The Autistic Observer

I would like to write a book someday. And I have lots of ideas I really love! Yet, when I sit down to write, these ideas become burdensome. My mind flits around from thought to thought in a massive swarm of ideas, and I find it so difficult to land on one of them and take it somewhere.

Normally, I don’t have a hard time focusing on one task. In fact, this is so typical for me to do. Narrowly focus on the minute details of a given task. So, you might think, ‘well, what’s the problem, then?” or “just do that!”

My problem with writing, however, is that this means each idea – hell, individual words even – will receive an enormous amount of focus. On top of this, ideas are bumping and crashing into each other at accelerating speeds. Imagine trying to focus on writing an email to your boss while having your kids, dogs, parrots and partner or spouse constantly demanding your attention at ever-increasing speed, for example. That’s what it’s like for me except that the kids, dogs, parrots and partner are just an analogy for the constant and repetitive noise of ideas wanting my attention. It is intense trying to write a novel in these conditions… and exhausting.

But if I do manage to write a novel someday, it would be in the vein of magical realism and science fiction. And maybe even a bit of historical fiction, too.

You see?! Smh. It’s madness, I tell you, madness!

Yet, writing this blog has done wonders for me so far. I'm actually getting some of my ideas down in a (hopefully :) coherent way! If I keep practicing, I may be able to build up the resilience I need to write my time-travel/historical-fiction/magical-realism novel :D

“Biologically speaking, we are programmed toward being tribal as a means of survival. We literally have to transcend an aspect of our own biology.” -Reverend Angel Kyodo Williams, quoted in The Inner Work of Racial Justice by Rhonda Magee

This discussion was inspired by a chapter from The Inner Work of Racial Justice: Healing Ourselves and Transforming our Communities Through Mindfulness by Rhonda Magee. I thought I'd write about my personal reflections on how I am confronting racism in my own life.

A memory came to me while reading about some of Rhonda Magee's experiences of racism. In this memory, I was on active duty in the Army, sitting around ‘waiting’ with several others in my Company. Someone started up a conversation on dating and asked me if I had ever or would ever date a black man. I said without hesitation, “No, I prefer white men.”

There is some important context to this declaration. It is based on a conversation I had some days previous to this one about dating preferences, and one of the guys (let’s say his name is Davis) said something about his preference for dating black women. My first thought when Davis said this was that I understood ‘exactly’ what he meant and perhaps it was a perfectly natural and reasonable sort of preference – as in black people prefer to date people of the same skin colour and white people prefer their own, as well (such black-and-white thinking, ffs!). So, when I frankly declared my preference, the earlier conversation is partly where it was coming from. Of course, everyone was shocked and agitated by my statement. I tried to justify myself by explaining that Davis said he preferred dating black women. I didn’t know there was anything wrong with what I had said and was confused when everyone seemed so shocked by it.

What I do want to clarify now is that this is not an attempt to explain away or diminish my racism, because, in fact, this statement was, without a doubt, a genuine reflection of my own racist attitudes. As someone in the group pointed out to me, I just happened to be in a serious relationship with a man who was not white. I responded by saying something like, ‘that’s not the same’ or in other words ‘he’s not black.’ I definitely had racist attitudes but didn’t know I was showing my true colours in that moment. What I mean to emphasise by explaining my naivety is that I had no idea how socially inappropriate this was to say, which brings me straight to my point. Many autistic people don’t instinctively pick up on social norms. I, for example, rely on explicit explanations and then adapt accordingly. But modern racism is not always explicitly taught. In fact, I was explicitly taught to not use the n-word and that racism is wrong. However, I was not aware of my actual beliefs. Racial consciousness is implicitly taught whether we’re autistic or not.

My theory is: if you do not pick up on what is socially inappropriate in mixed company, you might just blurt it out at some point, whether it’s racist or sexist or otherwise. And I definitely have more stories where that one came from. What I see as a positive, at least for me, is that once I was explicitly taught about racism and how it manifests, I was able to see the evidence from my own life of those beliefs and attitudes and could work on expelling them whenever they surfaced. Whereas many people may not know how to do this because they don’t know their racist beliefs even exist. They don’t speak overtly racist attitudes because they know it would land them in hot water, and because they don’t speak them, they assume they’re not racist. This may be a big reason why racist beliefs get pushed so far down into our subconscious and surface when we least expect it. Yet, we are often taught to repress them rather than expose and expel them.

