Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Colorblindness: Its Ineffectiveness and Its Impact

Around this time last month, a Black therapist by the name of Charles Kinsey was shot in an attempt to defend his twenty-three-year-old autistic Latino client, Arnaldo Rios Soto, from being harmed by a Miami police officer.  A "concerned" local had reported Rios Soto to the police department out of a belief that his toy truck was a handgun.  This event had left Rios Soto traumatized. 

Some of the comments in the above link are quite perturbing to me, from presuming that a twenty-three-year-old disabled man was inherently at the cognitive level of a small child, that society should return to the days where autistic people and others with developmental and psychiatric disabilities should be warehoused in institutions "for their own good," and that all autistic people are born in pain.  All of those comments are subject to excellent criticism, and have been so previously, by so many individuals.  My own criticisms of such beliefs will arise when I can find the words to do so.

However, this post is not about such criticisms.  This post is about how colorblindness is ineffective, how we can pretend all that we might that race is not a determinant in the outcome of one's life, and that race and autism are not inexorably linked.  

Not only is the shooting of Charles Kinsey another shining example of the fact that more nonviolent Black people are shot by police in America, but that the race and ethnicity of Arnaldo Rios Soto is effectively being ignored.  It is the lack of response to the needs of specific racial and ethnic demographics by autism and by broader cross-disability organizations that have prompted for disabled people of color to create the #DisabilitySoWhite hashtag, and for Black disabled people to prompt the hashtags #BlackAutisticLivesMatter and #BlackDisabledLivesMatter.  

Being a white woman, I do not feel that I am in a position to comment on how various communities of color view disability, autism in particular.  Alas, coming from a position of privilege, I am cognizant of the fact that socioeconomic and language barriers persist in preventing people of color from accessing the care and treatments that they need, and that a lack of cultural competency persists in disciplines such as psychiatry and psychology-- in the medical field in general.  I am also aware of the fact that the typical poster child for autism fundraising campaigns is almost always a young white boy, and on rarer occasions, a young white girl or a grown white man-- something that I believe has contributed to cases where which an autistic child of color is disciplined out of an inherent racial bias.  Even historically, have autistics of color been unrecognized and heretofore erased, a travesty that has had consequences today.

 The fact of the matter is, disability rights organizations and autism-specific organizations in particular can no longer afford to be single-issue.  It is immensely inappropriate to remain single-issue, if it is not apparent in the consequences of remaining so.  This piece drives home my point.

Race is irrefutably a creation of the human mind, not a construct rooted in biology.  Just about everyone, it seems, can accept the latter statement, and yet the former statement is avoided as a conversation out of fear, fear that we will open doors that we believed that we have closed, fear that we will tread into territory that should not be trod.  The truth of the matter is, ignoring these conversations can inflict dire suffering on the people surrounding us.  The truth of the matter is, those doors were never closed to begin with; that territory is one that affects and permeates all people in some manner, directly or indirectly.  

When you want to open your mouth about how "All Lives Matter," just remember that the tale of Arnaldo Rios Soto floated about in the mainstream media for perhaps a week or less, his traumatic story reduced to a soundbite with some video footage for purpose of commentary.  Remember that the mainstream media ignored a stabbing attack at a care home for the disabled in Sagamihara, Japan, because a nation not in immediate Western interest should not receive empathy.  Remember that right now, protests led by hundreds of indigenous peoples of North America are going on to prevent the building of the Dakota Access Pipeline, an act that would ravage what to them is their heritage and their connection to their past.

Dare to tell those who have died and continue to die at the hands of racism that "All Lives Matter," because while it is certainly obvious that they do, it is apparent that many people's lives are being ignored by the powers that be.