Tag Archives: race

I am not a feminist

Mad intersection

It’s true. I do not call myself a feminist, I do not want anyone else to call me a feminist, and I can no longer justify considering myself a feminist.

What I want to do here is explain why.

Though first, i want to explain why not. I mean, usually when I see people claim they are not feminists (usually on the internet) they are setting up blatant, horrible straw man arguments and making utterly absurd claims about feminism in order to tear it down. Usually the people in question are really quite misogynistic or are women who are internalized a lot of sexism, and it is not at all uncommon for those folks to want to make things go back to how they were in the past when women were always expected to be subservient to men.

I am not one of those people. Not at all. When I encounter those people I generally immediately want to leap to the defense of feminism, as I believe those critiques are entirely unreasonable.

No, the reason I am finally rejecting feminism is because feminism has failed, and is continuing to fail, in regards to intersectionality. It is a very serious problem within feminism, and it is one that I can personally no longer deal with.

I’m going to start with an example that I think people might have an easier time swallowing than my own issue, just because of the way the world is right now. Ages ago, Michelle Obama, the FLOTUS, said “at the end of the day, my most important title is still mom-in-chief”

And boy was there a kerfuffle over that one! Many feminists (white, straight, able-bodied feminists) thought that she was totally betraying feminism and being a bad example of a powerful woman and whatnot. Now, there is a very good write-up of all the problems of that over here that says it all much better than I ever could. I highly suggest you read it yourself, but if you don’t want to here’s a brief excerpt:

Racism, slavery, white supremacy, economic inequality and deprivation forced black women to cater to the needs and demands of Miss Ann and her family. For centuries, we black women ran ourselves weary and exhausted making sure white men, white women and white children are fed, bathed, clothes and content before we could even have a moment to feed, clothe, bathe and care for ourselves and our own families.

To add to this, I just recently read the book Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl, which is a rare, first-hand account of slavery written by a woman. Of note – even after she escapes, even after she got her children out, even when she was living in New York – ostensibly a free state, even when she found friends who would help her, she still had to get work caring for a white baby while being unable to even live with her own children.

The point here is that the history and oppression of black women is fundamentally different from the history and oppression of white women. Feminism that only recognizes the oppression of white women and expects ALL women to conform to that perspective is totally failing to take into account the different needs of black women. For white women, choosing to leave the home and work was the defiant choice, proving their independence. For black women, who were often forced to leave their children to take care of white demands, it’s the opposite.

Thing is, race is far from the only area where feminism has been blind to intersections. Sexuality is another obvious one. However, the ones that strongly impact me personally and have made it impossible for me to continue to call myself a feminist are the intersections of being female while also being autistic, mentally ill, and disabled. A feminism that ignores the impact of these things is a feminism that has no idea of my needs or the kinds of choices I need to make. This is a feminism that does not even acknowledge my existence.

And while feminism is starting, barely, to notice that there is work to do in regards to the intersections of womanhood, race, and sexuality, they still do not notice or acknowledge the myriad other intersections that exist and matter and make an impact on individuals.

As it is I certainly support much of feminism. I believe in equality for all sexes and genders, I believe that gender is still a major issue in the US, and I believe we still have a lot of work to do. But I am not a feminist, because I cannot be part of a group that is blind to who I am, the choices I make, and how my empowerment will look different from their empowerment.

Instead, I have taken to calling myself an intersectionalist.

I’m sure it will be a thing eventually.

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Intersections. THEY MATTER

(link in title)

Longtime readers know a bit about my brother…that he is the older of my two older siblings and he has autism. He is aphasic, and he makes loud funky noises…he gets excited when he likes a song and he twirls and dances.  He looks “normal”…a lot younger than his 43 years, but still “normal” in presentation if not behavior.

So, I know that his behavior could get him beat up or shot.

He likes to look in car windows.

He doesn’t understand “the rules.”

He likes people…and the smell of freshly washed hair or French fries on someone’s plate.

We work on it with him…we watch him closely.

Because we live in a country where black men get shot and killed for seeking help after a car accident…or refusing to turn down music…or walking home after going to the corner store.

This is why you still benefit from white privilege if you are autistic. This is why we need to talk about it. It matters. Seriously.

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February 16, 2014 · 2:27 pm

Just a quick follow up from autism and race

This is not intended to be my usual weekly posting – I expect I’ll post something either later today or tomorrow. This is just a follow up from the autism and race post I did back in January. I did write to both the AWN and wrongplanet, and got nothing but silence in response. Today I realized that this actually really bothered me, so I decided to make some more noise.

So I posted this to AWN’s facebook page.

Back in January I emailed the Autism Women’s Network about the matter of race, and the silence around race that we have in various autism communities. I asked that you consider making a space for discussion about autism and race, along side the spaces you’ve made for groups such as LBGT, adults, relationships, and other such things. I never did hear any kind of response, and I find that saddens me.

