Dr. Chris Foss
December 9, 2021
Finding Their Identity
Seeking one’s own identity is a goal everyone wants to reach to find enlightenment and fulfillment within themselves. Throughout our lives, we do find parts of our identity and find communities that help us build up who we want to be. What if a part of your identity is being pushed away because the communities you are a part of don’t understand or support it? From All the Weight of Our Dreams, both E. Ashkenazy’s “Foreword: On Autism and Race” and Morénike Giwa Onaiwu’s “Preface: Autistics of Color: We Exist… We Matter” share how important the topic of autism and race is when people of color with disabilities speak out about their experiences. Since the lack of support and resources for people of color with autism in their communities is falling short, they start to lose a part of their identity that does truly matters to them.
To begin, Ashkenazy breaks down the types of identities many people of color find and how their experiences. Ashkenazy reflects on how all the different cultures around her life open the door to her multiracial identity. She says, “Our homes were filled with art that reflected our cultural backgrounds and identities. My parents proudly discussed our heritage, as well as who were as a family.” Embracing this part of her identity that she grew up with. With that being said, she raised the question of how does everything she talked about ties into autism? She explains how it is human nature to want to be accepted into communities that accept us and feel like we are a part of similar individuals. The problem that arises with people of color that have disabilities is how that clash between not understanding and/or supporting the person with a disability. There are communities that don’t have the resources to understand what autism is and takes a toll on both the parent and child. Many people of color with autism suffer from this lack of resources of helping communities understand what autism which leads to a difficult path for these children. She also mentions how some communities see disabilities as a weakness and embarrassment. These examples are important to keep in mind because this is an issue that many people of color with autism are facing in communities that they call home and family. Ashkenazy provided a list of ideas on how to address these issues and I want to preface the idea of listening and welcoming the stories and insights of autistic people of color. As someone who is a person of color and sees how communities need to change their view on autism, we first have to welcome and listen to them. I understand that many people of color want to make that change in how we approach autism, but we have to do it in a safe and controlled environment where the message is clear and sincere. We cannot speak for all and allow those who want to speak to be heard and follow them to work on change in our communities. Similarly, Onaiwu shares her experience as a person of color with autism. She notes that from a young age she didn’t fit in and used the word “different” and never “normal”. From her physical appearance, she didn’t fit in with communities because of factors of appearance, cultural differences, and even down to her name. She continues with, “According to popular opinion, autistic people didn’t/don’t look like me. People didn’t/don’t sound like me.” And explains how this stigma creates a false stereotype of what people who have autism are supposed to act, look, and think. She ends with quotes of people of color who have autism to express how they are human beings too and vital race and autism play a part in their lives.
It is important to note that people of color who have disabilities are affected by other communities. People of color suffer from discrimination through society and communities that are based on racism. With that, when these communities see that people of color have disabilities, it ignites even more discrimination of tying racism with ableism. As mentioned before, since the lack of support and resources for people of color with autism in their communities is falling short, they start to lose a part of their identity that does truly matter to them. But how do we inform communities about autism? How do we inform communities of color that autism isn’t a sign of weakness or embarrassment? How do we help people of color with autism not lose this part of their identity? It is easier said than done however, there are many things we can do to build more resources and attention about autism and race. Many children of color are missed diagnosed or not diagnosed at all due to this lack of resources and understanding it. Large, multi-site studies have found and showed that children who were Black, Hispanic, or of other race/ethnicity were less likely than were White children to have a documented diagnosis of autism. We are all humans and in order for every person to find their identity, we must not use ignorance as an excuse for the harmful environment many people of color with autism are suffering from communities. In order to rebuild these environments, we have to grow and accept autistic people of color and listen to their experiences to learn and understand how we can destroy biases that have been harming them for way too long.
Word Count 1,002
“I hereby declare upon my word of honor that I have neither given nor received unauthorized help on this work.”- Brian Cruz-Lovo
Ashkenazy, E. “Foreword: On Autism and Race.” All the Weight of Our Dreams: On Living Racialized Autism, edited by Lydia X. Z. Brown, and E. Ashkenazy, and Morénike Giwa Onaiwu, DragonBee Press, 2017, pg. xxiii-xxxix.
Onaiwu, Morénike Giwa. “Preface: Austics of Color: We Exist… We Matter.” All the Weight of Our Dreams: On Living Racialized Autism, edited by Lydia X. Z. Brown, and E. Ashkenazy, and Morénike Giwa Onaiwu, DragonBee Press, 2017, pg. x-xxii.