Posted in musings

toward love, toward justice

A woman from my church – the leader of our church’s ministry for neurodivergent and disabled children, and the mother of one of those children – asked me what my thoughts were on the recent protests, the black lives matter movement, and how it relates to the autism community. To be completely honest, I’ve been pondering exactly that for a while now. It takes a long time for observations to settle into my network of concepts and data, and longer still for me to verbalize those new connections.

There are of course obvious similarities between the black community and the autistic community, as there are between any minority groups simply by virtue of being different from the majority. I’ve been listening to Morgan Jerkins essay collection This Will Be My Undoing, and her childhood longing for whiteness – for the ability to confidently belong in circles of popularity and influence – mirrors the longing autistic people often have to be neurotypical. (If you see that the way you innately are makes you a target for oppression and shuts down opportunities for careers, friendships, and more, it makes it a lot harder to live authentically.) Building a society in which all people can belong, can be treated fairly, can move with equal confidence – this is good and necessary for the full flourishing of all minorities, no matter their race, ability, gender identity, or so on.

But the two situations are also very different, and it wouldn’t be right to look at the black lives matter movement and only see it in light of how I, as an autistic person, can relate to it. Our country has harbored violent discrimination against black people for hundreds of years, and the recent occurrences of police brutality (especially combined with the default reaction of many white people to defend and excuse the officers involved) show that it still exists despite the last 70 years of almost completely nonviolent civil rights action. I believe our most recent presidential election was also in part a white backlash to the previous eight years during which the Obamas held their power and influence with dignity, intelligence, and principled character. To a lot of people in majority groups, the thought of a minority group gaining power is threatening – and to prevent it happening they preemptively threaten minorities instead. And in our county, black people have borne most of that scorn, fear, oppression, and discrimination.

One last point I want to make is that oppression compounds. A black, trans, autistic woman is going to be at a massive disadvantage against the norms and institutions of our culture, even more than the average black woman. Just looking at the intersection of blackness and autism, for example, autism has historically been significantly under diagnosed in the black community (though it is getting better, according to the CDC) and the voices of autistic self-advocates are overwhelmingly white. When I think about how much having a diagnosis can benefit an autistic person, it makes me angry that just having darker skin can make it more difficult for an autistic person to get that diagnosis – not to mention the social supports following diagnosis that can help autistic people fully flourish and thrive.

The Bible shows us a vision of society that is radically different than what we have in America today, with our myriad lines of division and discrimination. When the Psalms praise God specifically as King, they do not say that He brings equality. Instead, they say He brings justice, righteousness, and equity (see Psalm 99). He doesn’t place us all on an even footing; rather He gives more grace where more is needed. He forgives more where sin is greater, comforts more where sorrow is greater, provides more where need is greater. As Mary sang in the Magnificat, “He has cast down the mighty from their thrones, and has lifted up the lowly. He has filled the hungry with good things, and the rich He has sent away empty.” As we work to build God’s kingdom, it is important for those with power and privilege to set it aside (or to be made to set it aside, when they have used it unjustly), to learn humility, that those who have been outcast or oppressed can also experience those good things. His kingdom, being for all nations and tribes and peoples, is conceptually inconsistent with racism, with in-group power hoarding.

The path from where we are as a country today to a nation patterned after God’s kingdom – a nation of justice and equity rather than injustice and oppression – is not going to be short or easy, and I definitely do not have the expertise to outline public policy. But I do know that change has to happen individually as well as systemically, and I can speak a bit about how to change and grow on that level. Just as I recommend reading books written by and about autistic people to begin to understand the autistic lived experience, so too I would recommend reading books written by and about black people to being to understand their lived experience (and of course I include talking to real people about their experiences as “reading”, especially if you are not a socially anxious introvert like me, since good conversations can be as edifying as good books). Read widely, and let your preconceptions be proven wrong – so your mind can be changed. Read deeply, so you can begin to empathize with those who belong to a different group and see the world from a different perspective – so your heart can be softened. Read prayerfully, letting the Spirit teach and convict you – so your soul can be moved to confession and intercession. For it is only when we have those three things that we can truly know and love the other – whether they are colored or abled or gendered differently than we are – and begin to work together on the institutional and systemic changes that must also take place.