I completely understand why we repress them because we don’t want to be racist. So, if you are a white person who doesn’t want to be racist, you can learn to dig deep and be mindful of your thoughts and feelings. They may surface if you allow them to (especially when you’re reading about racism). And when they do surface, you have an opportunity to explore them more deeply in order to dissolve them.

Here are some examples of thoughts that could surface and which you may or may not have said out loud before. I have had many of these thoughts before and have said some of them out loud to others. I’ve also heard plenty of people say these in person and online.

  • You’ve read some crime statistics about black people that unsettle you, and this sneaks its way into your thoughts during a discussion on racism. It might sound like this: ‘well, what about black-on-black crime’ or ‘but black people are killing and stealing and selling drugs.’

If you’ve had these or similar thoughts before, you may already know that statistics are not always reported to accurately reflect a percentage of the population (or accurately reported at all depending on the source). Statistics definitely can’t capture much more than numbers, anyway. They don’t tell us what’s really going on behind the numbers in the everyday lives of actual people. Moreover, white people are killing, stealing, buying and selling drugs, and so much more, and we have been doing so for centuries. But this is not reported as a white problem or it is covered up. Or we get away with it much more easily than black people. Or we justify it, and the law is on our side much more often. And the list of ‘or’ could go on.

Most importantly, it seems to me that this kind of thought almost certainly comes from a deep belief that black people are dangerous because we have been taught to believe they are dangerous. This is what racism does to us.

  • You’ve wondered if black (or Latino) men are more sexually aggressive than white men. This could sound like: “Black men are different in how they express themselves sexually” or “black men are more sexually forward than white men” or “black people seem to be more assertive when coming on to women”… basically any thought that involves black people specifically and their sexuality.

This one is ugly because a lot of the time, this is what we perceive on television or in film rather than in reality. Black men are very often presented as big and intimidating (sexually or otherwise) and dangerous. White men often are too, but we don’t see their whiteness. They are individuals who happen to be the bad guys. And there are far more white good guys and heroes in film than there are black or Latino. We don’t get to see a 3-dimensional image of people of colour so often in film.

One point I want to make here is that men all around the world (and women too) can be aggressive and dangerous. White men are most certainly included here, but we have been taught that black men specifically are dangerous even though white men commit acts of rape, sexual assault, domestic abuse, child abuse and homicide. If you live in a society where men have historically held the positions of power, chances are very high that plenty of men you personally know feel entitled to do whatever they want to women’s bodies. Whether we are white or brown or black or anything in between, if we haven’t been explicitly taught the importance of consent, then our societies will have taught us that consent is optional.

  • You may have thought that Black people use the n-word or swear words in music a lot or think the music is degrading towards women or is filled with references to drugs… Your thoughts might sound like this: “black people use the n-word all the time, so why can’t I” or “black people create their own problems which have nothing to do with racism – listen to their music ffs” or “black people should be better role models”… or you might tell a young person of colour not to use swear words or references to drugs in their lyrics or poetry: ‘be more positive and uplifting,’ you might say.

I’d like to start with the thought about black people being degrading towards women, because I think that this is an especially harmful belief. As mentioned previously, some black men are degrading towards women. Many white men are degrading towards women, too. When this comes up in music (or poetry) lyrics, then it could be a reflection of a patriarchal system regardless of the musician’s skin colour. I say could be because music very often expresses nuanced meanings. The best music, in my opinion, will do this and can comment on a reality that exists for many people. With that said, there are many, many examples of music by black musicians that are inspiring and uplifting and so deeply profound, whether or not the lyrics contain offending language.

