“You have so much patience.”
This is told to me often and I find it to be both a compliment…and an insult. Sometimes at the same time. Complimentary when directed towards my demeanor when working long hours with my boys, acting as their therapist, teacher, and mom. Insulting when I am having to deal with unpleasant interactions with strangers in public. “Patience” is almost never intended as an insult in these instances, but that doesn’t negate how it makes me feel. Those who tell me this aren’t thinking about what it truly means to be in those situations, as I am, looking the way I do.
“I cannot afford to be anything but patient, because when it’s perceived that I am not, when I start to look like a threat, my life is literally on the line.”
I have had the police accost me at my home because I didn’t fit the right type of person for walking in the neighborhood I reside in. Twice I have had the police called on me for asking women to back up from my personal space, and that we are to maintain a 6-foot distance during this pandemic. Two more times I have been ordered to remove my face mask because I made others “uncomfortable.” This was pre-mask mandate and the “order” came from other customers, not employees. Another time I was experiencing an eczema flare-up and there wasn’t an inch on my body that wasn’t marked with a dry, red, flaky bump. I opted to wear a hoodie in 90+ degree Texas heat because I thought it hid my skin well. As I was leaving the store a woman approached me to say that she did not want to come inside the store because I looked “like I was up to no good,” and she was “relieved to see that I had bags” with me, because this meant that I purchased my items. She laughed. Apparently, she felt that this was a joke. She’s a comedian, I suppose. I did not laugh. I told her she was racist. She was. She racially profiled me, walked up to me, presented her racism as a joke, and when I did not laugh, she made me the villain of her story.
What all these events have in common is that there were witnesses. Silent lips and wide eyes hiding behind their privilege. Some averted their gaze when their eyes met mine. Others chose to snatch the hands of their small children and hurry away. Of those who stayed, some chose to stay either side with those who wore their racism with pride and the others would wait until they felt it was safe enough to apologize on behalf of their skinfolk.
“Where were these people when I needed them to speak up for me then?”
I am alone in most of these situations. I am alone in a room full of people when this happens to me. And I am applauded for my silence when I’m mistreated. I am rewarded with late apologies for my poise. And I am commended on my patience. I’m not patient because this is who I am. I am patient because this is who I have to be. I play a role so much that I don’t even know that I’m doing it. I feel as though I cannot afford to not be kind. To be accommodating. To be educational. I have to make sure that I am not perceived as unpleasant and welcoming because I carry the perceptions of those who share this skin on my back.
People who look like me don’t often get the benefit of doubt, as evidenced by the police who demanded I prove I lived in the neighborhood, and the other shoppers who decided to ignore the angry women shouting in my face and instead berate me, telling me I am making the situation worse by not allowing myself to bend to the will of their comfortability.
I cannot afford to be anything but calm. And patient. Once the police are invited into our lives we don’t know how those situations are going to go. Too often people will use the police as their own personal customer service line, and BIPOC don’t fare too well in these encounters. Black people have masked since they worked the fields of this land. We learn from a young age that we cannot cause white people to be uncomfortable in our presence. From the Neurotypical to the Neurodivergent, it doesn’t matter. Black skin is a threat, is a threat, is a threat. We police our behaviors regardless of our Neurotype. We have to.
“To be Black and Autistic is to understand why so many of us opt for behavioral interventions even though we might not agree with them ourselves. This is a matter of survival for us.”
Far too many within the Neurodiversity movement have no clear understanding of the fact that our skin itself is considered maladaptive. How does one think we combat that? For the Black parent who has experienced racial profiling and injustice several times in their lives and they know that one day their child will face the same, the last thing on their mind is whether several others find it horrible.
We aren’t afforded the same freedom to move freely in this skin, Autistic or not. We are constantly looking for ways to prevent and protect ourselves and our families from harm. This includes:
- code switching,
- behavioral interventions,
- denial of disability,
- making white people comfortable,
- and exercising patience.
I cannot find a way to teach two Black Autistic boys who will one day grow into Black Autistic men, how to be “patient” in the face of their own mistreatment. I ask that you think before you comment on our demeanor in these situations. Think about why so many of us gravitate towards therapeutic interventions like ABA despite your insistence that it’s bad for us. Understand that being mistreated for the color of our skin is also…bad for us.
“Our experiences are complicated with the addition of our Blackness and not that many people understand this, and we really need you to.”