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.