Sunday, March 31, 2013

Trolling for trouble

A few years ago, in 2009, Little People of America officially identified the word midget as a negative term.  LPA created a policy in which the organization would attempt to raise awareness about the word in an effort to get people to stop using the word.  Since then, LPA has used Dwarfism Awareness Month and other vehicles as a tool to educate the public about language and dwarfism. 

The community of people with intellectual disabilities has a similar campaign.  That community is trying to end use of the word "retard," which is referred to as the R-Word.  Here is more information about the Spread the Word to End the Word Campaign.  As part of the R-Word Campaign, volunteers hang out on Twitter, searching for use of the r-word.  When volunteers find a tweet with the word, they respond to the Tweeter, explaining why the word is hurtful in hopes that the Tweeter will discontinue using the word.  A few years ago, a paper out of Springfield, Illinois wrote a story about the work of these volunteers. The story featured a peer of mine named Tyler McHaley.  Talking about Tyler and his work on Twitter, the reporter writes "The longest Tyler has ever done this is about 45 minutes. He can't take it it any longer than that, because anger and sadness get the best of him."  I get it. With the m-word, it is difficult enough to read the tweets and Facebook posts, let alone approach the authors.  For years, I have had a standing google alert for the word dwarf and midget.  For a while though, I turned off the alert for the word midget because every use of the word, if it didn't involve a soccer league or football league, was too degrading or embarrassing.

Eventually, I reinstated the Google alert and recently I've been trolling Twitter for use of the m-word. I started to do so last week after getting on my bike for one of the first times since the weather has slowly started to break in the Midwest.  I biked to work last Monday morning. When I was within a few blocks of the office, a young woman driving a gray SUV pulled up alongside of me.  I noticed the car shadowing me just behind my shoulder.  When I turned to look I could tell the woman had just taken my photo with her phone.  From experience, I know that it's best just to let it go.  If I had done so, I probably wouldn't be thinking about it right now.  Yet, it's difficult to let it go sometimes.   I tried to track down the vehicle but it wasn't long before the vehicle was well ahead of me and out of sight. 

Curious about what the woman might do with the photo, that night, and a few times since, I've searched Twitter with an m-word Hashtag.  Luckily, I didn't find that any photos of myself.  I did find a few random photos of little people taken by people who I assume don't know the little person and didn't ask the little person for permission.  But much more than photos of little people, I found self-deprecating tweets from people who appear to be insecure about their height.  Here are a few:

*Size 3 shoes and they still feel big what the hell us this???!!
 * Why am I so short
 *Yesterday i realized im kinda short. No really short. I better grow soon.

Curious, I searched Twitter for the R-Word also.  There seemed to be about the same number, and often times those also were self-deprecating.

To use the word in that way doesn't make it acceptable, but I find it interesting because I am guessing that the authors of the tweets have some knowledge of the fact that the word, or words, is derogatory.  Again, it doesn't make it acceptable, but if indeed the users have an awareness of the word, they are probably closer to not using the word than if they didn't know what affect, in particular what negative affect, the word has.  

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