That brings me to my next point about swear words and references to drug use. In my opinion, swear words can be incredibly meaningful when they are well placed. I personally love all well-placed words and phrases because they add value to the song – swear word or otherwise. I respect that not everyone feels this way, but you can find ‘cleaner’ versions of the song or songs without swearing at all, if that’s your preference. Moreover, drug use and abuse is a reality for many people, and there are lots of differing opinions (even scientific and medical ones) on the value and dangers of drugs. Yet, drug abuse is certainly not a ‘black problem.’ It’s a problem for many people in our societies. So, if music has references to drug use or abuse, it could be a reflection of the societies in which the music was created. And anyway, drug references in music are often nuanced and meaningful to personal experiences, as well. My suggestion is to listen to what you like, and if you take offense to certain music, then be mindful of whether this feeling targets people of colour specifically. And realise that you may not like the music, and that’s ok! You don’t need to reduce black people to a stereotype simply because these problems of drug use/abuse, objectification of women, and swearing (if that’s a problem to you) are not at all exclusive to black people.

Racism is an incredibly complex system of thought and behaviour, and I totally appreciate how difficult it is to get your mind around it and how we all fit into it. And on top of that, our minds tend to defend against anything that calls us racist (or sexist, homophobic, etc.), because we also know that racism is bad and will instinctively reject any idea that implies we are bad. I would suggest being mindful, rather than judgmental, of the thoughts that come to your defense and learn to explore their subtle meanings and origins. If someone calls you out on a remark you’ve made, this might make you angry. But you can explore the subtler meanings of that anger, too!

We can transcend our social and biological conditioning!

So, I’ve had some thoughts recently about neurodiverse ways of thinking which were inspired by a feedback report I wrote up for some of my students. These particular students are neurodiverse, which means they think or behave differently than what is considered typical. However, from my own personal life experiences, neurodiversity has always felt like a burden, like something was wrong with me because I just didn’t get what others seemed to get so effortlessly. So, this discussion is my way of trying to understand myself better and how my difference is valuable rather than burdensome.

In this discussion, I kind of go back and forth between two different views about autism and dyslexia. One of these views is that autism and dyslexia are something to be fixed because they create deficiencies for the individual. The other view is that society creates the appearance of deficiencies because it doesn’t naturally tolerate certain differences in thinking and behaviour. So, accommodations can be made. Yet, the first view is so ingrained in me, I default to thinking that the problem is me and I don’t deserve accommodations. If I can just change or learn enough, I can be normal. So, I dip into this attitude towards myself in order to figure out why it’s an inaccurate one to have and how I might change it.

It was mentioned to me that some of my students may have mild dyslexia, so I pay attention to how they read aloud and spell words in my sessions with them. I notice sometimes they use letters that seem to make no sense in terms of the individual sounds in a word. For example, they might insert a k into a word that has no k sound in it (I don’t mean words like knee). The other pattern I notice is that they often leave out sounds altogether, usually vowel sounds but not always. For example, ‘because’ becomes bcus or ‘favourite’ becomes favite. It appeared to me that there was a missing link: my students seemed to have trouble linking the individual sounds a word makes to the letters that correlate to each of these sounds, as though there is a breakdown between Point A and Point B in the processing of language. And after doing some research, dyslexia can be understood as a different way of processing language, so it might not be so much as a missing link causing problems. It might be more accurate to say that neurodiverse thinkers simply get from A to B differently when compared to their typical peers. This also relates to autism in a way.

For a moment, I am going to digress a bit into personal examples of how I process communication differently and how certain strategies have helped. If you stay with me, I promise I will come back around to the point about dyslexia!

For me, I process language and social interactions quite differently to many of my peers. It takes me awhile to work out the nuances in verbal and non-verbal communication. I have to explicitly focus on what I want to say, how I’m going to say it and the individual words I need to use to make my meaning more clear and ‘natural’ (as in what will be interpreted as natural). And because I have focused so obsessively on trying to become more natural and fluid in my communication, I feel my experience gives me a kind of superpower. I can understand other people when their patterns of language processing are considered ‘atypical’, such as autism and dyslexia (though, dyslexia may not be so atypical, but different than average I suppose). And I feel I am good at helping individuals discover their own patterns, like I do with myself.

