Seeking and Embracing All of Who You Are | Organization for Autism Research

How To

I am here today because I am not only proud to be autistic every day, I am here to spread my pride in identifying as autistic and a Black person to the world! You see, autism is in every community and every ethnic group. Autism pride is everywhere! In fact, I embrace ways that people combine their autism pride with their racial and ethnic pride. Some autistic people of color blog and share videos on their experiences with the intersections of their race and autism. Some share how they like to pursue interests and joys in anything within their culture. Some use their autistic and racial identities to excel in their work.  

I, for example, do not and cannot separate my Blackness from my autistic identity. Both identities are a part of my personal life, family life, social life, love life, and professional life; I gladly carry my Black and autism cards in my internal spiritual pockets. I refer to my experiences as a Black autistic man to advocate for things such as exploring relationship and sexual spectrums, inclusion in higher education, access to resources in starting businesses, promoting arts and culture of the Black disability community, combating police violence, and more. Even when I enter the personal realm of my life, my Blackness and autism remain intact in regards to how I live my life, whether my identities show in how I enjoy music or how I analyze the culture surrounding my favorite sport, American football.  

I’m definitely proud to be Black and autistic, but getting there wasn’t an easy process. Some BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, people of color) autistic people may still not have the luxury of embracing their racial/ethnic and autistic identities at the same time. There are some people in  BIPOC communities who subscribe to various myths and misconceptions about autism. For example, autistic people may be seen by family and peers as everlasting children who don’t understand “the real world,” demons, outcasts, or folks who are not “ethnic enough.” In addition to the stigma of autism in BIPOC communities (plus systemic racism and violence towards BIPOC people with disabilities), some BIPOC autistic people may not be fully accepted into the autistic community because their interests do not match the common ones that autistic people enjoy, such as science, science fiction, trains, and mathematics. BIPOC autistic people, like myself, can often be in an inescapable place where they feel underappreciated and downplayed no matter which group they try to fit into.  

To all the BIPOC autistic people who feel lonely and ostracized, I am here to say that there is no such thing as the model ethnic identity or autistic identity. You can be your ethnic and autistic self at the same time. Here are a few examples of how I explore my pride as a Black autistic person.  

Find BIPOC stars and historical figures who are autistic or have a disability.

You’ll be surprised to learn that many famous BIPOC people throughout history have done great things despite their disability. Part of my growth in my Black autism pride comes from learning about autistic figures, past and present, such as Blind Tom Wiggins, Benjamin Banneker, Stephen Wiltshire, Anita Cameron, Questlove, Marcus Boyd, Jackie Pilgrim, and more. As you find more historical people and stars who share your identity, the more motivation you may have to explore and build on your BIPOC autistic pride. 

Fun fact: the person who created Pocket Monsters, also known as Pokémon, is Japanese and on the autism spectrum. His name is Satoshi Tajiri. In fact, the main character Satoshi (Ash Ketchum) is named after Tajiri.  

Follow BIPOC autistic people on social media who are doing great things in their fields or creating interactive and powerful content.

Here are some of the people I follow:  

  • Lydia X.Z. Brown 
  • Twitter and Instagram: @autistichoya 
  • Jackie Pilgrim (Autism’s Love) 
  • Twitter: @autismslove 
  • Shalese Heard  
  • Instagram: @autistictravelgoddess 
  • Kris Young 
  • Twitter, Instagram, and TikTok: @imkrisyoung 
  • Kayla Smith 
  • Twitter and TikTok: @BeingKaylaSmith, Instagram: @beingmskayla 
  • Morénike Giwa Onaiwu  
  •  Instagram and Twitter: @morenikego 
  • Anita Cameron 
  • Twitter and Instagram: @adaptanita 
  • Finn Gardiner 
  • Twitter: @phineasfrogg 
  • Jada Thompson 
  • Instagram: @jadamercedesthompson 
  • Curtis Harris 
  • Instagram: @curtisharris1977 
  • Lamar Hardwick 
  • Instagram: @lamarhardwick, Twitter: @autismpastor 
  • Asiatu Lawoyin 
  • Instagram: @asiatu.coach and @audacious.autistics 
  • Twitter: @2_Funny, TikTok and Instagram: @nigh.functioning.autism,  
  • Instagram: @fidgets.and.fries 
  • Alina Gene 
  • Instagram: @alinagene, TikTok: @alina_gene, Twitter: @alina_gene 
  • Nerls 
  • Twitter, TikTok: @nerlsss 
  • Instagram, TikTok: @BlackAutisticKing 
Create content about being BIPOC and autistic.

Through social media, artwork, film, writings, and other media, you can promote your advocacy for BIPOC autistic people or social issues. Or you can share your work, passions, and interests with a wide audience.  

Use social media platforms to create a blog, film, and other forms of media.

The great thing is that you will have an audience who will listen to you, whether it’s a niche group of people, loyal followers, or thousands of followers. Social media and the internet are powerful tools that can help you spread your message and pride to the masses.  

Seek BIPOC autistic mentors.

Without BIPOC autistic mentors, such as Jackie Pilgrim and Lydia X.Z. Brown, I would not be as proud of my identities as I am now. Some of the BIPOC autistic people you may be following can also be your mentors in formulating your BIPOC autistic pride and identity. Reach out to BIPOC autistic people you idolize or follow; you can connect with them online or in person at a social or professional gathering. They can give you advice and tips on how to navigate your ethnic and autistic identities, as well as connecting with other people who are in the community and happen to share interests similar to yours.  

Find a community of BIPOC autistic people.People pile their hands on top of each other in a gesture of teamwork and support.

Being Black and autistic, I have often felt alone among my peers in Chicago and a few family members because they don’t understand how I navigate life as a Black autistic person. That led me to feel as if I didn’t have anyone to connect with who could relate to my experience. That changed thanks to online groups and social media platforms like TikTok. Through these platforms, I have connected to more BIPOC autistic people. We also create a community by supporting each other’s work. 

The BIPOC autistic community is greater than you think. You can find your tribe online through social media platforms, streaming apps like Twitch, or message boards. You may come across fellow BIPOC autistic folks in your family, your neighborhood, or while you’re traveling.  

Remember, these are only a few ideas for how you can discover and nurture your BIPOC autistic pride; you can explore other ways as well. No matter which path you take in exploring your dual identities, you are the captain of your journey and identity. You can express your BIPOC autistic pride in any way that makes you feel comfortable.

I wish you Godspeed in that journey of discovering your BIPOC autistic pride. One day, you may be a mentor to people new to the adventure, helping them learn ways to explore their combined autistic and ethnic identities.  


Timotheus “T.J.” Gordon Jr., MFA, MS, is a research associate at the Institute on Disability and Human Development at University of Illinois at Chicago. Gordon uses his passion for self-advocacy, racial equity, disability culture, and autism acceptance to create webinars, training sessions, and publications on autism and race, inclusion in communities of color, exploration of sexuality in the disability community, coping with COVID-19 pandemic, mental health emergency services, and more. Gordon is the creator and blogger for The Black Autist, a multi-platform blog that illustrates news and topics surrounding autistic people in the African Diaspora, including Black communities in the United States.

 


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