This is the second part of a two-part post. The first part can be found here.
Yesterday, I covered a lot of the what not to do, so in this post I thought that I would address what you can do instead.
1. Listen to our perspectives
Any equal rights movement includes a large group of people who have experienced ongoing oppression from the dominant, usually larger, group, but it’s important to realise that you are not dealing with one homogenous group. There is huge diversity within the autistic communities. Intersectionality is important too because many people will be marginalised on multiple axes. Listening (or reading) multiple perspectives will enable you to develop a far greater understanding of the core issues. So, instead of only listening to your three autistic friends, seek out more autistic people to learn from.
At the same time, don’t expect autistic people to answer all of your questions. It’s tiring constantly having to explain things over and over again, so meet us on our own terms. Read blogs, participate in discussions with autistic people and respect us when we give you links of things written by others as the answer to your questions. Giving you a link saves us time and spoons, and if we’re asking you to read it, it means that we agree with what has already been written.
2. Understand that it’s not about you
It’s not about you, but it will still benefit you. It will benefit you because living in a society where everyone has equal rights benefits everyone in society. The value in diversity can only be fully explored when minority groups which represent that diversity are not oppressed. Freedom from oppression means that minority groups will be able to explore their diversity on their own terms, and that benefits everyone, including you.
But if you’re helping due to purely self-interested reasons, you’re probably not going to be a great ally. A great ally helps because they believe that it’s right. A great ally helps because they want to, and not because of what they can get out of helping. If you’re only interested in helping in order to gain something for it, then you’re more of a conditional ally and conditional allies can hurt us far more than people who aren’t our allies.
3. Align with the goals of the movement rather than the individuals
Because the autistic communities are not homogenous and are filled with diversity, you will encounter autistic people who you don’t like. They might even be complete assholes, but there are also some neurotypical people who are assholes. They still have rights as humans, so autistic people who are assholes deserve equality too.
Please remember that many autistic people have been through traumatic things in our lives. That is the effect of systematic oppression, and that can have a massive impact on the way that they (or we because I can be an asshole too sometimes) interact with people outside our circles of trust. So, if you want to be an ally, you really need to put aside judgements based on any individual in the marginalised group and focus on the goals of the movement for equality.
That applies to the autistic people that you like as well. If you’re only allying with us because you like us as individuals, then you’re not being an ally; you are being a friend who helps their friends. That is still valuable but it’s different to being an ally.
Changing oppressive systems actually means dismantling old ones rather than tweaking them to be a little better but still oppressive. It’s a hard fight, and there are times when even the best activists and advocates need to take time out to recuperate. So, if your allyship is based on relationships with one or two people, you’re not going to be a very effective ally when the people who you have relationships with really need some downtime.
4. Realise that this is a long-term fight
I don’t think any autistic person believes that we’re going to achieve equality overnight. We all accept that we’re in this for the long-term. We’re not in this until we achieve partial equality. We’re in this until we achieve full equality. That will take time because oppressive systems, specifically but not limited to ableism, have been in place for a long time, and dismantling that system will take time.
So if you intend to be an ally, go into it knowing that the degree of change required is huge. This will get tiring for you too. You will come up against the same arguments over and over and over again. If that gets tiring for you, please remember that it is something that we have to deal with almost every time we leave our safe places. Of course, you too make need to take some time away. Be honest and communicate that to us. We will understand.
It is less understandable when someone who appears to be an ally who disappears every time the going gets a bit tough without any warning. Trust me: we will notice that pattern. It will get tough. There will be times that are easy and times that are hard. If you are only around for the easy times, you’re not being an ally.
5. Amplify the voices of autistic people
Often many neurotypical people simply won’t listen to autistic people, regardless of the “tone” we use, but they will listen to other neurotypical people, and that’s where an ally is important. Before you do that, you need to have developed a good understanding of our perspectives, and in order to do that you need to have listened and read what we say. When you choose to signal boost, don’t simply present our perspectives as your own words. This is particularly true if you choose to blog or write an article: link back to the autistic people who explained the things to you so that other readers can find us, and hear from us directly.
If you don’t attribute it back to the communities who you learned from, then you become part of the same pattern of oppression that we’re trying to overcome. At the same time, don’t publicly identify an autistic person as autistic unless you are 100% certain that they are comfortable being identified. Don’t tag autistic people in your posts on social media unless you’ve checked with them first.
As members of marginalised groups, we experience discrimination that you may never fully understand because you don’t experience it yourself. So, autistic people are the only people who get to decide when and where they openly identify as autistic. There is no blanket rule – it differs for every single autistic person so please check first.
Please remember that you do not speak for us; you speak with us. Just as we don’t speak for the autistic communities; we speak with them. While it may appear to be a small difference in wording, it represents a really important difference.
Finally, these five points are not intended to be steps in the process of acquiring an ally label. Every point is something that needs to be continuously worked on.
It is a lot of work. You’re probably asking yourself what the point of all that hard work is if you can’t even claim an ally label. If so, go back to point 2 and re-read: there is value in diversity. Greater society, including yourself, will benefit from the value of diversity when everyone is able to freely express their divergence without any fear of discrimination.