Very trying times these are for those who were close to George Floyd, for all who long for racial justice and for those who are unjustly targeted in its absence. These are challenging times for many on the autism spectrum as well, including me, but particularly for those who are both autistic and black. As I contend with the emotions that stem from the horrific and abhorrent murder of George Floyd, my eyes are sometimes driven to tears when I ponder what it must be like to face twofold adversity with respect to both race and neurology. As an autistic man born with white skin, I cannot fully understand, no matter how hard I try, what black folks with autism must face, and that frustrates me. My heart goes out to them, just as it does to our country in her time of need.
Injustice, whether racial, social or otherwise, is a sore subject for me and for many who are autistic. I have always been particularly sensitive to hostility, wrongdoing and toxicity in general, to the extent that when I hear about these on the news or in social media, I often act out in ways that are diametrically opposed to how I typically conduct myself. I know that I am not the only one in the spectrum community who feels this way. After all, my community has had to sustain more than our share of injustice. Perhaps that explains, at least in part, why many of us are as sensitive to it as we are.
When I first heard about what had happened to George Floyd, I became viscerally and vocally angry in spite of the fact that I have a calm, quiet and laid-back demeanor and keep many of my emotions to myself. I champion the protesters on the streets for taking a stand for what they believe in, though only those protesters who peacefully do so. I celebrate Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s philosophy of nonviolent resistance and those of Mahatma Gandhi and Henry David Thoreau before him. I feel the pain that so many others are feeling as a result of the unlevel playing field which has persisted for too long and which has hurt too many well-meaning people, including the community to which I belong.
Now is a good time to work towards leveling the playing field for all who have been marginalized. If not now, then when? The impetus for change, which has arisen in the wake of George Floyd’s murder, is arguably more robust today than it has ever been over the course of my 51-year lifetime. Let George Floyd be an inspiration for change, not only to those who are eager for racial justice but to those who long for justice in all of its forms.
Just as the Civil Rights Movement aimed to end the discrimination of African Americans and to establish equal treatment, the neurodiversity movement works towards ending discrimination directed at folks on the autism spectrum as well as those who live with ADHD and other learning differences. Such discrimination stems from an unjust societal perception that we are “not normal,” which often results in unequal treatment. In fact, some view the neurodiversity movement as a civil rights movement in itself. It seeks to remove the stigma surrounding neurodiverse people and move society towards a greater acceptance of the diversity of minds that society encompasses.
Autism is core to my self-identity. I do not view it as a condition that must be fixed, or which is abnormal, or that justifies less than equal treatment. If I looked at my own autism profile in these terms, my self-esteem would be irreparably damaged, I would not have found true happiness and I would not have been able to learn how to love who I am. Any social stigma, whether racial, neurological or otherwise, is often destructive to the sense of self of those whom the stigma unfairly targets. Humanity is significantly better off if more of us possess self-love in that we would then become more capable of loving and caring about others.
As a father who has become despondent over all of the injustice that exists and which George Floyd’s murder has helped bring into sharp focus, I cannot help but imagine what the kind of America in which I would want my son to grow up would look like. Probably like most dads, I worry a great deal about what the future holds for him, and so I imagine what I do as a way of coping with the stress and anxiety that all of this toxicity imposes on me and on so many others. I envision equality, justice and acceptance as being granted regardless of neurology, skin color and all of the ways in which humanity exhibits diversity (religion, ethnicity, nationality, sexual orientation, gender identity, for example). I long for a society in which the content of one’s character matters most, as Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. so powerfully articulated. A society in which how we treat others and what lives inside our minds, our hearts and our souls are more important than external appearances and labels. Lastly, a society that safely allows all of us to be who we are, to celebrate what sets each of us apart and which is built around basic human decency and peaceful coexistence.
Are we to dismiss all of this as being nothing more than utopian wishful thinking, or are we now at an inflection point at which we are ready to take concrete steps towards making this kind of society more of a reality? I think I know which course of action George Floyd, those facing the thankless task of saying goodbye to him, the protesters, the autism spectrum community, my son and many others would prefer.
Originally posted on TheHill.com.