Posted in musings

thoughts on humanity

The single most important thing about any person is their humanity.

No matter what other characteristics define them – their race, gender, age, neurotype, health, sexual preference, career, level of education, immigration status, religion, whatever – every single person is human, and by virtue of being human they are entitled to respect and dignity.

Years ago, I stumbled across a few MRA and white supremacy outposts online; I remember reading through their blog archives in a kind of shocked daze, disbelieving that people could actually hold the opinions presented there. Authors attempted to use social and biological science to prove racist tenets, or to claim the superiority of the “alpha male” type over women and more “feminine” men (often just decent and courteous men). Careful rational examination of their source material could show where they were wrong, but the sheer volume of output would make that a full-time job – with little or no reward, given that they’ve already shown their disregard for real science or actual facts.

Since then, the hidden (and not-so-hidden) biases against the old and sick (e.g., assisted suicide), the LGBTQA community, the homeless (e.g., park bench design), illegal (and often legal) immigrants, and Muslims have risen and fallen through the headlines of the news cycle. Every time there is a group of people who try to make themselves appear and feel superior and, more malevolently, entitled by virtue of that superiority to demean, belittle, and discriminate against groups they deem inferior. We, the employed, do not wish to see or even think about the unemployed; we can provide for ourselves, they cannot so they must be lazy and shiftless, and thus do not even deserve to sleep on a bench where we might see them. We, the citizens, obviously deserved to be born in this nation with all the opportunities we have; those immigrants who were so stupid as to have been born elsewhere shouldn’t be allowed to come here and steal our opportunities. We, the heterosexual, are so uncomfortable with trans and homosexual individuals that we must clearly be the only natural and moral beings here – never mind our promiscuity and infidelity, we are the ones following God’s sexual plan for humanity, and those who disagree should be silenced and kept apart from each other.

And recently, as I’ve been reading through the online communities dedicated to respectful parenting and disability advocacy, I’ve begun to encounter childism and ableism in all their ugliness.

This week, when the horrible story of the Turpin family came to light, the comments I read on the New York Times were straightforward and predictable: this is why homeschooling should be prohibited, or, at least, more strictly regulated. My own coworkers have made the same comments in response to the simple fact that Arizona requires no academic testing of homeschooled students. Similarly, in the past, when horrible stories of bullying or sexual abuse perpetrated by teachers have surfaced, or when poor curriculum choices are exposed, the comments in the homeschooling community are equally predictable: this is why you should never send your children to public school! The issue at the heart of many of these comments is: who is entitled to control children. Does the state get to control children’s activities, in an attempt to create productive future citizens? Or does the family get to control their children, as the creators of and providers for those children during their development? In other words, both sides are coming from a position of childism, even as they claim to have children’s best interests at heart.

The whole philosophy of unschooling, in contrast, rests on the premise that children are not partial persons, or potential persons, but full persons deserving of the same respect and autonomy as adult persons (recognizing of course their individual needs and limitations). As fellow humans, they should have freedom to pursue their own interests and develop their own talents, instead of being forced into a one-size-fits-all standardized education or into the molds envisioned by their parents. They should have the liberty to use their time as they choose, to eat the foods they like when they are hungry, to sleep when they are tired, to play outside learning to control their own words and actions instead of sitting inside following adult directions all day.

(If you instantly picture children running wild, gorging on junk food, playing violent video games, watching stupid cartoons, and staying up all night, you may have some internalized childism or an incomplete understanding of unschooling. Children who are exposed to beauty and goodness, and given the opportunity to develop maturity and moral character, will resonate with those things just like adults will, since they are equally made in the image of the God of beauty, righteousness, and truth.)

