“You’re attention-seeking!”, “these characters are fictitious!”, “they’ve existed for years!”. These were some of the charges levelled at us this summer when we spoke out about an ‘Evil Dwarf’ collectors card, based on the popular LEGO figures. Here I must express an interest: I am the charity’s Vice-Chair and have dwarfism myself. From that position I feel it’s important I address these criticisms – not because I’m ‘sensitive’ or ‘a snowflake’, but because they provide a valuable lesson in power.
“You’re attention-seeking!” The cards and figures were first brought to our attention by upset parents using social media to voice their angst. As a charity striving to create a better world for people with dwarfism, we wanted to help and add our voice to theirs. I – along with many members of our community, I’m sure – believe dwarfism remains one of society’s last acceptable targets for prejudice. So the charge is accurate: we do seek attention to how these insidious stereotypes affect us and members of our community.
“These characters are fictitious!” True. Many, if not most, points of reference for dwarfism found in our media and popular culture are fictitious – from Bashful et al to Mini Me to Tyrion Lannister. In a world where there are so few representations of people with dwarfism in banal and even boring guises, these points of reference matter. They shape others – and especially children’s – perceptions of people with dwarfism in real life. Imagine if there had been 50 Lego trading cards and there had been, say, only one card depicting a member of the travelling community – as a ‘Gipsy Thief’. Even as fiction, it’d be reinforcing a stereotype that can inform people’s views in real life.
“They [these characters] have existed for years!” Again, true. But I’m sure Gollywogs and images of minstrels had been around for some time too. They’re still racist. Bigoted images and stereotypes of minorities do not become legitimate simply because they have been around a while.
So far, so what? Of course, people don’t have to agree with everything we do; of course, we welcome dissent, discussion, and the collision of ideas; of course, no-one is immune from criticism nor should they be. So what do such comments matter?
Well, to me, they matter because they suggest an important imbalance in power. A majority can impose insidious stereotypes on a minority and then try to silence them when they speak out against such imagery. In my mind, it’s like we need to ask permission for which prejudices we’re ‘allowed’ to oppose and which ones we’re not. Those with less power are allowed to object… but only if they do so on the powerful’s terms.