Despite the most common media portrayals, autism is not a “white male syndrome.” Every human demographic has autistic people in it. There are adult autistics and elderly autistics (because autistic children grow up to be autistic adults). There are female autistics and autistics who don’t identify with any particular gender. There are autistic people in every country, and yes, there are Black autistic people and other autistic People of Color.
Growing awareness over my lifetime (and especially over the last few weeks with the heinous slaughter of George Floyd) of the sometimes deadly prejudices that non-white communities experience today, in 2020, has alerted me to the urgent need of the autistic community and broader autism community to do more to protect our members who are especially vulnerable.
I have written before about how I have had the police called on me when I was just out taking a walk, because my natural body language as an autistic person was perceived as threatening. For me however, interactions like this typically end with having someone help me explain the situation and I have been given the benefit of the doubt that I am indeed neurologically different and not a criminal. And I think that this fact alone helps demonstrate the privilege that I have because I am not a racial or ethnic minority. My ancestry is primarily Scandinavian, so I’m quite literally as white as they come. But I bet that if I was black, I would not have been afforded the same benefit of the doubt. If I were black, a call to the police because some bystander thought my autistic body language was “threatening” (and in this scenario also likely motivated by racism) may have ended not with an explanation, but with a gun in my face, or a taser in my back, or my face on the concrete, and myself either in the back of a police car or even dead on the ground. This won’t happen to me because, as a white person, I have the privilege of not automatically being assumed to be a criminal or dangerous. My experience as a white autistic person is nowhere close to the experience of a Black autistic person due to pervasive racism and racial prejudice in our society and my own privilege, a privilege that not everyone gets.
Both autistic people and Black people (as well as people of other minority races and ethnicities) are significantly more likely to be victims of police brutality and other very dangerous forms of prejudice. This is not simply an opinion, this is statistics, it is facts. Therefore, Black autistic people represent a particularly vulnerable subset of the autistic community, and as such fighting to end the racism and racial prejudice that still exists in the United States and across the world should play an integral role in autism advocacy, as it means making the world livable and safer for a sizable portion of the autistic community. Every autistic person deserves to be able to live authentically as themselves and be accepted. And in order for this to be realized for Black and other autistic People of Color, we need to confront not only prejudice and ableism surrounding autism, but also the prejudice and racism that is pervasive even in the most “progressive” of societies and everywhere else as well. To be pro-neurodiversity necessitates being anti-racist, and to be an ally to autistic people you have to be an ally to all types of autistic people.
Having social privilege does not make someone a bad person, just as not having a particular social privilege does not make someone a bad person. However, having greater social privilege also comes with the responsibility to use that position to uplift others and fight against the oppression that others face. And so I’d like to encourage members of the autistic and autism communities, if you are not already, to to fight against racism, racial prejudice, and racial injustice if anything simply to support the members of our community (perhaps even yourself!) who experience these challenges on a daily basis in addition to (and often compounded with) the prejudices experienced as autistic people on a daily basis.
If you’re white, I think the first thing we can do is check our own privilege, recognize any biases and prejudices, even if they are subconscious or involuntary, that we have and listen to members of racial and ethnic minority communities. This is something that I need to do a much better job of myself. There is obviously much more work to do, and how to do it is complex and far beyond the scope of what I wanted to write here. But I believe (and I am open to correction if I am wrong) that simply a willingness to be an active ally and listen to oppressed communities can go a long way towards progress. If you’d like a list of Black autistic people and other autistic People of Color to follow, there’s one you can find (via Autistic Typing on Facebook) by clicking here.
I’m really not trying to make some massive political statement in this post, in fact I avoid politics on this blog as much as possible. However, fighting against racial injustice and racism shouldn’t be a political issue, it should be a given, and it is becoming more and more abundantly clear that advocating for autism acceptance means advocating for the safety and acceptance of Black and other autistic People of Color.
The truth is that not all lives matter until Black lives do. We, as a community, have a non-negotiable responsibility to fight racism.
Black lives matter.
Black autistic lives matter.
Note that this is the first time I have ever written on this topic and am open to correction if terminology has been used incorrectly.