I think a lot about black people.
I also think a lot about black people because lots of my favorite media right now is coming from black people. I like Melissa Harris Perry on TV and Ta-Nehisi Coates on the web and This Week in Blackness on my iPhone. Black voices are resonating a lot with me right now.
Part of this is because of a backlash against black Americans in the wake of President Obama's re-election. I don't care if you don't like the President, but it sickens me that this sad clown Uncle Sam lady is a pretty accurate picture of what part of my country looks like today.
Racism is still a huge American problem.
Slate recently posted a piece in which a mother talked about her gay son that reminded me a lot of the kind of media we about autism. And I noted at the time that gay people would not care about it because it was not representative of how the media usually depicts us today.
But this week Philadelphia Magazine piece answers the question "What if the media treated black people the way they treat autistic people?"
And people are mad.
People who work at the magazine are mad.
Because this is an entire article where white people talk about the problems with black people:
Fifty years after the height of the civil rights movement, more than 25 years after electing its first African-American mayor, Philadelphia remains a largely segregated city, with uneasy boundaries in culture and understanding. And also in well-being. There is a black middle class, certainly, and blacks are well-represented in our power structure, but there remains a vast and seemingly permanent black underclass. Thirty-one percent of Philadelphia’s more than 600,000 black residents live below the poverty line. Blacks are more likely than whites to be victims of a crime or commit one, to drop out of school and to be unemployed.
What gets examined publicly about race is generally one-dimensional, looked at almost exclusively from the perspective of people of color. Of course, it is black people who have faced generations of discrimination and who deal with it still. But our public discourse ignores the fact that race—particularly in a place like Philadelphia—is also an issue for white people. Though white people never talk about it.
Everyone might have a race story, but few whites risk the third-rail danger of speaking publicly about race, given the long, troubled history of race relations in this country and even more so in this city. Race is only talked about in a sanitized form, when it’s talked about at all, with actual thoughts and feelings buried, which only ups the ante. Race remains the elephant in the room, even on the absurd level of who holds the door to enter a convenience store.
Huber talked only to white people. And praised their courage and frankness for saying shockingly bigoted things:
On a warm Sunday in October, I buttonhole a woman I’ll call Anna, a tall, slim, dark-haired beauty from Moscow getting out of her BMW on an alley just south of Girard College. Anna goes to a local law school, works downtown at a law firm, and proceeds to let me have it when we start talking about race in her neighborhood.
“I’ve been here for two years, I’m almost done,” she says. “Blacks use skin color as an excuse. Discrimination is an excuse, instead of moving forward. … It’s a shame—you pay taxes, they’re not doing anything except sitting on porches smoking pot … Why do you support them when they won’t work, just make babies and smoking pot? I walk to work in Center City, black guys make compliments, ‘Hey beautiful. Hey sweetie.’ White people look but don’t make comments. … ”
That’s the other surprise: If you’re not an American, the absence of a historical filter results in a raw view focused strictly on the here and now. I meet a contractor from Maine named Adrian, who brought his Panamanian wife to live here, at 19th and Girard, where she saw fighting and drug deals and general bad behavior at the edge of Brewerytown. It all had her co-nvinced there is a “moral poverty” among inner-city blacks.
Which is the way autistic people are usually shown, right? We mostly get neurotypical people talking about the problems we cause. And frequently being praised for how brave they are when they slander us.
Huber is what real bigotry sounds like. We have this false idea that racism is always expressed through hostility, and that's just not the case. Sometimes it is expressed through concern trolling, as he does at the end of his piece:
The problems seem intractable. In so many quarters, simply discussing race is seen as racist. And so white people are stuck, dishonest by default, as we take a pass on the state of this city’s largely black inner city and settle for politely opening doors at Wawa, before we slip back to our own lives.
We’re stuck in another way, too. Our troubled black communities create in us a tangle of feelings, including this one: a desire for things to be better. But for that sentiment to come true—for it to mean anything, even—I’ve come to believe that white people have to risk being much more open. It’s impossible to know how that might change the racial dynamics in Philadelphia, or the plight of the inner city. But as things stand, our cautiousness and fear mean that nothing changes in how blacks and whites relate, and most of us lose out on the possibility of what Jen has found: real connection.