In order to catch up to where I was ‘supposed’ to be, developmentally speaking, I had to kind of artificially learn the links in order to process my social interactions in a normalised way, which means I had to be explicitly taught (or, much more commonly, I had to explicitly teach myself). Yet, because this is artificially taught and learned, it still seems mostly unable to reach the nuances of social behaviour or the nuances of language, unless it’s practiced repeatedly.

On the one hand, I don’t want to change who I am. I want to be accepted for who I am, quirks and all. But that’s not actually what I mean here. For me, if I could learn a strategy that would help reduce the amount of exhaustion and overwhelm that social interactions often cause, I would take it in a heartbeat. On the other hand, the most effective strategy for me, so far, has been mindfulness (rather than mechanically trying to learn how to interact with people). That goes to say, however, that I have not received much professional social training – I have mostly done it myself through trial and error, which is often laden with errors. There are too many damn nuances! So, how do I know if I could have learned how to fit in better? In fact, the most success I've had in this area is when people HAVE explicitly taught me social rules or even how to fake social rules.

For example, one of the eye-contact strategies I was taught was when I was in the Army. Someone, I can’t remember who, told me the trick to looking people in the eye was to look at their forehead. “The other person can’t tell that you’re not looking him in the eyes,” he told me. I got a chance to practice this in a situation that made me feel quite proud of myself. A 4-star General was visiting my company’s field site in Saudi Arabia, and he came to my station. Of course, I and the two other higher-ranking guys with me snapped to attention as soon as the general entered, and the general then chose to talk to me. At the end of our conversation, he complimented me – “a young Private in the army” – for being able to look a general in the eyes while talking to him. After he left, the other two guys playfully gave me a hard time, saying I hogged the whole conversation and that the general didn’t even look at them. I loved this kind of banter and felt so pleased with myself. Coming back around to being explicitly taught social skills, this was one of the times it worked so well for me.

And there are several other times when explicit social training worked really well for me and helped me navigate different situations. These types of strategies helped me kind of ‘tape together’ the gap between my individual behaviour and the social norms that guide collective behaviour. This gap exists possibly because I am simply much slower than typical in processing the nuances of social interaction. Or possibly because I am just wired differently. Whatever the case, explicitly taught social skills can help because they can speed up (or patch up) the 'delays' I have in relation to my more typical peers. This can also help decrease the exhaustion of trying to figure it all out on my own.

So, how does this all relate to my discussion about dyslexia and changing my attitude towards myself?

Well, partly, it’s about helping my students improve their skills in spelling and reading. Just as I benefit from being explicitly taught certain skills that many people take for granted, mildly dyslexic students benefit from being explicitly taught phonics. My students would have been taught phonics from a very young age, but like me, they could simply have been slower than typical at processing the nuances of phonics or they could be wired differently. Whatever the case, reinforcing phonics does help and is, I believe, one of the main strategies for helping dyslexic children. But I can see that this is also exhausting for my students because they have to work extra hard at breaking down the sounds of language. So, I help them with mindfulness, as well. Mindfulness also helps with the embarrassment that often comes from not being able to do what most of your peers seem to be able to do so naturally (I so relate to this!!). I try to help them by saying that it is completely ok to stop if they’re feeling overwhelmed with practicing. In fact, I tell them to stop and return to it another day. I tell them, “it’s totally ok.”

On the other hand, this discussion is also about the mechanics of neurodiversity. My epiphany came to me through an understanding of dyslexia AND autism, whereas before I didn’t have much understanding of dyslexia at all. Having knowledge about the two gives me greater insight into neurodiversity, and I feel I can understand dyslexia better because of its similar mechanics to autism. I don’t have difficulties in spelling, but I do process language and communication differently to neurotypical people, and it seems that dyslexic people do, too. Getting from Point A to Point B wouldn’t be a problem if the points didn’t go all the way to Z.