But even in the unschooling community, there is uncertainty when it comes to children with special needs. Since my son most likely has autism or another developmental disorder, I noticed the number of parents commenting that they were unsure of how to maintain that level of freedom and respect while making sure that their children accessed all of the “services” and therapies needed to help them fit in and appear neurotypical. I noticed it even more in the public school setting, where an extremely strong emphasis was placed on accessing services now so that my son would be “caught up” to his peers in time for kindergarten. I picked up on it in the special needs ministry at my church, when the parents’ support group had a meeting about “grieving” over your child’s autism diagnosis as if there was some loss to you in not having a neurotypical child. And I discovered it for myself when I found a thousand support groups for parents of autistic children but hardly any communities for autistic adults. Their voices went unheard.

And in some dark corners of the Internet, some people made it even worse by painting adults with Asperger’s/autism as narcissists and psychopaths, incapable of parenting without emotionally neglecting or abusing their children, and inherently capable of committing the next mass shooting. Maybe they vented some frustration or boosted their own sense of self-worth by saying these horrible and untrue things about others, I don’t know. But I don’t really care. I think of Morenike, the autistic mother of autistic children who loves and advocates for them fearlessly and tirelessly, and who almost had her children removed several years ago, and I wonder what role this type of ableist stigma played in her situation.

And I am thankful beyond words for Ally Grace, another autistic mother of autistic children, who is an unschooler on top of that, and whose stories have helped give me the courage to let my children develop at their own pace and in their own way, with the pressure of needing to conform to some external, arbitrary, socially-defined metric – as well as the courage to be an unschooling parent despite my own social limitations.

I think as all the different “-isms” of discrimination come to light, society will slowly be forced into being more respectful and more accepting of those who are different, of those who may need more help or accommodation given the way the world is set up, but in the meantime there is a fairly vicious backlash of those who seem to think accepting the other somehow diminishes their own status or worth. They are the ones who create the websites in the dark underbelly of the Internet, and they are wrong. To receive another human being with dignity and respect, with courtesy and kindness, regardless of the differences between you and them, allows your own humanity – the image of God within you – to shine forth in beauty and power, even as it elevates their humanity. We can ascend together; we do not need to climb to the heavens on the downtrodden backs of the other.

Posted in musings

fake news and the stigmatization of the other

I have Facebook friends who span the political spectrum (although most are fairly moderate), and I’ve lately found myself surprised and disappointed by articles that are shared or liked by people who I considered wise and mature. A lot of them aren’t even true, and in fact are verifiably untrue with only a brief amount of research – they aren’t contentious points but outright lies.

But what bothers me more than that is my friends’ desire for them to be true.

Here’s an example:

A friend of mine liked an article claiming that Angola has banned Islam and is destroying mosques. I can guarantee that if the religion was swapped and Christianity or Judaism were being banned, and churches or synagogues destroyed, my friend would be outraged and (rightly) condemn the affront to religious freedom. So why is it different with Islam? What happened to “do as you would be done by?”

I believe that, for him, Islam has been completely othered. He is reacting out of a fear of terrorism and a (rightful) disdain for the human rights abuses found in many majority Muslim countries. So instead of perceiving the individual Muslim following their faith with piety and in peace, he sees only the most violent expression of Islamic ideology, and paints all Muslims with that brush. And again, what happened to the golden rule? He would never tolerate a similar stereotype perpetrated against Christians or Jews.

I think it is important for us to remember, as Christians, that people of different faiths are still people, still bearers of the image of God, still entitled to human rights and worthy to be treated with dignity and respect. It is not Christian to deny the humanity and freedom of certain persons just because of their faith, when it is an obvious truth that people of all faiths and none commit crimes and, yes, even acts of terror. And yet that is what we end up doing when we think of Muslims as the other instead of as fellow humans.

And in case you were wondering about Angola… they don’t exactly have a good track record with religious minorities, and they have torn down a few mosques (and many churches) for being built without a permit – but they haven’t banned anything. And even if they had, it would be cause for sadness at that violation of religious freedom, not something to “like” and encourage the US to emulate.