Tag Archives: privilege

More on intersections

Ages ago someone found my blog because they ran a search for “do I benefit from white privilege if I’m autistic.” I wound up noting it down in my blog topics list to get to eventually. Apparently “eventually” has arrived.

Talking about privilege is tough. I’m not good at it  – I hope to be at least somewhat better eventually, but I’m not there yet. But then, I won’t get better at talking about privilege until I actually start talking about privilege, so there you go.

To get straight to be point, before I go off on a ramble – the answer to this question is an unequivocal yes. Yes, white privilege applies when one is autistic and white. Male privilege applies when one is autistic and male. That special combination of straight, white, male privilege exists for straight, white, male autistics. Autistic people of color face an icky combination of discrimination and prejudice that white autistics do not.

Increasingly I think that privilege and oppression really needs to be talked about as an intersectional thing – when the intersections are ignored, the conversation becomes pretty much worthless. Autism sits right at the intersection of disability and mental illness. There are many ways in which this is not a nice place to be. I mean, disability is barely, if at all, seen as a social justice issue. People don’t even bat an eye when disabled people have to go down alleys, use service elevators or that sort of thing to use the the buildings all the rest of us use without even thinking about it. If you bring it up, most people will not think about it in terms of discrimination. Sure, “your entrance is in the rear” is bad for most people, but disabled people? Apparently that’s ok. Or you’ll get a place full of self-professed “egalitarians” bending over backwards to defend paying disabled people less than minimum wage.

Both disability and mental illness are treated in dehumanizing ways. I once wrote a post about wanting to see autistic representation in the media. It was about how cool it would be to see a cool, confident, likable character who happened to be autistic, and about how unlikely that is to happen. But really, in a way, that was setting the bar REALLY low. I mean, the character would almost certainly still be white, male, straight, able-bodied, and have a career. A strong, confident, likable character who’s in a wheelchair, or is too disabled to work, or could work in theory but can’t find a job because they can’t get through the interview process? No, that’s not happening. That’s so far from happening that even thinking about asking for it seems utterly and completely absurd.

Anyway. This is getting a little rambly. Intersections. I am on the autism spectrum. I am female. I have been too disabled to work for many years now (though with meds that might change). I feel incredibly fortunate and grateful and I did not wind up living on the streets – something that was probably more of a risk for me than I care to think about, had aspects of my life gone differently. I don’t drive. There are no people like me on TV, and I face a lot of judgement for being the way I am (that is, when I reveal these things to people who are relative strangers. which is rare, because I don’t like the way people look at me when they learn some of these things).

On the other hand, I am white. I am able-bodied. I can usually hide my differences from random strangers on the street, and just look “quirky” instead. There is privilege in that. No one will judge me because of the color of my skin, no one will make assumptions about me based on the texture of my hair, service people will notice my existence and interact with me without uncomfortable glances at mobility aids. So YES, I am benefiting from white privilege, as well as able-bodied privilege, speaking privilege, sight privilege, cisgender privilege and various other abilities I have that other people don’t.

So, random person on the internet, yes, you benefit from white privilege if you are white, regardless of what other privileges you do or do not enjoy. Privileges or lack thereof definitely intersect and impact one another, but they do not cancel each other out.

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Privilege, validation, and reflection

Privilege is such a tricky thing to talk about. Often people with privilege don’t like to admit it, or feel defensive if it’s pointed out. I often see people assume that privilege means that life has been handed to you on a silver platter and you didn’t have to work for anything, so if their privilege is pointed out, they think they are being accused of not having worked for what they accomplished.

In activism spaces, this is not what privilege means. Privilege is more subtle than that. Now, I’m not going to try to explain what privilege is. That would be a blog post all to itself, and there are plenty of really good write-ups out there that have explained it all much better than I could. Instead, I want to talk about one particular type of privilege (since privilege takes many different forms). It’s a general type I see a lot of when looking at various lists of privilege (white, male, cisgendered, and straight being the ones I see most often talked about). That is – that you see people like you on a regular basis. That your reality and identity is reflected back at you by popular media and the people around you.

When you enjoy that sort of privilege, it’s easy to take it for granted. In my post ‘autism and race,’ I wrote:

I need to confess something. Until that post by TheAutcast, it had never occurred to me to think much about autism and race. I am white and I sat comfortably in my white privilege, seeing white faces reflected back at me, and it did not occur to me to question this.

And it’s not like I’m blind to this sort of privilege. I’m aware of it with things like gender and disability. But when something about you is privileged, it’s really easy to just not notice.

I have also found that it’s easy to dismiss. I grew up with the message that external validation was going to end when I turned into an adult, and that people are not supposed to need that sort of thing. This, I think, had two basic results. In the areas where I do experience that kind of validation – seeing people who are like me – it’s easy to take little notice of it, or dismiss it as not “really” doing anything for me. In areas where I do not experience that kind of validation, I find that I wish I did, but I have vague feelings of guilt and shame associated with those desires.

I am slowly realizing, however, that this is actually a really big deal. Like that cheerios commercial, and some of the reactions I saw about how it’s SO AWESOME for biracial people and/or mixed families to actually see other people who look like them on TV. And, importantly, being portrayed in a totally casual, ‘this is no big deal,’ some families look like this kind of way.

Or this post talking about race and adoption, and the impact it can have on children to not regularly see people like themselves in their daily life.

And there’s the fact that I love seeing strong, confident characters on TV who also happen to be introverts. Or the times when people have reflected my gender identity back to me, validating and supporting me in it, and just how utterly good that felt.

This kind of thing matters. It’s a privilege that everyone should enjoy. I don’t really know of many neurodiverse characters being represented in popular media, and when it is implicitly referenced it is often in a not terribly positive way. I find myself wondering what it would be like if I saw a strong, confident TV character who just happened to flap their hands when excited, or spun in a chair when stressed, or was sometimes confused in social situations, or just needed to fixate on a few specks of dust sometimes. And if all those things were presented simply as part of who this person is, rather than with a “what’s wrong with you?” tone. No manic pixie dream girl, no person who’s funny because they are broken, just a strong, interesting character who happens to be on the autism spectrum.

Wouldn’t that be cool? I think seeing that, in a likable, positive character, would feel really good. I think it would be awesome.

This kind of thing matters. The validation of seeing people like you, of having your identity and your reality reflected back at you, it matters.

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