There’s not just a Point A and a Point B, in my mind. There are multiple related points in a complex topic (including English spelling rules!!), and I have to understand each of these points in order to fully appreciate the whole. With dyslexia, it might mean that there are so many nuances of language that need to be understood in order to get the spellings right every time. It’s not enough to understand that the combination ‘ie’ can make the long E sound when it can also make the long I sound. Your mind starts to think, “Why? I need to understand why it’s a long E sound in some cases and a long I sound in others in order to know when to use it correctly.” So, they take a detour without even knowing it in order to absorb these rules. Not even a detour really. They are following a different path to get to a more complete understanding. But there’s not enough time to do that because your peers are already taking it for granted, perhaps simply by memorising the rules. So, you end up appearing to have so many broken links because you didn’t have time to make all of them. Then you start to be hard on yourself. You might ask yourself, “Why can’t I just get it like everyone else seems to get it?”

Oh, how much easier life would be if we could just memorise ‘normal’ behaviour or the right letter combinations for each and every possible variation. Meh. Not going to happen. It’s very often the creative mind of autistic and dyslexic individuals which needs to explore every possible angle and nuance of a given situation. This is a gift. Accommodate us, and you might find that we perform to our full potential, which is very likely to be enormous.

P.S. I also wonder about the insights that could come from other manifestations of neuro-diversity. Psychopathy is also a special interest of mine, for example. I simply loved the TV series Killing Eve!!

Hello, fediverse.

You can now follow this blog on Mastodon and other federated platforms. Just search for @tamtam@theautisticobserver.com to start getting my posts!

I'm not sure why the link is not working. At the moment, you can search for me if you like on Mastodon or other platforms.

There is a debate about the concept of normality, and our collective ‘wisdom’ says there is no normal. Lots of people ask, ‘what is normal, anyway?’ So, I’d like to take a shot at explaining what people instinctively understand as normal, whether or not they are aware of it.

Everything that might be considered normal is embedded in what is acceptable and unacceptable social behaviour and communication. We might use the term ‘typical’ instead because its opposite – ‘atypical’ – sounds much nicer than the term ‘abnormal.’ Who wants to be abnormal? Certainly not me.

But that kind of brings me to my point. Whether I’m called atypical or abnormal ultimately amounts to the same thing: if someone feels uncomfortable around me or misunderstands me, they will often treat me as abnormal, weird or awkward. These are often the very same people who will insist ‘there is no such thing as normal.’ So, what difference does it make for me if they say normal or typical when their nonverbal communication implies I’m abnormal?

I think that typical and atypical are euphemisms. They can make people feel comfortable talking about autistic behaviour, but what they say and what they unconsciously feel are at odds with each other. Many people don’t actually like ‘atypical’ behaviour because it’s not normal to their experiences and interactions.

What this means for me is that, in the big picture of it all, I don’t really mind which term is used. But if we zoom into the smaller details of this picture and consider what is important for autistic people to thrive in our societies, I do think some terms are more helpful than others… even if only to change the landscape of what is considered normal. I think typical and atypical are more accurate and scientific. You can look at a population of any animal and determine what is typical for their species in a given environment. Yet, for humans, I think it would be amazing if we could abandon the terms altogether. What the hell is a typical human, anyway?

This reminds me of the concept of race, as well. The neurotypical white understanding of the world simply doesn’t make any fucking sense. People (almost always white) might feel confused and uncomfortable with my behaviour or ways of communicating, but trust me, the feeling is mutual.

It wasn’t always this way for me, though. I’m still trying to disentangle myself from the neurotypical white vision of the world. So, I am thankful for my autistic worldview, because I believe it allows me to see the patterns and flaws in a worldview that is so inauthentic and inaccurate on so many levels.

Here are a variety of some ‘typical’ behaviours and beliefs that I have noticed lately which do not make any sense to me. I use the pronoun ‘you’ to refer to the people I have seen engaging in these behaviours. I realise after writing these points that I might sound angry. I’m not speaking angrily, just passionately.

