Autistic Reflections On Racism

Hi, my name is Ben McGann. I am 24 years old and I have autism. I am a black man and I am afraid for my life.

When I saw the video of George Floyd pleading for his life I cried for him and his family. He died a painful death at the hands of racist police. I call the police “racist” because they killed him because he was black.

S2C, Spelling to Communicate, I-ASC, Autism, nonspeakers

Racism is an action taken against someone because of the color of their skin. Some examples include physical assault and verbal abuse. Sometimes nothing is done outright, but instead the person is made to feel like he doesn’t belong, or like he is not part of the group. Racists can ignore you, insult you, belittle you, or point out your differences.

There are a lot of reasons why someone might do this, like rivalry or jealousy. But when they do it because of the color of your skin, then it is racist. Or, if they would not do or say the same thing to a non-black person, then it is racist.

I have been affected by white people laughing at me since I was young. Right in my face, they would make fun of me. I think it was because I am disabled, but also because I am black. This is called intersectionality – features that combine and result in discrimination. So when someone says or does something hurtful to me I don’t know if it is racist or discrimination because I am disabled.

S2C, Spelling to Communicate, I-ASC, Autism, nonspeakers

I want to share a story: The first time I went to vote, I had to write my name because the worker could not understand me when I said my name. The worker made fun of my large printed handwriting. My Mom quickly said “He has autism”.  Mom later told me that the worker had no right to ridicule me – autistic or not, because, Mom said, “you are a grown man.” The worker revealed her prejudice against people with disabilities. At the same time, she revealed her racism because she would not have ridiculed a grown white man.

It makes me feel bad. I am trying so hard to navigate this world.

S2C, Spelling to Communicate, I-ASC, Autism, nonspeakers

Simply treat people the way you want to be treated. Stop acting like nothing is wrong. It is not OK to make people feel inadequate. Take time to be kind. 

 

S2C, Spelling to Communicate, I-ASC, Autism, nonspeakersBenjamin McGann was born in New York City and spent his early years in Nairobi, Kenya. He returned to the US, was diagnosed with autism, and spent the next ten years in New York City and in Arlington, VA receiving year-round home- and clinic-based interventions including ABA, vision and speech therapies. Ben participated in clinical research and trials at Johns Hopkins Kennedy-Krieger Center and the National Institutes of Health (NIH). Ben spent two years as a teenager living in Fiji, where he enjoyed independence from his mom, learned to swim, rode horses, and enjoyed a deep dive into the culture of the South Pacific. Benjamin cast his first ballot in the 2016 Presidential Election. He is 23 years old and preparing to move into his own apartment. Benjamin wants to attend college “as a resident student.”

 

The mission of I-ASC is to advance communication access for nonspeaking individuals globally through training, education, advocacy and research.  I-ASC supports all forms of augmentative and alternative communication (AAC) with a focus on methods of spelling and typing. I-ASC currently offers Practitioner training in Spelling to Communicate (S2C) with the hope that other methods of AAC using spelling or typing will join our association

8 responses to “Autistic Reflections On Racism”

  1. Thank you for using your voice, Ben. I’m autistic, too, but I’m white. I’m glad you mentioned intersectionality – learning about intersectionality is helping me see that oppression is oppression, no matter who is being oppressed and that we all have FAR more in common than we act like.

    Author Ibram X. Kendi says in “Stamped from the Beginning” that racist institutions (like the police) don’t exist because people have racist ideas that infect the institution, but rather than racist ideas exist to justify the existence of racist institutions. This is important because it means that instead of focusing on trying to get rid of racist ideas (an impossible task), we should focus on changing the systems around us (also a challenge, but it can be done).

    Solidarity and love, Ben.

    • I-ASC I-ASC says:

      We agree – “oppression is oppression, no matter who is being oppressed”

      Thank you for your thoughtful response to this blog. We will make sure to forward your comment on to Ben!

      We also agree that we need to change institutions. We are working hard at I-ASC to do that very thing. Thanks for joining us in that fight to end systemic racism and ableism.

  2. Thank you Ben for your words. The I-ASC should not promote ABA, implied in the mention in your bio. Perhaps you might advocate for the edit to keep autistics safe from injurious interventions.

    • I-ASC I-ASC says:

      Thank you for your comment. I-ASC does not endorse ABA. Ben wrote his own bio. I-ASC does support Ben’s autonomous communication and do not edit his or other bios. We appreciate your understanding and support for Ben’s autonomous communication.

  3. Patricia Blumenthal says:

    “Simply treat people the way you want to be treated. Stop acting like nothing is wrong. It is not OK to make people feel inadequate. Take time to be kind. ”. Words to live by! Thank you, Ben , for this personal and insightful glimpse into your keen and direct view and experience with life.

    • I-ASC I-ASC says:

      Thank you for your comment and for recognizing that Ben’s lived experience uniquely positions him as someone we can all learn from!

  4. Linda Tino says:

    Ben, my son Gregory has told me that he thinks he understands how racism feels because he has been underestimated and misunderstood because of his autism. All I can say is that I pray that things will get better. It has to.

    • I-ASC I-ASC says:

      Gregory, we know that nonspeaking people are very familiar with discrimination! It is time for that to end. We all need to work together to end racism and ableism.

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