bookmark_borderMasking is not a privilege

I’ve seen several posts on social media lately claiming that masking is a privilege.

For those who aren’t super familiar with the world of autism, masking is the ability of an autistic person to essentially “pass” as neurotypical – to copy the mannerisms, slang, body language, and communication styles of the people around them in order to fit in and to avoid attracting negative attention.

Masking is something I’ve done for as long as I can remember, way before I began to consider myself an autistic person in my late teens, and way before I received a formal diagnosis at age 26. 

For me, masking is not an ability that I can choose to deploy in certain situations, while refraining from using it in others. This is because, for as long as I can remember, I’ve had something that I refer to as shyness. Shyness, for me, is a disability that makes it impossible for me to be my authentic self when I am around other people. It prevents me from expressing any opinion that the people around me are likely to disagree with, saying anything that the people around me would not expect me to say, or doing anything that the people around me are likely to find weird, strange, or bad in any way. Shyness is not mere social anxiety; it is much more severe and debilitating. I am not merely afraid to do the aforementioned things, or anxious about doing them, or worried about what the consequences would be if I did them. It is literally impossible for me to do them. I physically cannot force myself to, no matter how hard I try, and no matter how strongly I feel that doing the things would logically be the best option in the situation.

What does this have to do with masking? 

Shyness, essentially, is the same thing as masking. Or, to be exact, shyness is what causes / motivates the masking. Shyness is the thing that forces me to mask all the time. Because of my shyness, not only do I have the ability to mask, but I also have the inability to not mask. I cannot turn the masking off, no matter how badly I want to. 

In case you are wondering how a person could come to have shyness, I am not 100% sure, because I have had it for as long as I can remember. But my guess is that it resulted from one or multiple negative social experiences I had at a very young age, perhaps situations in which I received unexpected negative reactions from other people when doing things that I thought were completely innocuous. When one thinks about it this way, it becomes clear that shyness is actually a form of PTSD. Although the negative experiences that caused it were not life-threatening, my nervous system reacted as if they were, and these same emotions are activated each time I am in a social situation. In other words, every social situation that I encounter, triggers the PTSD. Every social situation triggers flashbacks of the traumatizing events that caused the shyness. The flashbacks don’t take the form of visual and auditory hallucinations of the traumatic events, as is commonly associated with PTSD. Instead, they take the form of re-experiencing the emotions from the traumatic events. My nervous system believes that I will die if I do anything that will be perceived as weird, unexpected, or bad in the eyes of the people around me. Therefore, I am unable to do these things, no matter how certain my logical brain is that I will not actually die or, in some cases, that doing the things is actually the best option in the situation.

The shyness has had a profound negative impact on my life. There are numerous jobs that I cannot do because of the interpersonal interaction required. If a restaurant messes up my order, a service provider gives me a surprisingly high bill, or a store overcharges me, I’m not able to say anything. I’m not able to negotiate with merchants or vendors to try to get a lower price. I’m not able to say no to salespeople who try to pressure me into buying things. If I’m having a problem, I’m not able to ask for help. If I don’t understand something, I’m not able to ask questions. If someone asks me to do something I don’t want to do, I’m not able to say that I don’t want to do it, and usually end up having no choice but to do the thing and pretend to be happy while doing so. The medical system is a nightmare, as I’m not able to say no to examinations, tests, and medical procedures that I don’t want. Perhaps most significantly, for my entire life, neither friendships nor social relationships of any kind have ever brought me the slightest amount of enjoyment, pleasure, or happiness. Social activities are, and have always been, an unpleasant chore, a task that needs to be completed before I can have time to do the things that I actually enjoy. Yet whenever someone asks me to do an activity with them, I have to say yes, resulting in my entire schedule being consumed by get-togethers that I do not look forward to and get no enjoyment out of, with no time or energy for the hobbies and interests that make my life worth living.

Many of the autistic content creators on social media who allege that masking is a privilege, also speak about partners, spouses, children, and close friends whose company they enjoy and with whom they feel truly relaxed and safe to unmask. 

Due to my shyness, all of these things are complete non-starters for me. The entire concept of a friend whose company I enjoy is a contradiction in terms. I only feel truly relaxed and able to unmask when I am by myself, or with my statues. (And then I am ridiculed, and called a white supremacist, for my love of statues.) Living with another person, as presumably those with partners, spouses, and/or children do, would be so intolerable to me that I would probably commit suicide if I had to do it for more than a couple of weeks.

Given my experiences with shyness, it is appalling that someone would claim that masking is a privilege. 

