Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Is this what diversity looks like?

In both of my posts last month, I mentioned a lecture given by Lennard Davis, a professor at the University of Illinois at Chicago.  The lecture was titled "The End of Normal:  Disability and Diversity."  The premise of the lecture was that the idea of "normal" has evolved over the generations.  Historically, individuals were judged through a lens of what is normal, and what is abnormal.  Through cultural relativity, and through embracing differences, the lens of "normal" has evolved.  Now, rather than normal and abnormal, we view individuals through a broad panoramic lens of diversity.  Supposedly, there is no normal now.  Instead, we all fall along the diversity spectrum.  We are all different in some way and differences are celebrated.  In my opinion, Professor Davis' point was that some groups and individuals, which historically fell into the category of "abnormal," still fall outside the lens of acceptance.  The current spectrum of diversity claims to be inclusive, yet it does not include everyone.  Some of the groups that were once categorized as "abnormal" also do not have a place withing diversity.  According to Davis, disability is one of the groups that falls outside the spectrum.  Evidence of this can be found in places like the diversity and affinity groups of large firms and corporations.  They may include women, ethnic groups, and the LGBTQ community, but disability is often the last group to be included in these initiatives, if they are included at all.

The recent backlash against Chelley Martinka's efforts to get a pickle company to remove the word "midget" from its marketing, horrible as the backlash may be, provided a glimmer of evidence that disability, and in this case dwarfism, may indeed be poking its way into the diversity spectrum, (See "A Sweet Tasting Pickle").   One of the most hateful comments against Martinka, which was posted on her own blog, implied that the community's efforts to raise awareness around dwarfism and phase out language that is harmful and hurtful to members of the community is similar to efforts to eliminate stereotypical and racist representations of the African American Community.

This is what the comment said:  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.

A direct comparison shouldn't be made between the marginalization of the dwarf community and the African American community. But historically, and today, members of both communities have been, and in some cases still are, denied the opportunity full participation in the broader community because of either a difference of physicality or a difference of skin color.  The commenter above was making a connection between physical markers that signaled the marginalization of the African-American Community and the dwarfism community.  Because African-Americans have a place at the diversity table, this comment acknowledges that dwarfism may also have a place. 

I shouldn't get too excited about what someone is very likely racist and bigoted posted on the internet.  But in a way, the comment provided a glimmer of hope. It was like when a comedian, for whom nothing is sacred and no community of people is safe, after many years of ignoring, finally starts to make fun of you the way he makes fun of everyone else.  Of course, no one wants to be made fun of.  No one wants to be subject of hate.  But in order to make change, and make our way onto the spectrum of diversity, we have to be heard.  Because of people like Chelley Martinka, the advocates within Little People of America, and many others, we are starting to be heard.

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