Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Notify the media

I've set up two "Google News Alerts" on my computer.   One is for the word "dwarf" and one is for the word "midget."  The News Alerts allow me to track media stories that include the word "dwarf" and "midget."  Every morning, Google will send me two emails.  One email includes links to all news stories from the previous day that include the word dwarf and one for the word midget.  I originally set up the emails to stay on top of stories that may be relevant to my work as Vice President of Public Relations and as President for Little People of America.  For a while, I stopped opening the email that listed the "midget" stories. If the stories included in the email didn't involve a youth sports league of some kind, the story was either insulting or ridiculous.  Opening the emails every day became too much of a burden.  Recently though, I've started to look at the emails again.  A few stories that have popped up in the last week are indicative of both what is wrong with the word midget and what people of short stature are sometimes forced to encounter. Neither story represents a serious problem that plagues people with dwarfism from dawn til dusk, but both underscore why it's important to raise awareness around dwarfism and language.

The first story comes from the Telegraph, a news site in England.  Both the headline of the story,
"Sunderland 'midget' Emanuele Giaccherini shows he can use his head with goal at Southampton" and the story include the m-word.  In this piece, the manager of a soccer club uses the m-word as a slur to put-down one of the players. Speaking about his player, Emanuele Giaccherini, who had made some impressive plays on the pitch, the manager says, “That proves that football is strange. Even a midget can score a goal, because he is intelligent."  The player is question is evidently 5'6".  The quote indicates two things. First, it indicates that if an individual is small of stature, then there is a general assumption that the individual does not posses the same talents as taller individuals.  Second, the quote indicates that the word "midget" is thought of as derogatory.  Sometimes, people ask, "What's wrong with the word 'midget?'  It's just a word."  Every word is just a word.  But words carry value, and words carry power.  Midget carries the weight of dehumanization and insult.  That's why Little People of America works to raise awareness around it. 

The second story comes from the Eagle-Tribune out of Maryland.  The story covers what happened when a helicopter landed in the parking lot of a strip club in a town called Salisbury.  Evidently, last week (August 21), the police were called to investigate when the helicopter touched down.  The investigating officer reported back to headquarters that the helicopter had dropped off the exotic dancer Bridget Powers, also known as "Bridget the Midget." Powers is a dwarf.  Last week, the paper ran a story about the visit from Powers.  Evidently, the story was incorrect.  When Powers' agent informed the paper that she was not a passenger in the helicopter on August 21, the paper double checked its story.  It turns out that the investigating officer made up the part about Bridget Powers.  She had worked in Salisbury in the past but was not a passenger in the helicopter.  According to the paper, the mistake "stemmed from the result of the responding officer’s attempt at humor, since Powers has worked at Kitten’s in the past."  Kitten's is the name of the strip club.  In response to the mistake, the local police department issued a media statement.  The statement included this line, "We are in the process of changing the culture of the Salisbury Police Department and this will be used as learning experience in that process." 

The story out of the Eagle-Tribune is harmless, but it might also reflect the mindset of society as a whole around dwarfism.  To the investigating officer, Bridget the Midget was a joke. He mentioned her name because he thought it would be funny.  It's possible that if it were a different entertainer, not Bridget Powers, who had made an appearance at Kittens, the investigating officer would have done the same thing.  In that case, stature wouldn't have made any difference.  But based upon the history of people with dwarfism in entertainment, and based upon the fact that people with dwarfism are still used as punch lines, it's easy to assume that Power's stature was part of the motivation behind the officer's actions. 

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