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How “Circus Freaks” Are Not History

As someone who grew up in Coeur d’Alene, going to the fair at the end of every summer was a part of my upbringing, a tradition of fun and local culture. As a kid, it’s all about the rides, games, and overly stuffed animals. As a teenager, it’s about who’s dating who, your cell phone, and riding the romantic Ferris Wheel. As an adult, one enjoys, the music, the greasy food, animals, and perhaps even a Hypnotist. There’s something for everyone at the fair.

But this year I saw something that I could hardly believe was reality.

Upon arriving to the fair this last Friday, a friend immediately told me of an attraction featuring the “World’s Smallest Woman.” I told her it was a hoax, an illusion among many at the fair. But it wasn’t, I was dead wrong. Never in my mind did I think in the year 2011, it could be true. I thought humans being exploited as “circus freaks” (I use it, although I dislike the term), was something that happened decades, if not a century ago, when John Merrick, better known as the “Elephant Man,” was put on display in London as nothing but a “freak of nature,” as someone to be mocked, poked and prodded.

But John Merrick was rescued from his dark world in the circus and given a home. His story had a happy ending. As for Linda, “the World’s Smallest Woman,” put on display at our own Coeur d’Alene fair, I am not sure.

I understand curiosity, but not at the expense of a human’s quality of life. I walked by the booth, but did not go in. Instead, I stood there, frozen in disbelief, as people excitedly paid their .75 cents to see the “World’s Smallest Woman.” A loudspeaker announced the attraction: “She’s Haitian, only 29” tall.” On the outside, a sign read ‘10,000 Reward if not alive.’

I was appalled, and furious at this mistreatment. No one could see or hear her from outside the booth; her presence was merely made known by the huge grins and bursts of laughter as people circled her as if she were an animal at the zoo. I couldn’t believe what I was seeing and hearing.

People murmured, “She’s black, fat, and this tall,” as they gestured her height with their hands. What people didn’t see was this woman’s bleak future, humiliation and complete lack of opportunity.

Our own Kootenai County Task Force on Human Relations says:”We oppose the discrimination of anyone based upon race, color, ethnic origin or disability.”

I voiced my complaint to the managers of Midland Co, but they told me she had a job. As I walked away, I could see them laughing hysterically at me in their office. If you can believe, according to manager Billy Thomas of Midland Co., that Linda lives in an air-conditioned home in Haiti, than you can also believe she is satisfied with her life.

How could we, as a nation that believes in human dignity and liberty above all things, treat a disenfranchised woman so horribly? Is this what we want to show our children or tell those to whom the Civil Rights Movement is a vivid memory? Do you for the sake of curiosity wish to support Midland Co., which travels around the nation, exploiting humans like Linda?

We can change this from happening in the future. The answer is we must stop companies from treating people like this by refusing to support them as consumers. I urge all the citizens of Kootenai County, the Kootenai County Fair Board, and our Kootenai County Task Force on Human Relations to put an end to supporting such human cruelty. Every person matters, no matter how society views them.

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2 thoughts on “How “Circus Freaks” Are Not History

  1. Shane -You are such an incredible person and I’m so happy you’ve started this blog. The fact that people are used in such humiliating, degrading manners for other people’s amusement is sickening, and I’m so glad you’ve drawn attention to it. I had no idea that such practices went on today in the US. -Kat

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