Sometimes it’s the little things that hurt, but the trouble is, which little things are they? According to one recent newspaper article it apparently includes calling a dwarf a midget.
A dwarfs’ rights advocate told the story of how he has been derided since birth by people calling him a midget. I’m sure he has been subjected to all manner of sick jokes and derision by a society full of hard-headed and hard-hearted people who hold idiotic stereotypes. I have no lack of empathy for his pain, but despite his lengthy explanation of the word’s roots and how dwarfs themselves have used it to make class distinctions between themselves, I’m not sure I see how calling midgets dwarfs or little people solves much. I’m confident that no matter which word the dwarf community chooses, the mental midgets who use midget to deride them will simply use another name. People who use words to hurt others aren’t much concerned about etymology anyway.
Many similar arguments have been raised over the past decade. African-Americans have moved through nigger, negro, colored, black, Afro-American, African-American, and people of color since the forties and fifties. Even blacks themselves argue over whether nigger is an acceptable term to be used between people of the same race. I’m not stupid enough to suggest that nigger isn’t a hot-button word. It is and more often than not, people use it as a term of derision. It shouldn’t be tolerated by anyone as far as I’m concerned, but at the end of the day constantly evolving your description won’t make the derision go away.
Many Native Americans, nee Indians (or First Nations or First Peoples in Canada) are insulted by sports teams choosing Native American mascots. Many people on both sides (Native American and other) see it as a term of respect while others think it is degrading and crude. I don’t think any person with an ounce of sense would say Native Americans haven’t been, or aren’t still, victims of extraordinary injustice, but if we followed this logic, almost any sports team name would be verboten.
For example, wouldn’t Spartans and Trojans perpetuate stereotypes of Greeks? Wouldn’t the Fightin’ Irish seem to honor drunken leprechauns hopped up on too much clover? How about the Ottawa Senators? Wouldn’t their mascot conjure up visions of dim-witted politicians who can’t agree on what language Canada should speak (well, maybe that one would)?
Seemingly innocuous names might not even make the grade. One local high school near me is named the Hayward Farmers. Does that make you think of some stupid Clem Cadiddlehopper with straw in his mouth and shit on his boots? How about the Wildcats? Would PETA come to lobby against the stereotype of feline killers? Maybe a truly strange name – like the University of California at Santa Cruz’s Banana Slugs – would be OK. However, I’m sure there’s a Banana Slug Liberation Front out there itching for a slow-motion fight over their mascot too.
There’s no doubt that some of these names are hurtful and clearly out of bounds. There are others where that’s a slightly finer point. I believe stereotyping and hate-speech are wrong. There is no room for wiggling on that point. Those who intentionally inflict this kind of pain on others are some of the lowest of the low. However, bigots will be bigots regardless of their lexicon.
I have no problem with groups announcing that whatever term used to define them is offensive – I even support many of these crusades myself – but I try to gauge which ones seem to make sense vs. those that merely seem nonsensical. I think that by lowering the debate about these offenses to quarrels over mascots, heights, or colors it cheapens the effects of the real injustices and distracts people from agitating for real change.
I mean after all, I’m a fat, pasty-skinned honky, member of the patriarchy with insane, drunken paddies and Teutonic war-mongers in my background. You don’t hear me complaining during sitcom commercial breaks about the depiction of my people as imbeciles who are incapable of doing anything without a woman’s benevolent touch.