Below I will describe a group of people who are marginalised and live in Europe, America, Canada and Australia. Who are we?
We are part of a tradition stretching back centuries.
We can and do live in every part of the world.
We are sometimes considered to be a race or a nation yet we are of many races and have no particular leader, government or land.
We have no leader yet each of us is held responsible for the actions of others like us.
We are each made to explain over and over that we are peaceful and acts of violence committed in our names were wrong.
We suffer violence daily in the so-called “Western World”.
Our children hear racist taunts.
We are harassed by strangers in the streets.
Our religious clothing is openly mocked and derided.
We are attacked and even killed.
Our places of worship are frequently graffiti-ed and desecrated.
We are stereotyped, mocked or invisible on TV and in films.
Our symbols and art are appropriated.
We are pressured to conform to white christian national norms.
If we manage this, we are mocked. If we fail, we are still mocked.
We form communities of our own and are accused of not trying to integrate.
We try to integrate and find ourselves isolated.
We can feel the target on our backs whenever we are out of home.
People who even “look” like the racist stereotype of how we “look” face the same slurs, the same exclusion, the same violence.
We try not to “look” like ourselves.
We are told we are ugly.
We can never do enough to “fit in”. Our names, our clothes, our food, our bodies will betray us.
The target never quite disappears.
We make ourselves small.
We make ourselves quiet.
We try to be “moderate”.
We are told we “take over” spaces; we take too much space.
We are accused of having too much influence; we “control” too much.
And we are called radical even if all we ask is to live our lives in peace.
Our loyalties are always suspect.
We cannot claim loud enough to love the country we live in,
Sending money abroad is a sin if we do it.
If we cannot love this country, we are told repeatedly to “Go home” –
No matter how many generations it’s been since “home” meant anywhere else.
Who are we?
The answer isn’t: “Jews”
And it’s not “Muslims” either.
It’s “Muslims AND Jews”.
Islamophobia and Anti-semitism are two sides of one very racist coin.
And that constant feeling of being a target, being unwanted, being impermissible because we can’t or won’t live within white christian cultures? That pressure is hurting Muslims and Jews across Europe and I suspect across the US, Canada and Australia as well.
I’m going to choose just one thing that is “ausome” (awesome) about being an autistic person in the twenty-first century.
And that thing has to be Autistic Community and Culture.
For me, being autistic means never, ever being lonely. I know that sounds strange, I know that people think of autistics as “loners”, I know we struggle with the day to day social interaction demanded of us by others, I know many of us found teenagehood and young adulthood hell. I’ve been lonely and I’ve felt condemned to it myself – but not any more. How can I feel lonely when I know that more than 1% of people – maybe even 2% of people – have brains that work like mine? When I’m melting down in the supermarket, there’s probably three or four or five other people there struggling not to melt down themselves or at least knowing exactly how I feel. When I flap my hands in delight at the beach, there must be a dozen people there who do the same or wish they could express themselves in the same way. As I walk around my University campus, I do so in the knowledge that hundreds of other autistics are doing and have done and will do the same.
I feel like I’m a part of something. A community, a tribe.
We have our own language – of flapping arms, rocking bodies, hums and buzzes and shrieks, words repeated over and over and over, phrases and facts plucked out of the air for just the right occasion. We understand each other, even if others haven’t learnt to yet.
It’s through the internet that this culture and sense of community is growing. We connect with each other here, talk about our experiences and name them – stimming, meltdown, echolalia, aut-dar. We have words for things we didn’t know we needed words for – neurodiversity, NT, “Nothing About Us Without Us“, self-advocacy. We have people *like us* we admire, role models of autistic adult hood to follow so we know we don’t have to stop being ourselves when we grow up. We have people like us who we know – found all across the world – people who will listen and understand and help when we are struggling and celebrate with us when things go well.
Autistic community was a life-saver for me. I found open arms ready to welcome me (without assuming I liked to be touched) and people who could say “It’s okay, you’re okay and you don’t have to change any way you don’t want to change to grow up. You’re an amazing human being just as you are”. People who would make suggestions on how to get a good teething ring as an adult, who’d say “It’s okay to leave the supermarket with only half your shopping if you’re going to have a meltdown”, who’d affirm “Yes, that’s a good idea” when I suggested making myself step-by-step picture instructions of my morning routine because I kept missing steps.
I needed this alternative way to be an adult. I know there are hundreds and thousands of teens and young adults who need the same advice and help and welcome.
I’m @AutistLiam on twitter and I am there for any autistic person who needs some support and advice. Because we’re a community and that’s what we do.
Check out the other blogs people are writing today here: http://autismpositivity.wordpress.com/ The list of participants is your guide to the many people out there who love you and want to help.