These Past Two Years
by Eric Boakye Antwi
July 2009

Greetings, friends.

Two years ago I first submitted to this site. In the two years interregnum I have entered college, engaged in cherished personal projects, and explored interests new and old - including my first love, music. Well, on the downside, I have lost both surviving grandparents (my granddad, with whom I enjoyed an intellectual relationship, was very short). I have also barely added on any inches in height. I just want you to know that these two years have been the most productive in my life. I would like you to share in my good fortune.

I finally swallowed my embarrassment and started talking about heightism for the first time in my life. And it appeared like a lifetime yoke had been lifted off my shoulders - I have never been happier (I suffered childhood trauma from being teased on the playground as a child and the pain/low self esteem became the chink in my armour through which my peers would pierce their arrows at the least whim just so they could see me turn red with embarrassment).

In August 2007 I wrote an open letter - published in "The Ghanaian Times" - to the then president of my country lamenting, how I had been robbed of a national scholar' merit award at the age of 15 due to, among other reasons, my height. I did not expect any sympathies from him on that score because he himself is well over six feet tall (he's nicknamed the "gentle giant"; how I wish all giants would be gentle with the short).

I complained bitterly that the chairman of the interviewing panel did not believe I had captained my junior high school soccer team because he was very certain "the spectators watching me on any good match day would not have been able to make me out on the field of play". I also blew the lid on some shady practices that had characterized this man's (whom I still hate so much) administering of the awards scheme.

It resulted in the then president reviving a then defunct public committee that investigated the conduct of public officials; a sort of ombudsman. That was my first triumph; find a way to share in it with me, friends.

Not satisfied, two articles I submitted in November of that year also attacked the Ghanaian army's use of a height standard for enlistment; I called it height apartheid and pointed out that the three greatest military leaders of all time would not qualify to join the Ghana army were they alive today. It used to be 5' 8" for men and 5' 4" for women. The "Gentle Giant" in response to my complaints knocked off 2 inches from the requirement across the board. The other article called for beauty pageants to be height-desegregated. Hmmm…! Nothing came out of it though. I plan a suit in the courts.

I think the last two years have been the most fulfilling in my life because I have finally managed to clear my chest of a cough that has ailed me since I was a kid; more so when those who matter most in my country listened. The sense of fulfillment I feel that two short (pun intended) articles calling for a change of attitude towards the men who are too weak to bite back was all that was needed to assuage my depressed mood. But it was humbling - I was not as wise as I had thought all awhile. Yet I also felt triumph; like a newly-crowned world heavyweight boxing king. I mutter to myself, "I think I've done what Napoleon could not do".

I think the editor of this site should wade into mainstream US society and file a suit at the US Supreme court asking the judges to tell him why short Americans aren't too short to pay taxes but are too short to be soldiers or too short to be beauty queens. That would crown the wonderful efforts he began with this site.

I also share the sentiment (or is it a truism?) that a lifetime spent brooding, crying, whining, fretting - as most of the essays on this site do - achieves little. I think rather than an "Essays" portal which encourages people to "share their experiences on being short", there should be one in which short people can relate what they have done in the past year or month or week to advance the cause for which this great site exists. Maybe an awards scheme should be initiated; by way of a motivator. We may find relief in clearing our chest of our coughs - as I have - but the pleas/vituperation, to be effective, should not be targeted at your fellow short friends of this site but should be for the audience of people who are in a position to do something; those in the tall world. I mean the councilors, the constitutional courts, the president of your country.

Your average six foot something behemoth will not stop in his tracks to play it fair with a little guy; someone who can't possibly fight back. Even preschoolers know this (through the schoolyard bully). Not even when God, and Zeus and the heavenly host - along with the pope - are watching. How could he be sure that if the roles were reversed and he were the one holding the shorter end of the stick, we would play it fair with him? As far as your average six footer is concerned, the only positive emotion he could feel for the short is pity; he is someone who somehow has been robbed of a greatly advantageous physical trait that everyone else takes for granted. He is a loser even before the race begins.

To expect the tall world to treat short people as equals in the struggle for dominance, for example, is to betray a should-have-been-outgrown-by-now bliss naivety about what life is about. Take this from me, my friends. For those who genuinely do not know, life is a struggle for dominance; for those feigning ignorance, life is a struggle for survival. Everyone would use any part of their - or your - makeup to their advantage or to your disadvantage; and it is not against the rules of engagement. Indeed the struggle, by nature, is intrinsically amoral. You have no one to complain to; not even your mama. To illustrate: athletes have been known to use the tilt of their head to win races, even though classically, a race should largely be a contest of the most nimble limbs and the most enduring hearts on the track. Soccer is a game played with the legs; but the most memorable goal ever scored in a soccer game - Diego Maradona's "Hand of God" - was scored with, you are right, the hand. (Anyway, Diego was, at 5'5, the shortest man on the field of play on most occasions; but somehow the spectators could make him on the field of play because they voted him the game's greatest player of all time).

Let me make another confession. These past two years I have read a lot of evolutionary literature; I've also combed libraries for every book on primates that I could lay my little fingers on; I've googled and read every online work on primates. And this reading orgy has given me the keenest of contentment.

Humans and chimps differ in less than 1.5% of their genes and this lost 1.5% cannot be accounted for. And, by my estimates, we cannot differ in more than 1.5% in our social behaviour and organization too - the lost 1.5 % would be the genes that make us different from the chimps: the genes that have given us religion, ethics, morality, human rights, the UN et al which chimps do not have.

Let me do the honors by introducing you to chimp society with its complex customs and culture (and institutions). Meet the silverback male; the king. He rules by dint of his ability to hurt everyone else. In any chimp group there can only be one silverback male (just as we have one president in any country or more closely home, just one editor for this site) and, by virtue of his being able to get away with anything, is the hub around which life in the troop revolves.

He's known as the alpha male; and he has first rights to sexually-receptive females and food. As leader he takes the lead in defending the troop from foreign aggression. Sugarcane and meat are the most prized assets in a chimp colony; to win a "girl" you must prove your ability to get these luxuries. Females, naturally, fight for his attention and readily present (proposition him for sex) even when he's not in the mood (now don't get jealous). His power lies in his superior physical strength; his ability to get away with anything.

Chimp society, like all mammalian ones, is hierarchical. The strongest/biggest form the apex; the smallest/weakest are the bottom guys. Bottom guys try to mate with ovulating females only when the alpha male is very, very far away (alpha males have been known to kill others who come close to their girls); and these attempts are usually unsuccessful because the low status of the short chimps in the hierarchy makes them less desirable to the girls (the girls report these presumptuous weaklings to the alpha male when he comes back and they pay with their lives). I think we, as short people, are already familiar with this state of affairs. It is played over and over to us in the playground, at work, at church.

I think two years of chimp research has done more in making me understand the situation of the little guy than anything could. It is my fervent hope too that every short person would view this situation from the evolutionary standpoint and come to an accurate understanding of the situation we find ourselves. Religion, ethics cannot explain these phenomenon to you. I think the short men who lived in the era of the Neanderthals, for example, had it tougher than we are having; we have evolved religion and empathy since then. There is always someone worse off than you are.

I hope to meet you two years from now, my friends.