What If The Media Treated Black People the Way They Treat Autistic People?
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."