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Gary Arnold

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O'Donnell Apology Fails to Gain Traction With Little People

Posted: 03/ 7/2012 9:35 am

On Feb. 29, many people with dwarfism gathered around their television sets to watch an interview on The Rosie Show between Rosie O'Donnell and Chris Errera. Errera, who is a little person, was invited on the show to talk with O'Donnell about her Feb. 8 show, which included a conversation between O'Donnell and Chelsea Handler that outraged the dwarfism community. The conversation between the two celebrities reverted to antiquated attitudes toward dwarfs as people who are less than human. Most people in the dwarfism community wanted O'Donnell to apologize and to hold a conversation with a little person. Though O'Donnell offered both on Feb. 29, many people felt the apology was not satisfactory and that neither the apology nor the conversation addressed the damage inflicted by O'Donnell on the Feb. 8 episode of The Rosie Show.

In her apology on national television, O'Donnell said, "For anyone who felt diminished by what I said, I apologize." She apologized for confessing her discomfort with little people and for how this confession made people feel. But the majority of the people upset by the Feb. 8 show would not have been so upset if O'Donnell simply confessed a discomfort or fear. Granted, any so-called discomfort of little people displays a lack of open mindedness, and perhaps warrants an apology, if not a diversity seminar. But the real damage came as a result of the conversation that followed O'Donnell's confession to Handler. O'Donnell facilitated a discussion on her show that condescended to people with dwarfism in a way that dehumanized and objectified the entire community. In the words of the comedian Selene Luna, who wrote a letter to O'Donnell and published it on The Huffington Post, what O'Donnell did was wrong because of its "contribution to intolerance." On Feb. 29, O'Donnell should have apologized, not for making us feel 'diminished,' but for hosting a conversation that stigmatized a marginalized community.

In a way, one thing O'Donnell said during the conversation with Errera resonated strongly. Comparing her comments to how she might feel if someone expressed a discomfort toward people who are gay, she said, "I would think, that's sad for them. I wouldn't think it meant anything for me as a gay person." On both counts, she is right. I'm sad for O'Donnell. I believed she was an advocate for diversity. With the dwarfism community, she had a chance to open her door of inclusion a little wider. But after the Feb. 29 episode, it is hard to know if she did anything more than apologize for keeping the door closed on us. Also, what O'Donnell said and did won't mean anything for the dwarfism community in the long term. Her discomfort and naivety is nothing compared to the accomplishments of someone like Peter Dinklage who has been honored with an Emmy and a Golden Globe for his talents. Dinklage and many others in education, law, medicine, politics and a wide array of professional fields are elevating the dwarfism community to a place in which we are recognized and valued for our talents, accomplishments and humanity, not judged according to our physical differences.