Monday, December 29, 2014

People and the things that they do

John Young is a friend of mine from Facebook.  Over the Christmas Holiday, he visited his home town in Canada.  While in Canada, he had to deal with people trying to take his picture at least twice. The incidents happened while he was out for a run.  John's nephew suggested that he write about what happened, which he did.  He submitted the story to local papers.  I am not sure if the piece was published, but John also posted the story on his blog.

I also went away for the Christmas Holiday.  I went to visit my in-laws, who live outside of a small town in North Central New Jersey.  Like John, I went jogging while I was away.  I went twice, fairly early in the morning.  Once on Christmas Day and once on December 27.  I heard about John and the pictures between my first and second run.  Knowing what had happened to John, I was hyper aware of anyone around me during the second run.  Thankfully, nothing happened.  The most attention I generated was not from people but rather from two big yellow dogs that lived on the property across the road from my in-laws.  They started to bark at me as soon as I turned from the driveway on to the two-lane asphalt road.  They followed me to the edge of the property line and then continued barking until I was out of sight.  

I really enjoy my visits to New Jersey.  But the fact that nothing happened to me while I was running is not a reflection of North Central New Jersey humanity compared to Orangeville, Ontario, where John Young visited.  I have no idea how many people John saw during his runs, but, between my two runs, I saw a total of two cars on the road, and four other people.  Each of the other people I saw was also running.  Two cars and four people is not a large enough sample size to reach the conclusion that the roads of Bernardsville, New Jersey are cooler than Orangeville, Ontario.

I thought about John's story again this morning. Back in Chicago, I took another run.  I followed a route I often take; a route on which I've never had a problem.  But typically, if I run outside in Chicago, I run on Saturday or Sunday mornings.  I don't know if I've ever run outside on Monday during the morning commute.  Running along sidewalks this morning, I was forced to navigate several cars that zoomed into intersections, came to a rolling stop over pedestrian crossings, and waited for a break in the traffic before making a right hand turn.  But I was unable to avoid the driver of a gray sport utility vehicle that, while heading north, made a u-turn over a median that divided the north and southbound lanes.  Now moving south, the driver, with one hand on the steering wheel and one hand holding a phone, took my picture.

In the hours that followed my run, I thought about many things.  I thought about John and all the other people with dwarfism to which this type of thing happens.  No one should have to suffer this indignity, but it's nice to be in the company of good people.  I thought about the driver.  I wondered if the driver mistook me for Peter Dinklage.  Why else would a driver go at least two u-turns out of his or her way to get my picture?  I thought about the mother from Australia who murdered her six-month old daughter because she believed her baby had dwarfism.  Developing strategies that protect the community from infanticide feels much more urgent than strategies to deal with bootleg pictures of dwarfs.  

Finally, I thought, what does it matter?  By all measures, the dwarfism community builds more awareness every year.  As we build awareness, we have more resources to implement the right to participate in our communities on a level playing field.  We have more resources to protect ourselves from discrimination, and to portray ourselves as people who embrace our dwarfism but are not defined by our dwarfism.  Though we get stronger, we will most likely always have to deal with individuals who may or may not be shitty people but who sometimes do shitty things.  The shitty things probably won't ever go away.  That's why I ask myself, what does it matter how I respond to the shitty thing perpetrated by the driver of the gray sport utility vehicle?  That's why I tell myself, focus on the big picture.

But it does matter.  It matters because the shitty things create a hostile environment for the person with dwarfism.  It matters because the shitty things interrupt the course of our days.  Because it matters, I am grateful for people like John and for scores of other people with dwarfism who don't tolerate anyone that interrupts the course of their days.  Because of them and what they do, the big picture is changing.


Sunday, December 14, 2014

M-Word Backlash

Years ago, after former Chicago Bears Defensive Coordinator went to the Carolina Panthers as Head Coach, he referred to Rex Grossman, the Bear's quarterback, as a midget. The alleged comment received a lot of media attention, and the comment was recognized as an insult. I wrote a response to the Chicago Sun-Times, which published the letter. As far as I remember though, and from all that I can find now on the internet, non of the media attention referenced the impact of the comment on the dwarfism community.

This year, another NFL Football Coach used the m-word. Again, it was used in reference to a quarterback. Marvin Lewis is the coach for the Cincinnati Bengals. The Bengals play the Cleveland Browns today, (December 14). Earlier this week, when asked how the team would prepare for the Browns' quarterback, Lewis said, "You've got to go defend the offense. You don't defend the player, particularly a midget."

At least seven years passed between the time Rivera made his comment, and when Lewis used the m-word. In that time, many efforts have been made to raise awareness about dwarfism and language. Little People of America launched a Dwarfism Awareness Month. More reality programs that feature the lives of everyday dwarfs have been introduced on television. Peter Dinklage has won an Emmy and a Golden Globe.

If the response to Lewis' m-word comment is any indication, that awareness has made a difference. There was immediate reaction to Lewis' use of the m-word. With the internet and with social media, the speed of the response is not a surprise. What is a surprise, at least in my opinion, is the content of the response. Some critics commented about not just the impact that the slur would have on Manziel, the Cleveland Quarterback, and the Browns. They also pointed out the impact the slur would have on the dwarfism community.

Over Twitter, Michael David Smith, the Managing Editor of Pro Football Talk, wrote, "Many people of short stature consider "midget" a slur. Marvin Lewis shouldn't say it. Neither should the rest of us." On the ESPN Radio Show, "Highly Questionable," someone said, "if the public does not perceive the M-word as a slur, it's because they don't know any lps."

Smith didn't stop with his original comment. Soon after he used the m-word, Lewis issued an apology. Primarily, Lewis apologized to Johnny Manziel. Smith didn't think the apology covered everyone. He expected more. In a column titled, "Marvin Lewis' apology is Lacking," Smith wrote, "Lewis failed to mention people of short stature, the people who, by extension, Lewis was really insulting."

Soon enough, Lewis issued a second apology. In that apology, he extended his regret to "all others I have offended." 'All others' is kind of vague, but earlier in his comments, Lewis said that he had studied the Little People of America website. With that in mind, it's easy to infer that Lewis intended to include people with dwarfism in his apology. After the second statement from Lewis, several other outlets mentioned the Little People of America website, including the New York Times.

All in all, a week that started with a high profile football coach using the mword ended up all right for the dwarfism community. The media rallied in support of the community, and that same coach, not to mention one of the most high profile newspapers in the world, mentioned the LPA Website. If I were to give out a game ball, it would go to Michael David Smith. He was out in front of the pack, holding Lewis accountable when the coach made the disparaging remark, and Smith didn't let up until Lewis apologized to people with dwarfism.

To Smith -- Many Thanks.