  1. You expect certain kinds of social behaviour and become reactionary or indifferent when this goes against your expectations. When I talk passionately about a subject that I’m interested in, for example, you dismiss it as naïve or childish or incomplete, as though I don’t really know what I’m talking about. I have gathered that this is because I do speak with a childlike excitement at times, so you become dismissive because how I’m speaking doesn’t match your expectations for adult behaviour, whatever that is. So, I have adapted by not talking about the things I’m passionate about, for fear of being dismissed and misunderstood. Fuck that, I’m done with that. Why does everyone need to behave or think like you? It doesn’t make sense to expect this.

  2. You make huge assumptions about what someone is saying. You insert words and meanings that were never there in the first place. If someone says black lives matter, you assume they mean that only black lives matter or that other people’s lives don’t matter as much as black ones. Nope, that’s not what they said! Nobody ever said that.

  3. You become reactionary when someone tries to explain your misunderstanding. And you have absolutely no appreciation for how exhausting it is to try to explain something over and over to someone who doesn't want to understand. It’s as though you feel entitled to an explanation and equally entitled to dismiss it because you actually don’t want to understand. Why???

  4. You are narrow-minded, unable to consider other perspectives, as though you expect everyone to share yours. Autistic people are often described as literal, ‘black and white’ thinkers, but you are so oblivious to your own black and white thinking. There is so much either-or reasoning in the world, as though you can boil down incredibly complex systems and ways of behaving into binary systems: right or wrong, good or evil. If it goes against your understanding of the world, it must be wrong for everyone. For example, a woman who waits 10+ years to accuse a man of raping her: so many of you say she can’t be telling the truth because she wouldn’t have waited until now to say it. Surely, she would have reported it straight away, you tell yourself. How is it that you cannot even try to imagine why a woman might be afraid to accuse her rapist? Or, a black man is killed by a cop and black people are enraged. You say the rioting and looting that ensues afterward is wrong, full stop. It’s damaging and violent, so there can be no reason for it – just chaotic, irrational behaviour. It shows that some black people really are thugs, you say, that they must like to cause chaos. That is why the cop killed the black man in the first place. How is it that you can expect an oppressed people who live in a system that continuously oppresses them to just sit around peacefully, humbly waiting for their turn at an unoppressed life that perpetually fails to arrive? You might think they make their oppression up or that they bring it on themselves. That’s so typical – so normal – for you to say. They must be lying because it doesn’t match your understanding of the world. You might be able to understand that the oppressed cannot love or sympathise with their oppressors – that they will lash out if they ever get a chance or when there’s enough pressure on their lives to make them explode in fury. So, why is outrage only warranted when you think it is? I know that your life experiences give you context for your own beliefs and choices, and these are experiences that are very personal to you. They give you valid reasons for all sorts of emotions. Why can’t you know that this is true for me and everyone else, too?

  5. You use your experiences to validate or invalidate someone else’s, even when your experience is based on false assumptions. If a cop pulls you over, for example, you will act respectfully and follow their instructions. You will say ‘yes, officer’ or ‘no, officer’ and ‘thank you, officer.’ And the officer will let you go on your way. You then use this experience to imagine that black people must not be doing this, or else they wouldn’t have any problems with the police. If they do get arrested, beat up, killed, then it must have been because they weren’t respectful enough or they didn’t follow instructions. And when black people are outraged that another black man, woman or child has been shot and killed by police, you say that their outrage is wrong or misplaced because your experience has always been positive. You don’t even attempt to imagine what it might feel like to have your loved ones continually die at the hands of the police.

  6. You have a certain version of how the world is supposed to be and react strongly against anything that doesn’t fit your version. Men are supposed to act like men and women like women, and there’s no room for any in-betweens, as though we are cut out of a pre-made pattern, and anything that deviates from that pattern is wrong or defective. You seem to literally have no understanding about the world and the many different human beings in this world. You are clueless to the fact that your own version doesn’t even remotely match the actual world around you. Why do you pigeonhole yourself so narrowly like this?

I think that turned into a bit of a rant, in the end!

I’ve been reading The Water Dancer by Ta-Nehisi Coates and was struck by the legacy motif that runs throughout his narrative. Legacies inherited and new ones created which continue to affect the way we think and behave today.