AWN understands that it is worth addressing the intersection of autism and gender, and the impact gender has on a person’s experience of autism. However, despite the discrepancy between the ages of diagnoses for white people and african american people, despite the CDC showing differences in the rates of autism across different races, I have yet to see a sign that the AWN cares about this intersection. I do not want to believe it is due to indifference, but the extended silence has me discouraged.

The AWN would be a wonderful place to make room for discussion about the experience of autistic women of color. It is not right to ignore the impact of race, or to pretend that the experiences of women are the same across different races. If we are going to talk about the intersection between gender and autism, we must make sure we include ALL women. The only way to do so is to explicitly, conscientiously make room and acknowledge that there is something to discuss.

Back when I emailed you I also wrote a blog post about why it is so important that we start talking about autism and race. I invite you to take a look at it, as it goes into far more detail than I have gone into here. https://aspergersandmeblog.wordpress.com/2013/01/14/autism-and-race/

I don’t know if it will get any more notice than my email did, but apparently I am not finished making noise. Because seriously, this matters.

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autism and race

This nifty graphic from NIMH shows some of the differences in rates of autism across a few different races.

I have been wanting to start talking about intersectionality for a while now. From the geekfeminism wiki: “Intersectionality is a concept often used in critical theories to describe the ways in which oppressive institutions (racism, sexism, homophobia, transphobia, ableism, xenophobia, classism, etc.) are interconnected and cannot be examined separately from one another.”

Personally, I find this to be a worthwhile thing to think about. An intersection that I am seeing gain increasing attention in the autism community is the intersection of autism and gender. It’s widely known that there is a significant disparity between the rates of autism in males and females, and people are wondering why. Is there something different about the genders that makes autism more common in males? Is autism harder to see in females? Are we just not good at knowing what female autism looks like? Is there bias among clinicians who do the diagnosing? It is a topic that people are talking about, pushing for, and is gaining attention with various articles and books being written on the topic. Being more or less female, I rather assumed that when I talked about intersections, this would be the first thing I talked about.

But instead, I want to talk about autism and race. Or rather, I want to talk about how it’s not getting talked about, and that’s weird. Along with being overwhelmingly male, the autism community appears to be overwhelmingly white. While people are talking about the gender thing, I see very little about the race thing.

I often do homework as a part of putting together blog posts. I look for articles and books and statistics and other resources to help me better understand what I’m writing about, as well as provide support for what I’m saying. I have never before experienced the utter dearth of resources as I did for this post. There is very, very little out there talking about this.

There are all sorts of books on amazon – many of them scholarly, or at least non-fiction – about autism and girls. I found NOTHING on autism and race. Eventually I managed to track down a few books of fiction that deal with both autism and racism, but by and large they are about white male autistic people, who learn about racism by seeing it happen to someone else. There was one book with an autistic character which also dealt with racism and I was just not able to tell via the description or reviews if said character was white or a person of color.

So, for some reason, this is not getting much attention. Not enough to warrant even a single book. I also tracked down a few statistics. Even that was a bit tricky, with surprisingly few resources out there. However, the CDC, when doing their research, also did some looking into autism rates across races. The famed “1 in 88” study also found “When data from all sites were combined, the estimated prevalence among non-Hispanic white children (12.0 per 1,000) was significantly greater than that among non-Hispanic black children (10.2 per 1,000) and Hispanic children (7.9 per 1,000).” Yet while people talk about the 1 in 88 statistic, and the differences in statistics between genders, I found extremely little talking about the difference in race. All the questions that people are asking about autism and gender seem that they would apply to autism and race (and probably quite a few more besides), but people don’t seem to be asking those questions.

Why not?

Well, one of the catalysts for writing this post was learning that not only is there an absence of discussion, there is active resistance to said discussion. People, apparently, just don’t want to talk about it. ThAutcast posted a video talking about white privilege as a way to introduce both the topic of privilege in general, and the topic of racial privilege and how it relates to autism, given how overwhelmingly white the communities seem to be. There were some interesting responses to the facebook post.

I don’t understand this post. We are a community of people who our strongest message is that everyone is different and unique in their own way and not to judge one from another. How in the world would someone in said community even think about color? I just don’t get that??

Well that’s interesting. It’s true that diversity and the strength of diversity is an increasing theme in autism discussions. However, this person’s logic seems flawed to me. We don’t make a community diverse by simply saying that it is. We make it diverse by taking a good, hard look at it, seeing if we are succeeding, recognizing when we aren’t, and figuring out how to fix this. Ignoring privilege just makes it stronger.

Another person said, “race should not be a factor in anyones lives….autism sees no color…” Well… maybe it should and maybe it shouldn’t. Race should not be a problematic factor, anyway. Nonetheless, it is a factor. It does have an impact, and it does cause problems. Ignoring that impact does not make it go away.