Those who claim that masking is a privilege characterize it as a tool, an ability. People who have a tool or ability at their disposal, the logic goes, are privileged compared to those who lack that tool or ability. But for a person with shyness, masking is not something that can be turned on or off, depending on what makes sense in the situation. Masking is not something that can be deployed when necessary or advantageous, and left on the shelf when not needed. Due to my shyness, masking is something that I do all the time. There is no choice. It is automatic. It cannot be turned off.

If anything, it is those without the ability to mask who are privileged. After all, it is such people who are recognized by society as being disabled, and who therefore qualify for the programs, funding, support, and accommodations that people with disabilities are entitled to receive. As a person with shyness, I am not able to act in a way that would reveal my disability. I am not able to tell or show others when I am suffering, when I am having difficulties, or when I am struggling with something. My shyness prevents me from asking for support or accommodations, let alone receiving them. Additionally, if someone is unable to mask, that means that they have no choice but to be their authentic self in every situation. This might be disadvantageous in some contexts, but it also means that if they are accepted by others, they are being accepted as their true self. For me, on the other hand, it is impossible to show my authentic self to others, completely foreclosing any possibility of my true self being accepted.

Whereas some people lack the ability to mask, I lack the ability not to. If I am privileged for having an ability that others do not, then by the same logic, people who are able to take their mask off are privileged compared to me, because they have an ability that I do not. 

In the posts claiming that the manifestation of my PTSD is somehow a privilege, I am implored to put aside my own feelings and thoughts and instead to listen to those who are allegedly less fortunate than myself. But by the same logic, those whose disabilities are more visible than mine, and who therefore do not have shyness, should be implored to put aside their feelings and thoughts in order to listen to mine. What makes people with visible disabilities so inherently superior to me that being a decent person requires me to put aside my own perspective and instead focus on theirs? Why are their perspectives inherently valid, while mine is inherently not? Why are their voices considered worthy of “centering” and “amplifying,” while my voice is considered worthy only of being dismissed? 

Yes, people with more visible disabilities, and more substantial support needs, face challenges that I do not. But as a person with shyness, and a person who has always been held to the same standards as a neurotypical person because I have always been perceived as one, I also face challenges that they do not. I don’t understand why this is considered a controversial concept. 

I have always been opposed to the entire concept of privilege. But when multiple people are claiming that a debilitating form of PTSD is a privilege, it is clear that things have reached new levels of absurdity. The concept of privilege has gone way too far and needs to be challenged and spoken out against. Privilege is a concept whose only purpose is to hurt people, to invalidate their perspectives, and to dismiss their suffering. 

bookmark_border“The USA is a white settler colonialist state”

“The USA is a white settler colonialist state…”

What the heck does that even mean? What is a “settler colonialist state”?

We need to eliminate the term “settler colonialism” from our lexicon. Phrases like this are meaningless mush, with no use or purpose other than to insult and shame people based on their skin color.

How exactly are immigration laws racist?

How exactly is your statement “truth,” Bree Newsome?

And how exactly are people wanting to outlaw it? Who exactly are the “they” of whom you speak, and what steps have they taken to outlaw statements like yours? More importantly, how can you claim that statements like this one are in danger of being outlawed when every major politician of the ruling party, every major corporation, and every member of the mainstream media, is parroting it?

 

Similarly to the question with which I began this blog post… what the hell is a “white colonial power structure?” This seems to be just more meaningless mush whose only goal and only effect is to paint an autistic person like me, who has been told that I have no choice other than to sacrifice my wishes, preferences, needs, and happiness for the expectations of others for my entire life, as somehow “privileged” and therefore bad and having no right to complain or be upset about anything. Thereby doubling down on the exact things I’ve been told ad nauseam by neurotypical society my entire life. Awesome.

Also, how can someone “maintain white rulership in the USA” when such a thing has never existed?

Also, what racist violence, exactly, is Newsome referring to?

And what anti-democratic violence, exactly, is Newsome referring to?

And why is it a bad thing for something to be anti-democratic, anyway? To speak of anti-democratic violence as if it is a bad thing presumes that to be pro-democratic is good, and I strenuously dispute this presumption. Democracy is a form of government in which the policies implemented are the ones that are favored by the largest number of people. Given that the goodness or badness of a policy has nothing to do with the number of people that favor it, democracy is not a good form of government. To be anti-democratic is not something bad, because a democracy is not something good.

In conclusion, this Instagram post and the account that posted it are just another example of our society’s practice of privileging and elevating the voices of those who have not experienced discrimination or significant hardship, while stomping on those who have. If the people who run this Instagram account actually wanted to feature the voices of the oppressed, they would feature tweets and blog posts by people like me, who have been shamed as sick and bad our entire lives… and for our entire lives had our feelings and perspectives dismissed as “privileged” because we were born with the wrong skin color.

bookmark_borderThis is what privilege looks like

Boston Globe columnist Jenee Osterheldt demonstrates a complete lack of empathy towards those with different beliefs in her latest column. In it, she describes the joy that she felt during a protest this summer:

What I remember most about the Say Her Name March & Rally: I was happy.

