When the video of Quaden Bayles, showing him in distress and wanting to kill himself because of the bullying he has been experiencing at school went viral, I don’t think anyone could have anticipated the number of reactions the video created.
There was the reaction that he and his mum had staged it.
Then there were the rumours that he was an 18-year-old man.
The reaction that has especially troubled me, is the reaction from the Dwarfism community itself.
Firstly, I could only watch a short bit of the video as I found it too distressing as a parent and as a Dwarf person, who can very much relate to the feelings that Quaden was showing. The video was triggering on many fronts. The distress of the poor boy, the anger at the mum posting it, understanding the utter hopeless in his mum’s voice at not being listened to and having to take extreme measures to be believed.
Yet, the initial reaction from the community has been to quickly condemn the mum for sharing the video in the first place.
That they wouldn’t share such a video if they found themselves in that situation.
Alarms bells started ringing for me at this point.
Rebecca Cokley’s Medium article ‘The Little People Still Think You Don’t Understand Bullying‘ (which has since been edited) was particularly difficult to read and not for the reasons you may think.
What was lost in this conversation?
While I agree 100% with the issues of consent, what has been lost in the conversation is at the heart of it, there was a suicidal First Nation child and family that, from what we can make out, has not been supported by his school in Australia.
The community could have showed support towards the family, of showing solidarity about this horrific incident, in order to teach strangers – and parents of Dwarf kids alike – about the very real effects of bullying, like being filmed and photographed without consent, has on our mental health.
Framing the conversation about the high depression rate and suicide that is prevalent among our community that we are all too well aware of. See another of Rebecca’s articles, Little People, Big Depression. With UK research supporting this in the Scandinavian Journal of Disability Research – No laughing matter: medical and social experiences of restricted growth.
Instead, the family received an almighty collective punch-down that I wonder would have been as ferocious if the video had been posted by a distressed white, middle-class woman with a platform.
What concerns me too and I wonder – did any of the Dwarfism organisations and charities, globally, actually, reach out and offer the family support?
We Jumped To judge The Situation rather than Provide support TO A Distressed Family
The Dwarfism community reaction to the posting of the video was divisive, though seemingly in some quarters, based on judgement rather than one of support – whether we agreed or not with the publishing of that video.
We didn’t place ourselves in that family’s shoes and recognise the sheer frustration of not being believed by the very institution designed to safeguard Quaden while he learns.
Challenging and attempting to explain this on social media within the community has been frustrating.
Some say that it’s about putting the onus back on the mainstream to take responsibility. This is naive and as dangerous as the daily trauma we experience as Dwarf people.
How many of us in the community look to non-disabled people for support and understanding, often towards institutions and structures that are expected to keep us safe, yet our disability, is failed by?
From the global reaction to this video, you’ll have some well-intentioned non-disabled people who will wring their hands and wonder how this happened. Perhaps, even, there will now be a well-placed policy or two may now include Dwarfism in than institution’s equality policy. Yet, I imagine, as a fair few of us have experienced but rarely admit or talk about what happens when we challenge the status quo – we’ll be met with defensiveness, which results in further ostracising.
it’s time for the Dwarfism community to self-reflect
The reactionary nature of the response by the community raises some very serious questions about the very ugly underbelly of the Dwarfism community and the very real lack of diverse representation and range of voices within it.
That we are not above being called out for individual reactions and prejudices, just as we call out the non-disabled world for too. Moving forward, how can we ensure that there is respectfulness from us as a community, that we expect to receive from non-disabled people?
Time and time again I see and hear about the bullying and ostracisation of certain groups and people in the Dwarfism community. It says a lot when you’re approached in private and told by people that they do agree with you, but are too scared to speak out publicly, because of the fear of being shouted down for having a different opinion to the gate-keepers and leaders.
Most troubling, is how many families who may find themselves in a similar position to Quaden’s family, will now be too scared to speak about the discrimination faced when they are not even listened to or supported by their own community?
As a community, it is our responsibility to ensure that there is a range of voices heard and also platformed. Attitudes and strong opinions about how Dwarfism should be represented are stifling us from capitalising on the huge array of talent and skills that would show the world we’re more than panto character.
The incident has shown how nasty and divided we are as a community – and until this toxicity is addressed, we’ll still be having these same conversations in 20 years time.