There are times I look at #BlackLivesMatter and I understand neither the tactics nor the intended message. There are time I read about or listen to #BlackLivesMatter and simply cannot relate. There are time when I see a thread on Facebook regarding #BlackLivesMatter and I am tempted to jump in and say “try this!” or “do that!” or “I really think that if you said or did it this way you would get your message across better.”
But here’s the thing. I’m not Black. I don’t consider myself white (less than 1/2 of my heritage is white…15/32s the be exact), but the way I look, especially as I spend less and less time getting a dark tan that generally used to last me through the winter, allows me to pass as white; that, in turn, allows me to experience the privilege White people experience in this country. That very fact is why when I follow a conversation or social media thread that touches on #BlackLivesMatter, I tend to shut my mouth and open my ears. When Black people speak about racial issues and #BlackLivesMatter, I don’t speak; I listen. I truly believe that no matter how well intentioned my beliefs or opinions might be about being black in America, the experience and opinion of someone who has lived that life will trump my thoughts on the topic every, single time. If my thoughts on the topic don’t match up with what Black people are saying, in all likelihood, the problem is mine, not theirs.
If asked directly, I will gladly give my thoughts on the topic, but in general, I will defer to my black friends for guidance. To me, #BlackLivesMatter is a manifestation of Black people taking back control of their voice, one that has, for too long, been in the hands of people who really didn’t know what it means to be Black in America.
You see where I’m going with this, right?
My daughter is autistic. I am not. In a vacuum, facing her initial diagnosis, my inclination, my goal, my purpose was to make her better. All I knew about autism was what I had seen on TV and then what I had read and heard through Autism Speaks. I bought in and ran. I ran and ran and ran some more, raising money for Autism Speaks along the way. They were going to fix my daughter, cure her, make her better. Speaking with other parents of autistic kids, we found encouragement to keep doing what we were doing. We spoke at kickoff events. We recruited. We got others to raise money. We had direction and purpose.
But slowly, too slowly, we began to listen to voices that questioned what we were doing. Why were we raising money for Autism Speaks? Why were we supporting Autism Speaks? These voices did not come from fellow parents, the people we could most relate to. No, these were the voices of the very people we were “helping”.
At first, I thought, well, they just don’t understand. I could not have the structure of the world I had built dismantled. This advocating gig was what partly defined who I was.
But the voices got louder. Jess was the first to come around. I continued for a while to work with Autism Speaks, believing that as long as I insisted I was doing it to raise awareness, I was doing a good thing.
But these were autistic voices, speaking for autistic individuals, saying, “Hey! We’re right here! We want OUR voice heard. We want to speak for OURSELVES!”
Yes, I am a dad. I am a dad of an autistic girl. I am not autistic. I know what it is like to be the parent of an autistic girl. I don’t know what it’s like to be autistic.
In a vacuum, I will gladly speak for my girl; for both of my girls. But if they want to, if they can advocate for themselves, and they tell me that I am not expressing their desires, their wants, their needs, perhaps I need to step back and let them speak; perhaps I need to step back and listen. Today’s autistic advocates are the grown up versions of Brooke. I may not understand their message all of the time or their priorities, but their message, their priorities are for Brooke, for all of the Brooke’s in the world.
If a black person is speaking about #BlackLivesMatter, and you are not black try to listen. Don’t speak, listen.
If an autistic person is speaking about autism and what the autistic community needs, and you are not autistic, even if you are a parent, try, at least for a genuine moment, try to listen – I mean REALLY listen.
Don’t speak, listen.