Today, I’d like to talk about little people, big people and the word midget. Right up front, I should clarify that like roughly thirty percent of the world, I’m keenly aware that little people aren’t, as a general rule, too terribly stoked to be referred to as midgets. In fact, some little people will tell you that calling a little person a midget is akin to calling a black guy a nigger. This has been fodder for lots and lots of pretty hilarious stand up, including Artie Lang saying, “Uh,no. It’s quite different. Go up to a group of each and try yelling their respective slurs. I promise you the results will be very different.” This is A) pretty funny and B) totally shitty. The implication here is clearly that the taboo of an offensive word is directly correlated to how likely it is that one of the offended would be able to pummel you within an inch of your life.
Even as words like chink or spic or even retard become more and more taboo, even as people become so uptight about how they refer to people that perfectly reasonable words become confusing (someone grimaced at me recently for calling my friend a Mexican, which, well…he’s from Mexico. It’s perfectly okay to call someone from Mexico a Mexican. We all understand that, right? Good), motherfuckers still don’t care about the word midget or its effect on the psyche of a little person. Part of this is actually because of what I was just talking about, the way that perfectly good, reasonable descriptors are being thrown out with the bathwater in a massive and unreasonable sweeping language raid, and to a lot of people who aren’t *ahem* midgets, midget is the word that was, just a few short years ago the popular and seemingly medical term for how you describe what being a midget is. This is not the only instance of this.
My friend Mike has a brother with Downs’ Syndrome. These days, as everyone knows, you don’t call someone with Downs’ retarded. Do you know what you call them? Consumers. That’s right. Now, I’m not an advocate for special needs people or anything and aside from giving money to the special Olympics, which I think is a pretty cool thing, I have nothing whatsoever to do with mental disability, BUT the term “consumer” strikes me as completely fucking asinine for quite a few reasons. The big implication inherent in the moniker is that these people don’t really give back to society, they’re merely consumers. That seems like a shitty thing to point out right there in a groups name, for one thing and for another, that doesn’t really work as a blanket for highly functioning folks who say, work at McDonalds or at the grocery store. That’s just how I see it. I’m sure that the name “consumers” has been thoroughly vetted and focus grouped and I’ve got the whole thing wrong, but that’s how it comes across to me. The OTHER, CLOSELY RELATED reason I don’t like this word is because it’s taking something that’s a problem and treating it like it’s fine when it’s not.
I don’t understand when it became a reasonable thing to do to pretend that defects were just a perfectly reasonable alternative. Motherfuckers born with no legs are handicapped. They’re at a distinct disadvantage and I’d be willing to bet that given the choice, the legless folks, their parents and all their friends would pick “born with legs” 100% of the time if they could. Ditto for Downs Syndrome. To pretend that it’s not a handicap is just fucking twisted. Life is hard and shit is BRUTAL on this earth. Pretending it’s not by using pussified language that doesn’t do anything but confuse everybody isn’t solving any problems nor is it doing anyone any favors. It’s shitty and condescending, and that’s all. That’s why, when my friend Mike brings his brother around to his school or his athletic activities and they refer to him as a consumer, Mike says, “well, those guys over there may be consumers or whatever, but my brother is retarded.” He says this because he grew up with his brother being called retarded. He’s cared for his brother and he feels that it’s a more accurate description of the issue. I would PERSONALLY not get so balls deep in the argument as Mike for several reasons (as I said, I’m no special needs advocate, I have no personal stake in the issue, I don’t want to offend well meaning caregivers, When I write, I enjoy using the decontextualized word “retarded” because it’s become a little taboo and it’s very effective as a descriptor, and that makes me kind of a hypocrite I suppose?) but I’m not going to argue against his right to call his brother retarded if he wants to. That’s what he was when they were kids.
And that brings me back to midgets.
Oh, okay…before we get to midgets, let’s address the elephant in the room, which of course is the word nigger. Yes, there was a time when, just like being retarded, being a nigger was something quasi socially acceptable that black people just were called, and it wasn’t widely considered to be offensive in the way it is now. It was just the vernacular of the time. Well, time has passed, people have used the word disparagingly for a long-ass time, it’s become extremely loaded and as a result, it’s offensive as shit and just typing it out makes me a little nervous. The same could be said for the word retard. It’s been turned pejorative by people attempting to hurt a group and as a result, since it’s patently repurposed as an offensive term, well, that makes it offensive, regardless of how recently it was socially acceptable.
But that’s the thing with the word midget. That’s not really a word that people toss at little people like people call black guys niggers or Asian guys gooks or kids with Downs’ retards. It’s pretty simply descriptive, and for little people to say “hey, that’s just like calling a black guy nigger” is to misrepresent and miss the point and kind of undermine the argument, because hilarious jokes aside, it’s not the same.
Little people obviously deal with bullshit on a level that I can hardly imagine. There’s probably not a single social situation in which they’re not whispered about, stared at, openly ridiculed, questioned, fetishized, repurposed as elves or cast members in a wacky dream etc. BUT, and maybe I’m way off here, but getting taunted with cries of ‘midget’ is not really a thing, is it? That’s nothing I’ve ever even heard of. There are undoubtedly lots of cruel and hurtful things said to little people by assholes who want to make them feel *ahem* small (sorry), and I bet from the VERY first thing that anyone can think of or hear, the FIRST pejorative thing that people toss at little people is more offensive and cutting than the word midget. I mean, it’s just simply gotta be the case.
Now, that being said, as David Foster Wallace once wrote, (and I’m paraphrasing pretty hard here) ‘it seems that if someone doesn’t like being called something, not calling them that is a very basic level of politeness’ and that’s 100% true. I’m not suggesting that little people should suck it up and enjoy being referred to as midgets, because fuck that. That’s obviously not my place, nor is it even close to my agenda. I mean, fuck. I can’t STAND it when people refer to me as “big guy” (something I bet most people, little people included, really can’t stand either) and therefore, I can, and often will say ‘don’t call me that, you fucking asshole.’ BUT, I’m not gonna sit here and pretend that calling me big guy is akin to calling a black guy a nigger because that’s just plain old fucking stupid. It undermines the whole thing, it’s obviously not true, and besides, for fucks sake, can we all stop with the “that’s like saying nigger” reference, because it just simply NEVER is.
There’s no word out there that’s as loaded and shitty as nigger. Not cunt, not faggot, not midget, not retard, not spic, not any of it. Those are all shitty words, but check out society and reality and just use the tiniest bit of common sense and it becomes pretty obvious pretty quickly that there’s really no word as shitty as nigger. If there was, people would be saying “oh, man, calling a black guy a nigger is like, as bad as calling a French Canadian a beaver beater (for example)” and that’s obviously just stupid. No one is ever going to reverse this phrase to exemplify out how offensive nigger is to black people, so if it’s the go-to, then it’s the worst by definition and example, and EVERYONE should stop saying that shit, because nobody’s gonna follow that logic and quit being an asshole and calling you a midget or a retard or a beaver beater because of it.