This book also made me think about my own relationship to whiteness and racism because I am white. For years, I’ve wondered how so many of my ‘own kind’ could feel such hatred and disgust towards another human being who happens to have a darker skin pigmentation. And I look back on the history of this hatred, and it runs deep, so deep that men and women would have no problem ripping apart the body of another human being, a pregnant one no doubt. Like Corrinne in The Water Dancer, there is this ‘righteous’ sort of anger at seeing someone who looks like me commit such acts of brutality against another human being. How can they be like this? I’d ask.

But more recently, I’ve begun to wonder the opposite. Rather than being surprised and confused any longer by the acts and beliefs of white people (who have long been performing horrific acts of violence), I wonder instead how I might untangle myself from a deeply embedded racist worldview. Instead of seeing racist white people as ‘other,’ I see them as me, as a reflection of who I am and what I have inherited from them. After all, racial hatred seems to run through the course of our veins. We’ve always been like this.

And these racist beliefs run through the course of my veins. I’ve inherited them. Yet, if I can manage to examine the nearly invisible logic that underpins any racist belief, I will clearly see its artifice and root it out of me. If I believe black people, especially men, are dangerous, for example – and I am able to consciously notice the sensation of fear when I’m around a black man – I can question that sensation.

What has triggered this fear?

His black body triggered it.

Why?

I worry that he might be sexually aggressive towards me.

Is there a reason to think he might do something to me… is there some sort of traumatic experience associated with this trigger?

No, there is not. It’s only because he has a black body.

This reminds me of a ‘folk’ narrative that neighbourhood kids and I occasionally discussed as teenagers. We’d talk about how black people do not drive through our hometown very often because they would get pulled over by a cop. We knew this to be true, though I don’t know how we knew this. We also never questioned why this happened or whether or not it was unfair, we simply knew it to be true and accepted it as fact – our shared folk knowledge about people we’ve never met. We didn’t know any person of colour, really. Perhaps we saw the way nearly all non-white people are interpreted by the news or in film and television. I literally believed, for example, that Mexican people were like the mice in the Speedy Gonzales cartoon, either drunk and lazy or running around saying “andale, andale, arriba.” Yet, this brings me around to my point. Nothing in my own personal experience could have been used as evidence for the belief that black people are dangerous. I genuinely believed that an entire people, very few of whom I had even met, were somehow a threat to me. And this was the same for other white kids. We believed that black men, especially, were dangerous and more sexually aggressive. And yet, we had no actual experience that validated our beliefs.

Even if we did have negative experiences to draw from, we’d have plenty more examples from the white men in our lives. Abusive and/or alcoholic fathers, drug addicted friends and family, drug dealers, thieves, paedophiles, rapists, harassers, murderers. And if you leave my own lower-middle class reality, you’ll still find the exact same thing, except dressed up under the guise of civility and wealth. And there you’ll also find money laundering, fraud, tax evasion, drug and human trafficking and complete indifference to the lives of those affected by these actions. The savagery we so readily believe exists in non-white people is simply a projection of the savagery that exists in our own white selves.

The only difference is that when we see a white person committing a crime or act of violence, we don’t see a white person, we see an individual. When a black person commits a crime or act of violence, we don’t see an individual, we see a black person – we see all black people. We need to start seeing white people as equally capable of committing crimes and acts of violence because, in fact, we are.

After decades of trying to understand the people in my life so I could somehow find my own place in the category of humans I was born into, I started to see the artifice underlying so many of their assumptions about people and the way the world should work. As an autistic white woman, I have tried hard to assimilate into a world that doesn’t understand me, and I think this gives me insight into some of the falsehoods we white people believe. Especially when I actually started meeting real-life people of colour, the centuries-old assumptions began to loosen their foothold over my own worldview. And that is why and how I began the process of disentanglement from the legacy I have inherited.

So, I’ve decided that I want to dig deep into the roots of the racial hatred of white people. I want to uncover its logic and expose its artifice, so that we white people can see clearly the invisible and yet precarious force of racism in our lives and the savage consequences of the legacy we have inherited.

Enter your email to subscribe to updates.