What, I wonder, would that look like? Claire, the widow I talked to in Fairmount who was walking her terri-poos, doesn’t worry about saying the wrong thing in her neighborhood, about offending her black neighbors, because she’s confident of her own feelings when it comes to matters of race. But like many people, I yearn for much more: that I could feel the freedom to speak to my African-American neighbors about, say, not only my concerns for my son’s safety living around Temple, but ho w the inner city needs to get its act together. That I could take the leap of talking about something that might seem to be about race with black people.
This piece makes me a lot angrier than most of the things I read that are bigoted against gay or autistic people, because I don't think there's any excuse for it. Attitudes are changing quickly toward gay people, but one political party is still opposed our having legal equal rights. The Fourteenth Amendment was passed over a century ago. People really should have had time absorb and make their peace with it by now.
More similarities to Autismland: this piece of overt racism came from what editor Tom McGrath acknowledges is "a magazine with exactly zero people of color on its full-time editorial staff." Clearly a more meaningful way for this publication to address the issue of race would be to examine its hiring practices, which include hiring the infamous white creep who wrote "If I Were a Poor Black Kid"-- after he wrote it.
There is a surge of feelings about "reverse discrimination" in America today. And Wanda Sykes is right: what people call reverse racism is actually karma.
One of the reasons I can't respect Reddit is that I don't think men's rights are actually a civil rights issue.
The Huffington Post recently had to run a piece explaining why they have a "gay voices" section and not a "straight voices" section:
If the question comes from a straight person, I explain that every other section on The Huffington Post other than Gay Voices is filled with (mostly) "straight voices." It's an admittedly prickish answer delivered with a healthy helping of eye rolling, because I have no patience for the notion that straight and/or cisgender people are marginalized or unheard or invisible in the media and mainstream society. We know that just isn't true. Unless otherwise stated, or unless there's some obvious identifying characteristics (and even then, looks can be deceiving), the assumption is always that a person and his or her viewpoint, or "voice," is straight and/or cisgender, and therefore there's no need to collect or highlight those views; they exist everywhere and happily reign supreme.
Last week, I guess I was not careful enough when I mentioned on the thAutcast Facebook page that when people send in pictures it's important to me to show that there autistic people who are not white. And people accused me of reverse racism.
And I banned them.
And then there was this, which pretty much IS "Being Neurotypical in Autismland."
The headline on The Huffington Post asks this question:
Here's the short answer:
Asperger's syndrome is not "the New Black."
Gay is not "The New Black."
You know what the new Black is?
Being Black in America (or London, where the piece takes place) is changing but it's still very hard for many people in many ways and it is still a distinct experience. If you have not read Ta-Nehisi Coate's superb article about race and the Obama presidency, I recommend it strongly as a picture of the Current Black:
What black people are experiencing right now is a kind of privilege previously withheld—seeing our most sacred cultural practices and tropes validated in the world’s highest office. Throughout the whole of American history, this kind of cultural power was wielded solely by whites, and with such ubiquity that it was not even commented upon. The expansion of this cultural power beyond the private province of whites has been a tremendous advance for black America. Conversely, for those who’ve long treasured white exclusivity, the existence of a President Barack Obama is discombobulating, even terrifying. For as surely as the iconic picture of the young black boy reaching out to touch the president’s curly hair sends one message to black America, it sends another to those who have enjoyed the power of whiteness.
The Current Black is watching Barack Obama be called lazy after a disappointing debate performance. Black people aren't done being Black.
There's actually a lot to like in the piece, which like one I highlighted yesterday, is about a birthday party featuring an autistic son. Leda Nakin Nelis makes me cringe when she calls her son's Asperger's syndrome "the Rolls Royce of the Autism Spectrum," but she clearly loves him and recognizes that the Aspergers is an important part of who he is:
This brings me to the next thing that struck me during my son's speech. It got me thinking about labels. "My parents keep telling me that I've got this thing -- ummm -- called 'Asperger's Syndrome', or whatever it is that you want to call it," he began. "What can I say? I just roll with it!" He spoke in a confident yet subtly self-deprecating manner, referring to his special needs label with a self-assuredness that put everyone in the audience at ease.
