Prof Ramesh Deosaran writes a weekly column for the Newsday.
Miami. United States-North Korea relations erratically descended further into body politics when North Korea leader Kim Jung Un publicly called President Donald Trump “a mentally deranged US dotard.” Dotard means “a person, especially an old person, exhibiting a decline in mental faculties; a weak-minded or foolish old person.” Such description is meant to embarrass.
And so it did to Mr Trump who, with tweetish sarcasm, promptly replied: “How can Jong Un insult me so by calling me old? Suppose I call him short and fat; I tried so hard to be his friend.” Trump had previously praised Jong-Un for “wiping out his enemies, taking over and becoming boss.” Soon after he called Jong Un the “little rocket man on a suicide mission for his country and himself.”
This is body politics at its highest. North Korea media issued an official statement calling for Trump to be “sentenced to death” for insulting their leader. From “dotard” to a “death sentence,” what more can be said? Quite often when a person cannot respond properly to an opposing view, insults begin.
Mocking another person’s physical or even mental state, is nothing new. We know that from primary school – sometimes the hard way. Remember skinny, big-head, shorty, fatty, duncey, big-teeth, broko-foot, blackie, ugly, even flat nose, chinky-eye and big ears – pressures, even from your good friends and relatives to be in their “image and likeness.” Such body language is designed to put you down, and make the teaser feel better than you.
About three years ago, during the calypso season, the audience mocked a young aspiring calypsonian. She seemed overweight. They kept calling her “fattie, fattie,” etc, etc. She defiantly praised her size, cooled down the mischievous crowd, and confidently went on singing.
Yes, you can be comfortable, even proud of what and how you are. But social pressure can be hard to overcome sometimes – especially for the young. If you are prejudiced against a person’s looks, physical size or ethnicity, this could lead, even unconsciously, to discrimination in opportunity, hiring or promotion. (Note: Some functions impose limits, eg basketball)
My interest in the Trump-Jong Un insults was fuelled by a Russian woman’s experience with airline Aeroflot. Recently, through BBC television, I heard how the airline fired the stewardess, Methedeva Svetlana, for being “too fat and old.” She filed a lawsuit and won. More recently, former national security minister, Overand Padmore, made a relevant, interesting remark.
Asked to comment on the US release of classified documents, one of which criticised late PM Dr Williams, Padmore objected to the US criticism about Dr Williams being anti-American etc. He then added that even though Dr Williams was not “a big, tall man,” he became powerful, when among a crowd “you could feel the power of his presence.” In other words, Dr Williams defied the stereotype, “big, tall and white.” A stereotype so powerful, it’s often allowed to thrive without much intellect or virtue. There is also the imaginary “tall, dark and handsome.” Nothing about honesty, or kindness. Late Dr Martin Luther King’s prayer for “character over colour” is still work in progress.
As Williams himself explained, he suffered discrimination at Oxford University and the Caribbean Commission. Mr Padmore felt that as Dr Williams became prime minister and a reputed intellectual, negative stereotypes of his physical and ethnic appearance got conquered. Padmore, for whom I have high regard, was right by implying what it sometimes takes to defeat the prejudices of society in colour, body shape, etc. “Fat and short” is out. So too “old and fat.” Hollywood stereotypes universally persist, though in weakening forms.
Further, be it big head, flat nose, skinny, long foot, etc, many such physical qualities are “God-given.” “Affected” people cannot do anything much about them. It is, therefore, unfair, an injustice, to mock them. Now, nicknames and picong about physical shape, size, colour or race may all be in good Trini fun. Nothing to get so serious about except that sometimes it hurts very much.
The Trump-Jong-Un exchanges have taken prejudice to a new height. Such that all can see how ugly such physical prejudices are. Writing about them may not change anything, except to expose, now and again, the frailties of human nature.