So why are people resisting talking about this? Well, I don’t know, but I have a guess. 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. I think about gender because I need to – I do not have the privilege of ignoring it. But race privilege? I have that. It’s really uncomfortable to admit this. It is not fun to sit with that discomfort, to see where I’ve failed, to notice that I totally failed to connect my awareness of feminism and race to autism and race. It’s embarrassing. So I can sort of see how a person might prefer to declare that there simply is not a problem worth thinking about rather than sit with and accept that discomfort.

Nonetheless, I think we should. I think we need to. I have no idea how one’s race affects autism, but I should not go assuming that it does not, or that it is not worth talking about.

Now, there definitely are people of color on the autism spectrum. A particularly famous example is Stephen Wiltshire, the artist. So why is there a discrepancy? Well, one possible reason is bias on the part of those giving the diagnoses. One article I managed to find on the subject talked about an African American family trying to get their son diagnosed. He showed all the classic signs of autism, yet “doctors and other professionals would pin a wide array of labels on Ronnie – including developmental delay, attention deficit disorder, hyperactivity and a social and emotional disorder. Even obsessive-compulsive disorder and oppositional defiant disorder were mentioned.” It took years for him to get the correct diagnosis and the help he needed. On top of that, it looks like there is a distinct difference in the ages of white children and african american children in getting diagnosed (“white kids were diagnosed at 6.3 years old, compared with 7.9 years for African American kids”). Why does this happen? How can we fix it? I don’t know, but we are never going to find out until we start to talk about it and make room for that conversation to happen.

Unfortunately, there does not appear to be a whole lot of room for that conversation to happen. As I mentioned, there are people who are pushing back on the idea of talking about this at all. I also took a look at a couple of autism forums and found some additional problems. The Autism Women’s Network (AWN) appears to be trying very hard to be inclusive. They have an absolutely lovely Statement on Gender on their About Us page, and their forums include sections dedicated to talking about gender, sexuality, and orientation as well as sections for parents, for school-related talk, for NT’s to talk to each other, for autistics and NT’s to talk to each other and more. Yet there was not a single forum for talking about autism and race. Nothing.

I found something similar on the wrongplanet forums. There is a section for adults, a section for teens, a section for LGBT, and more, but not a single section for talking about race or for people of color.

I do not believe that either of these two groups are trying to be discriminatory. In fact, given all their other sections, I would say that they are trying to be inclusive, but for some reason explicitly including race just did not occur to them. (I really hope it is not that it did occur to them, and they chose to not include that. For now, I am going to assume that they are not trying to exclude anyone) So I think that one thing I, at least, can do to try to change the landscape is write to both the AWN and wrongplanet, and ask/suggest they include a forum specifically for race/people of color. I have no idea if they will listen, but it seems like a good idea to try. I think I’m going to send something like the following:

To the creators of the AWN/wrongplanet forums;

I really appreciate that you have created forums and space for autism community. It’s nice to know that there is somewhere I can go to talk about various specific issues. I believe that you are interested in being inclusive and welcoming to diversity, which is demonstrated by the existence of forums specific to the needs of LGBT, adults, relationships, women, etc. By doing so you demonstrate that you are interested in what various minority groups have to say, and create an environment in which various people feel invited to participate and talk about issues that may be specific to one group or another.

However, I have noticed that no forum exists for people of color, or to explicitly talk about issues that have to do with autism and race. I am confident that this is not because you do not wish to welcome people of various races, but because it perhaps had simply not occurred to you yet to create a place to invite and welcome that kind of conversation. As such, I wish to suggest that you create such a place. We know that things like gender, age, and sexuality can all impact autism, and autism can impact our experience of those things. We cannot pretend that race is somehow exempt from that.

Thank you
(me)

If you want to email either or both of them as well, you are welcome to use my email as a template.

Now I want to end with a positive example of change. This is about a completely different context – academic conferences. Presenters at academic conferences also happen to almost always be white males. “Conference hosts, VC’s, and others often attribute this to a “pipeline problem,” the idea that there simply aren’t enough qualified white women or people of color who wanted to or were qualified to participate.” Eventually the creators of a conference decided that they did not believe this, and wanted to find a way to change it. So they took a good, hard look at what was going on, and came up with a strategy to change it.

Their solution was to eliminate networking as a way to get presenters, and go exclusively by meritocracy, using a combination of transparency, blind selection, outreach, and enlisting help. The result? They wound up with a significantly more diverse selection of speakers than most conferences have, because people felt they actually had a chance against the more well-known (white male) speakers, so people who normally did not bother to apply to conferences did to this one.

While the situation was different and, obviously, so was the solution, I want to include it anyway as a demonstration that we CAN do better. And that maybe we are unintentionally perpetuating a problem, and to fix it we need to recognize that and find ways to change.

And we can. It may be uncomfortable to admit we’ve made mistakes, but it is possible and it is worth the discomfort.

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