Leonard Pitts Jr.

A big issue for small minds: Our capacity for shutting up is limited

Updated: 2014-01-22T02:24:36Z

By LEONARD PITTS JR.

The Miami Herald

Everybody’s got something.

Maybe it’s something you were born with, maybe something that happened to you, maybe something you did to yourself through bad habits or neglect. But everybody’s got something, some physical or emotional blemish measuring the distance from you to perfection.

Maybe you’re a short guy or a gawky woman. Maybe you’re ugly. Maybe you’ve got cellulite, depression, anorexia, alcoholism, gingivitis, psoriasis or a big nose. Maybe you’re fat.

Gabourey Sidibe is fat. Morbidly obese, to be exact.

One doubts this comes as news to the 30-year-old actress, best known for her starring role in 2009’s “Precious.” Everybody’s got something. More to the point, everybody is dealing with something. That’s what makes us human.

But although Sidibe surely knows this, once in a while someone — who apparently struggles with nothing — will take it upon himself to remind her of her weight, usually in the coarsest and cruelest manner.

In 2009, for instance, some individual online dubbed her a “gorilla.” Sidibe was photographed last week at the Golden Globes and sure enough, here they came again: jibes via Twitter to tell her, in case she has forgotten, that she is fat. One called her “the GLOBE.” Another said she missed the “hour-glass look” by 10 hours. Et cetera.

To which Sidibe shot back that she cried about those comments “on that private jet on my way to my dream job.” Obviously, the lady doesn’t need me to defend her. So this is not a defense, but simply a question: How did this kind of cruelty — meaning not the occasional fat joke on Letterman, but this sort of truly sadistic and personal meanness — become acceptable? Indeed, commonplace?

The instinct is to blame Internet anonymity, cowards emboldened by the knowledge that they can’t be identified. But the critic who savaged Melissa McCarthy as “tractor-size” signed his name. As did the pundit who called Chris Christie a “fat nightmare.”

And with due respect to Christie, the ridicule of McCarthy and Sidibe seems especially harsh — an arrow aimed at a vulnerable spot — given that women and girls are already more susceptible to body image fears and far more likely to suffer eating disorders as a result. But you get the sense the cruelty of it is the entire point.

Everybody’s dealing with something, and more than one in three of us are dealing with the same thing Sidibe is. Fat is unsightly and unhealthy. But it is not uncommon. It is also, when you get right down to it, not the point.

I don’t know why Sidibe has a weight problem. Maybe it’s emotional, maybe it’s medical, maybe it’s too many bonbons and too few sit-ups. I do know none of that is my business and none of it makes her anything other than human and entitled to be treated as such.

But we are a people who spend half our days gazing down at screens and that, I think, has changed us. We’ve become unused to interacting with one another and we’re not very good at it anymore. We have, many of us, lost the knack of treating people like people.

You get some sense of this when a polarizing political figure — Ted Kennedy, Robert Novak — passes away and people cheer as if this were not a real person who just died. You get it when a man holds a sign calling for the president’s children to be killed. Or when Bill Maher calls Sarah Palin a (expletive). Or when some individual likens Sidibe to a zoo animal.

Too many of us have forgotten a basic rule of what used to be called home training.

There are some things you just don’t say to or about another human being in a public forum. Saying the thing anyway tells us less about the person you’re talking about than about you and your lack of class.

Everybody has something. Gabourey Sidibe is fat. But some of us are trolls.

And she can always diet.

To reach Miami Herald columnist Leonard Pitts Jr., send email to lpitts@miamiherald.com. Follow him at Twitter.com/LeonardPittsJr1. He chats live every Wednesday from noon to 1 p.m. Central time at www.miamiherald.com.

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