Systemic exclusion through the lens of a short person
(If you're also short, you know what I'm talking about.)
All graphics in this post are courtesy of Three Under the Rain
It was while I was cooking that I saw through a new lens.
The lens of a Average person.
I'm short for a fully grown adult - under 5 feet. Among other challenges, it means that when I'm cooking, my arm tends to hurt as I'm stirring the pot, since I'm not tall enough to get decent leverage. (Imagine a 10-year-old child cooking on the stove - that's basically me.)
One day I got tired of the pain, and I decided to stand on a step stool while cooking. As soon as I did - I was amazed. "Is this what normal people see?" I thought. The world looked completely different! I was only about 6 inches higher, but I felt so tall! My arm instantly stopped hurting. Stirring was easy. Raising my field of view by just 6 inches made my home look totally different. The only downside was that I couldn't see the food as clearly, since it was further away!
This was around about the time that the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) Commissioner said in an interview that "...we talked about what did systemic racism mean. And I really struggle with and — and I’m not trying to avoid your question — but I’m struggling with it because I’ve heard about five or six definitions." The Commissioner later said that she should have said "definitively that systemic racism exists in the RCMP."
First, let me clarify that I’m not saying being short is the same as being Black, Indigenous or any other target of racism. I don’t want to trivialize the harm caused by human rights violations. Being tall, while desirable (to me), is definitely not a human right.
But for people who struggle to understand how discrimination can be built into systems – I wonder if using a less controversial lens (i.e. a short person’s) can help.
As a short adult, I’m automatically excluded from a lot of things, because the world is built for average-height people, and I’m not Average.
That means things are not made with me in mind. Kitchen stoves. Airplane overhead bins. Office chairs. Clothes. Shoes. None of these things work as well for me as they do for the Averages.
And this majority rules system works against anyone that’s not Average. That includes people who are taller than Average; wider than Average; less physically capable than Average; etc.
If you’re of average height, try to imagine what it’s like to be short:
Imagine being told to “speak up, Rosie” because you can’t project like a 6 feet tall man.
Imagine being told to “stand up, Rosie” (teasingly) when you stand up to present in a meeting.
Imagine being introduced at work as “She’s small, but she’s [mighty, tough, strong] ____”.
Imagine being in constant pain in the office because your legs dangle and your back is unsupported.
Imagine having to buy custom made suits and shoes, because the alternative is children’s clothes (and even business casual does not permit unicorns and flashing lights).
Sure, there are also positives about being small. I have a lot more room in my suitcase. And there are negatives to being tall, or even Average.
But the point is – life is easier when the world is made to fit you. When systems are built around your demographic.
I will never truly know what it’s like to go about the world as an Average. I see them existing in the same world as me, but I don’t experience it as they do.
And they will never truly know how I experience the world. I’m pretty sure they don’t even realize I experience it differently. They see me as different, but they don’t know how it impacts me.
I didn’t know, but now I know
Again, I’m not saying that systemic exclusion of short people is the same as systemic racism. What I hope you can see from my personal experiences, is that people in power don’t have to have bad intentions to create systems and processes that are bad for others. And if you are part of a majority demographic, by default, you have power.
Realizing this has changed my own lens to see things I was blind to before. I will never know what it’s like to be Black or Indigenous. But now I know that things I took for granted – like calling the police – are not at all the same for Black and Indigenous people.
I think that’s one reason that White people, and any person in a majority demographic, become blind to systemic discrimination. They’ve been in the majority so long, and had the world cater to their needs for so long, that they have no idea they’re even in the majority. Or that systems that work for them, do not work for everyone.
A system that was built by White people, for White people, doesn’t necessarily work for non-White people.
I like what Desmond Cole, author of The Skin We’re In, says in this documentary:
“It’s not that there’s one individual white guy at the top of everything, and he’s saying, ‘Keep these black people down.’ That’s a very simple idea and it’s not what I think is happening. It’s just a way of doing things that puts us at a disadvantage. It’s a routine that happens over and over.”
If you’re not sure if systemic racism, discrimination and exclusion exists, or how to define it – it’s probably because the system was built for you.
Are you willing to change your lens, and see how the system looks to someone outside the Average?
Share your stories and comments.
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