, this is just my theory about why some people reacted so negatively to the actions of the mother from Rhode Island.  But below is a comment which I think supports my theory.  The woman from Rhode Island keeps a blog about her daughter and her experience as a mother. Her blog is called A is for Adelaide . Since the pickle announcement, many people have posted on her blog.  Many of the posts have been vicious.  Here is one that I think is hateful:

 I am buying up and preserving jars of Cains MIDGETS so that my grandkids could see what they were…along with my coffee cup and menu from Sambo’s Restaurant…the OLD Aunt Jemimah pancake syrup container and my DVD of Walt Disney’s Song Of The South…good ol Uncle Reemis.

It's as if this man's world has been falling apart over the years.  One by one, the country has recognized the right of self determination for marginalized groups.  This man can't stand the fact that he is expected to treat other people as his equal. 

People with dwarfism and their families will continue to have many hills to climb in the future.  Some will be difficult.  But with people like Chelley Martinka, the mother from Rhode Island, a part of the community, we will be equipped to make it up those hills.  So, many thanks to Chelley.  Thanks not just for reaching out to Cains, but for generating a dialogue around this issue, for exposing the hate and insecurities in others, and for dealing with it all in such a restrained, dignified, and impressive way.

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