Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Crips, Midgets, Language, and Freedom

BROOKLYN, N.Y.: Little People of America is petitioning the FCC to add the word "midget" to the list of what cannot be uttered on broadcast television. The LPA, which represents people with various forms of dwarfism, is urging its 6,000 members to file complaints with the commission over the use of the word in an episode of "Celebrity Apprentice."
There is some discussion among disability activists about the The Little People of America's attempt to move the m-word into the province occupied by the n-word, the r-word, and f-word. Ironically, a good number of people with disabilities have co-opted the word "crip," although not without some controversy within the ranks. I use crip myself, mainly as a way to assume control of a situation.

One thread of the discussion focused on the idea that too many of the individual "ban the word" attempts are counterproductive to the collective disability rights movement. Alternately some worry about freedom of expression.

I find myself in the second camp, even though I truly understand that any language or label that attempts to differentiate often attempts to denigrate. The very incident the LPA points to illustrates the word was used in a hateful and derogatory manner. Think not? There's a simple enough test: substitute the n-word, or even its once-acceptable root word, negro.

I'll make it personal. Even though I don't believe the word should be removed from the language, I don't like being called a cripple, and so I can readily understand that a little person would object to being called a midget.

Funnily enough, I thought that forms of the word "dwarf" were not acceptable, but I note that it appears in the first paragraph of the news release. Apparently, the LPA proposes "little people" to incorporate every person of short stature.

We all know that language, which is both symbolic and defining, is one of the primary elements of self-identification. And people of small stature historically have faced derisive comments. In fact, the word midget has resulted from a negative derivation: midge -- small dipterous insect inflicting painful bites.

When dealing with the perception of disability by those who are not yet disabled, I sometimes think "Anything goes!" is the correct approach, by which I mean humor (aggressive humor) and in-the-face tactics work far better than complaints.
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