We don’t experience discrimination anymore?

I read something yesterday morning that made me deeply uncomfortable. An autistic person claimed that we hardly ever experience discrimination anymore.

That statement has swirled around in my head for almost two days now. It’s strange that anyone would claim such a thing – especially an autistic person who surely experiences some discrimination directly. Maybe that person believes that the discrimination they experience is due to personal failings. Perhaps, they hold privilege on other axes which protects them from some of the discrimination that we face. Maybe they are unaware of the effects of the discrimination we experience.

Let’s start by considering a dictionary definition of discrimination:

“treating a person or particular group of people differently, especially in a worse way from the way in which you treat other people, because of their skin colour, sex, sexuality, etc.”

Cambridge Dictionary

Many Autistic people face discrimination as a result of their intersectional membership of minority groups. Autistic people aren’t one dimensional beings. Our communities include many people who experience multiple forms of oppression. This is because Autistic people can be members of multiple marginalised groups. The discrimination that those marginalised groups experience impacts on many Autistic people too.

Questions to Consider

We also face discrimination on the basis of our neurotype. If you think we don’t experience discrimination, then here are some questions to consider:

  • Why does therapy mainly focus on making us seem less autistic? (As an aside, why is it acceptable to traumatise autistic children with therapy that is still considered to be best practice?)
  • Why do anti-vaxxers still use the fear of us as the subject of their campaigns?
  • Why do people still call us disordered?
  • Why is institutionalisation still acceptable?
  • Why do people still think that the word autistic is a slur?
  • Why do parents who murder their autistic children get so much sympathy?

I don’t have the answers to any of those questions, because if these are not examples of discrimination then what are they?

2 thoughts on “We don’t experience discrimination anymore?”

  1. I do have one answer; and I believe it is this:

    Many autistic people believe that what is done to them is not “real” discrimination, it is simply the way the world works. Furthermore, they believe that autism is essentially a character deficit that deserves to be treated this way, and that “real” discrimination happens to people like blacks who “obviously” don’t deserve it because they did nothing wrong as a result of their membership in the group that is “actually” discriminated against, whereas autism automatically is a character deficit because it is characterized by behavior patterns, such as lack of empathy and self-centeredness, that automatically make one a bad human being or worse. I know this because, as a white cis female autistic (Jewish by Nazi standards as well, but I live in a Jew-friendly area so that is beside the point) as well, I once believed something like that and don’t anymore. I’m glad I don’t. That kind of belief leads to extreme self-hatred and can in some cases, I am sure, lead to suicide. Furthermore, those who do believe this are likely to not be in any non-privileged groups other than autistics and (cis) women, and I suspect that that particular belief is less prevalent among people of color than it is among whites; since people of color know for a fact that the racist discrimination against them is legitimate, and they also know only too well that behavioral excuses like those frequently used against autistic people are used against them as well, it seems to me that they are less likely, if they are also autistic, to realize that maybe autism is something they are discriminated against for as well. At least, they are more likely to believe it if they are autistic and they don’t have neurotypical relatives constantly telling them that ableism isn’t a “real” prejudice and either racism is the reason they are being discriminated against and it is their fault. For certain, activists like Morénike Onaiwu have been able to draw such connections where many white autistics, I am sure, fail to.

    Of course, I am certain that whitewashed historical accounts of things like the Civil Rights movement help to perpetuate these wrongheaded ideas about discrimination as well, but that is a whole other problem.

    If any of you reading this believe that you are not being discriminated against but find yourself seemingly perversely relating to “genuinely marginalized” people (i.e. Native Americans in residential schools, Holocaust survivor stories, overtly abused kids) and almost feeling guilty about pondering these connections yet reading such stories obsessively, like I did when I believed that I was not really being discriminated against, know that that is a sign that you are, in all likelihood, experiencing discrimination, and you are not simply fetishizing these experiences. You don’t relate to those you fetishize, after all; you simply want to gawk at them. I would know this because I essentially fetishized bunnies as a kid (and still do somewhat) and I had none of the feelings towards bunnies that I do towards abuse and discrimination survivors; rather I mainly thought of them as cute.

    1. I thought I should add that fetishization of survivor experiences and oppression mainly consists of thinking of oppression and victimization survivors mainly as “brave” and how astonishing it is that they seem so “normal”. Funny, that kind of sounds like inspiration porn towards disabled people now that I write that. I know I never fetishized the survivor narratives I read because I never really had any thoughts like that that were my own, I only related to some of their experiences and occasionally wondered whether there is something wrong with me because I DIDN’T have those fetishizing thoughts I mentioned before. Again, I suspect that is something more likely to happen to white people than people of color (at least in the USA; the dynamics may be different in other countries), since narratives and “compliments” like that are seen as praiseworthy in communities that are mostly privileged.

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