Discrimination has been around for centuries, if not millenniums, and will continue long past my lifetime. Today’s form of discrimination, in my opinion, is a little different from what we have seen in the past but that doesn’t mean we can’t learn from history and the people that came before us. Historically, the discrimination that we have heard the most about has been based on race, religion or sex. Most notably against African Americans, Judaism and Women but today’s version of discrimination includes all forms of disabilities and of course sexual orientation. In this article I am going to focus on the autism and disability community. I see discrimination against the autism and disability communities as unique because the families of the parties being discriminated against are not necessarily also disabled themselves. This has created a split between how some parents want to advocate for their children and how some adults living with autism or another disability want to advocate for themselves and others. This divide between parents and self-advocates is becoming increasingly nasty with the autism and disability community members lining up on each side ready to strike each other down at any moment.
As I mentioned earlier, even though the current form of discrimination is different from what we have historically seen doesn’t mean we can’t learn from our past trailblazers. You can look back a few decades to compare the philosophies of Martin Luther King, Jr. and Malcolm X and see that there have always been differences in how to achieve equality.
In the history of the American civil rights movement, two seminal figures emerge: that of the peaceful and nonviolent Martin Luther King, Jr., and the revolutionary and radical Malcolm X. From these two contrasting images, America did not know how exactly to classify the movement. On one hand, Malcolm X preached independence and a "by any means necessary" approach to achieving equality in America. And on the other, King preached a nonviolent, disobedient philosophy similar to that of Gandhi in the achievement of Indian independence earlier in the century. From the article, “A Comparison of Martin Luther King Jr. And Malcolm X.”
A Comparison of Martin Luther King Jr. And Malcolm X concludes by stating:
Although both Malcolm X and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. were transformational leaders who were instrumental in raising public awareness of a problem of inequality, only King's methods could have been successful in bringing about the desired outcome of the movement. Applied to the movement as a whole, Malcolm X's philosophy of violent retaliation would have exacerbated the problem Blacks faced at the time, forcing the white establishment to increase oppression and segregation of the Black community. Because King's techniques were successful in challenging the establishment, Blacks achieved a number of civil rights not previously available to them. The kind of transformation leader King represents is a rare symbol, and the inspiration he provided to Black people for change still inspires people to strive for equality and freedom.
As you can see, how we change the world’s opinion about autism and disabilities is as important as the actual change. Someone at this point will most obviously state that I’m overreaching. While, I do not believe anyone in the Autism Community would ever use physical violence to change the public’s perception there are many forms of violence. Just because you are not using physical violence doesn’t mean you are not using Malcom X’s philosophy of, “by any means necessary.” Personal attacks, name calling and threats have become common place in many of the disability facebook and twitter pages that I follow. It seems differing opinions are met with distain and disgust. I am not a psychologist but I know that my opinion will never be changed when I am attacked but it can be changed with reason, logic and rationale thinking.
Anyone who thinks they have all of the answers has lost sight of the question. This is the motto I live by because it allows me to change my philosophies and methods overtime as I gather new information. Once you think you have all of the answers you are no longer open to learning anything new; that is a shame. I take every meeting or exchange I have as a method to continue my education and I know that I will be smarter tomorrow living by this philosophy. It doesn’t mean I am easily swayed to change my opinion but I am always open to the discussion as long as it’s conducted in an appropriate manner.
No one likes to be told they are wrong. I can’t tell you how many times I have seen a commenter start a discussion with “let me tell you why you’re wrong” or “You can argue all you want but you are wrong.” Once you start a discussion in this manner you can no longer adequately defend your position because it shows you are not open to hearing the other side’s opinion and it puts them into a defensive mode.
Give people space to come to their own conclusions. This is most commonly accomplished by providing concrete data from substantiated sources and by asking thought provoking questions. It has been said, “You can tell whether a man is clever by his answers. You can tell whether a man is wise by his questions” (Naguib Mahfouz, Nobel Prize Winner for Literature). I have always said that the person asking the questions is in control of the conversation and if you are asking the right questions it is a very persuasive method to change opinions.
You can bring a horse to water but you can’t make them drink. Just because you were open to the conversation and you provided concrete data and asked thought provoking questions doesn’t mean the other side of the dialogue was ready to hear it. There comes a point in every conversation when you know whether the other side is actually hearing you or whether they have shut down. If they have shut down it’s time to end this particular conversation or risk a discussion becoming an all out war.
Which brings me to my final point: Never make it personal. Try to remain calm and rationale. Here’s a little trick to know whether you have lost control, if you are “TYPING IN ALL CAPS AND ENDING WITH LOTS OF !!!!!!!!!!!” step away from the keyboard. Take a stress break, walk away from the computer, and come back when you have calmed down. It’s not worth it and most likely will just escalate the situation even more.
In conclusion, I hope to see more of us adopt the Martin Luther King, Jr. philosophy to create social equality for the autism and disability community. When this happens I am convinced we will start to see real and powerful change.