I have never understood why so many special needs parents are afraid of labels. I sometimes tease my son when he complains about his Asperger's Syndrome, calling it the "Rolls Royce of the Autistic Spectrum." If I am comfortable with his AS, then he will feel comfortable with it as well... and so, in turn, will be those with whom he interacts. My son does not, in my eyes, have so much a disability; rather, he possesses a gift that comes with built-in challenges. I am sure that, like all parents, I have failed in some ways; what I have succeeded in doing, however, is demystifying ASD and encouraging my son to feel comfortable about his Asperger's. It is an integral part of who he is, so why feel self-conscious about it? After all, I am not embarrassed about telling people that I am American (except when Sarah Palin happens to be running for Vice President) or that I have brown hair. It's who I am, and what you see is what you get!
Brenda Rothman's white autistic son Jack wants to grow up to be bald and black. And, while she tells him that only part of that is possible, she's okay with what him liking things that are different from himself, and talking about it. Even to bald, black strangers at the store.
She believes that we are quiet about differences because we are ashamed of them:
I wish we could see, like Jack can, that differences are what makes us interesting and beautiful. If we appreciated the beauty of black people, we'd see them celebrated like Barbie images are. If we appreciated the beauty of learning differences, we'd see it embraced in schools, not fought against. If we appreciated physical differences, we'd see it as more than gold-medal inspiration for positive thinking. If we incorporated a daily appreciation of differences - for skin colors, learning differences, physical disabilities - in our families, we could change the world.
Not surprising, but heartbreaking. Disabled students are almost twice as likely as other kids to be suspended from school, and Black kids who are disabled are twice as likely to be suspended as other disabled kids:
According to a new analysis of Department of Education data, 13 percent of disabled students in kindergarten through 12th grade were suspended during the 2009-2010 school year, compared with 7 percent of students without disabilities. Among African-American children with disabilities, which included with learning difficulties, the rate is even higher: one out of every four was suspended at least once during that school year.
The good news is that there are districts who are doing a better job:
“What’s most interesting is not who is suspending kids, but who isn’t,” said Diane Howard, staff attorney for juvenile justice and education for the National Disability Rights Network. “We want to take this report and say we know that viable alternatives exist and school districts and states both rich and poor are choosing not to suspend kids, so it’s not inevitable. So how do we get the districts with high suspension rates to learn from that and change their practices?”
Since the United States Centers for Disease Control released its latest statistics on autism prevalence last week, I have done a series of images, blog posts, and videos analyzing the new data. This post collects all of those things in one place for people who want an extensive analysis of what the new report means.
Although I have grown somewhat more concerned about the proposed changes in autism diagnosis for DSM-5, I think the variation from state to state and within different ethnic groups in the report proves that the current state of autism diagnosis is intolerably random and bad.
The other disturbing thing to me about both the report and the way it is being discussed is the fact that everyone seems to be ignoring the evidence from Britain that indicates that the rate of autism among children and adults is consistently about 1% of the population. There is a great deal of speculation regarding why the rate has changed so dramatically, and it seems to me that it should at least be informed by this information:
The only study to look for autistic adults in a national population was conducted in Britain and published in 2009. Investigators interviewed 7,461 adults selected as a representative sample of the country and conducted 618 intensive evaluations.
The conclusion: 1% of people living in British households had some form of autism, roughly the same rate that the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates for children in America today.
The British study found it didn't matter whether the adults were in their 20s or their 80s. The rate of autism was the same for both groups.
Some speculation of my own:
I do not think the number of autistic people has changed very much, but I do think that more people are visibly disabled by their autism than has been the case in the past. Many people are investigating environmental causes such as various toxins and chemicals. I wish there would be more investigation into changes in the information environment as well.