Someone took issue with my advocacy for autistics and was bothered enough to create a Facebook account to impersonate me. Ridiculous, right? Maybe kinda funny?
Except that this isn't about me. It's about autistic advocacy. It's trying to send the message that we shouldn't stand up for autistic people, that we shouldn't confront daily instances of prejudice, that we shouldn't speak up to support autistic individuals in the community.
This example may seem insignificant. It is a mere shadow of the attempts to silence autistic individuals that happen every day. For autistic people, it's more complex and more insidious. When they write about being bullied, neurotypical parents joke about bullying them. When autistic advocates talk about being excluded from articles about autism, neurotypical parents complain that they deserve a platform, when they indisputably already have the platform. When we point out their bias of tragedy, they say we are trying to discredit them.
Let me point out a very real example of unexamined discrimination. Neurodivergent K wrote about people, herself included, being bullied, threatened, abused, or killed simply because they are autistic. A neurotypical parent who meant well and didn't quite think it through wrote - as a joke - "I, for one, promise not to kill you. I like you."
Many people talk in hyperbole. Many bloggers talk in hyperbole. Autistic people are not talking in hyperbole. They are talking about real, daily occurrences. They have been bullied - it happens every day. They have been threatened - it happens every day. They have been abused and killed. It actually happens. When we joke about it, we say this isn't a serious issue. We say it's not worth talking about. Joking about dismisses their experiences. It threatens them personally.
I'm not telling you about this incident to castigate the person who wrote this comment. The person who wrote it thought they were being funny. I'm telling you so you recognize that it happens and that it could be you.
When you haven't lived your whole life being seen as different, as Not One of Us, you do not understand what it means to live with the simple power of being accepted. When you have lived as a Them, as Different, as Not Belonging, you understand the methods that are used to keep you apart, to keep you quiet, to keep you from protesting.
I am talking about privilege. I don't mean "privileged" as in a wealthy, upper-crust, high-status, land-owner sort of privileged. I'm talking the privilege of being seen as One of Us, as Normal, simply by virtue of skin color, a physical body that works in certain ways, or a neurology. Most of us were raised to think we are independent, we have power, and we just need a good attitude to get along in life. For example, I live in a racially diverse city. I can go outside on my sidewalk and shuffle through my car. If a police officer passes in a patrol car, he glances at me and I can feel his approval - simply because I'm white. When a black male goes outside to the sidewalk and shuffles through his car, the same police officer (black or white) will give him a second look and suspicion - simply because he's black. We cannot fully understand, if we haven't lived it, what it means to be continually viewed with suspicion and disapproval - and what harm that does to one's psyche - if we were not born into it.
Autistic people have been given the message that they are Not One of Us their entire lives. They recognized from a very early age that, if they wanted to avoid social disapproval, they would remain silent about injustices done to them. It costs too much to them. They were already singled out as different. They didn't have the privilege of being invisible in a group, in public, or in school. If they speak up when someone talks disparagingly about autism, disability, accommodations, then they will be pointed out as Not One of Us. Again.
Neurotypical parents are not the problem. We were taught this system of difference from a young age. We learned our lesson of social approval and disapproval just as surely as autistic persons did. But when we stand by silently or defend the status quo, we add to the problem. When we silence those who speak up for autistic equality, we become the problem.
When we talk about autism, we are not making statements out of a context, in our own individual stories, without regard to anyone else. We are not just blogging as a parent or conversing just as a person with an opinion. There is already a context. It is a context of Not One of Us. It is a context of prejudice, of abuse, of silencing. It is a context of the history of disability and all those who have experienced the disapproval of society.
I'm asking you to think about that.