The summer sun seemed to kiss our foreheads with love that Fourth of July. It should have been sweltering, the streets flooded with over a thousand people, masked and marching in the name of Black womxn. Maybe it was. But all I remember is the solidarity.

For almost three miles, I danced in the streets from Nubian Square to Boston Common, celebrating our lives, loving our lives, delighting in the richness of our Black beauty. I wore Breonna Taylor’s face on my face, a mask donned with daisies made by Boston writer and artist, Arielle Gray. I danced for Breonna.

The march stopped at Harriet Tubman House where Black Lives Matter Boston and other organizers honored fellow activist Monica Cannon-Grant. They called for us, Black women specifically, to shake something and let joy move us. The speakers boomed with Beyoncé’s “Brown Skin Girl.”

We formed a circle as women with ebony skin filled the center, hips swaying, arms in the air, smiles wide and filled with magic. As a light-skinned Black woman, I stood on the outside, cheering them on, my fist in the air, holding sacred space for my beautiful sisters who are hurt the most.

Then their hands, rolling like waves, a current of energy pulling me in, called to me to join them — an intimacy as strong as any hug between sisters. We are Black girls and we dance together.

Overjoyed is a state I’ve only been immersed in once in 2020. It was in that moment. And that moment, to me, is my most powerful act of protest.

My first thought upon reading this was: “Well, aren’t you lucky?” I can honestly say that overjoyed is not a state that I have been immersed in at any point in 2020. Nor, really, is any form of happiness. And that is, in large part, because of the supporters of the very movement that Osterheldt so glowingly describes.

First, governments all over the world decided to take away everyone’s fundamental rights because of a novel virus. Then, because a policeman killed a man who happened to be black, people decided to erupt into a brutal, intolerant mob determined to smash to pieces everything in the world that has anything to do with Christopher Columbus, the Confederate States of America, or anything or anyone deemed to fall short of said mob’s arbitrary, racist standards of political correctness. As a person who values fundamental rights and also loves Christopher Columbus, the Confederate States of America, and history in general, the year 2020 has been nothing short of devastating.

How dare Osterheldt gloat about her joy and happiness when the movement that she supports has denied these very things to people like me? It is bad enough that the BLM movement has essentially destroyed everything that I love in the world, but now they are adding insult to injury by waxing poetically about how happy it makes them to do so. The protest Osterheldt writes so effusively about took place less than a month after Boston’s statue of Christopher Columbus was decapitated as part of a different protest by the same movement. Did Osterheldt stop to think for one moment about the hurt that this act of bigotry caused the Italian-American community? Did she stop to think of the pain inflicted on me, a person who is on the autism spectrum, who loves statues and history, and who used to walk by and admire this statue nearly every day? Or, for that matter, did she stop to think of people who cherish their Confederate heritage, and the anguish that they must be feeling as the BLM movement tears down, one by one, the statues and monuments that they hold dear?

Osterheldt argues that the narrative surrounding the BLM protests should not be “looters and shooters” but instead “a love language spoken in the tongue of liberation.” But the reality is that looting, violence, destruction of innocent people’s property, and worst of all, destruction of beautiful statues, have been major parts of BLM protests. No, not every single protestor engaged in these destructive acts, and perhaps a majority did not. But these acts need to be fully acknowledged and unequivocally condemned. To characterize the BLM movement as filled with joy, love, singing, dancing, smiles, and solidarity is an inaccurate and incomplete portrayal. It is an insult to the innocent people who have been harmed by this movement, such as myself, small business owners, the Italian-American community, and the Confederate community. It denies the physical, financial, and emotional devastation that this movement has inflicted.

Again and again, Osterheldt and the people she interviews in her column mention “liberation” and “freedom.” It’s interesting that people seemingly so passionate about liberation would have nothing negative to say about Second Amendment violations, governments’ authoritarian measures to combat the coronavirus, the Durham-Humphrey Amendment, the Affordable Care Act and its individual mandate, or any other things that actually take people’s liberty away. To the BLM movement, “resistance” seemingly constitutes stomping on the underdog, and “liberty” seemingly means the ability to destroy and trample on any culture that is different from your own.

“No matter where one lives, running while Black isn’t easy,” Osterheldt writes, without providing any evidence or logical reasoning for why this would be true. You know what isn’t easy? Not being able to visit the North End anymore because it is too traumatizing to see the empty pedestal where Christopher Columbus used to be. You know what else isn’t easy? Not being able to visit Boston at all without being overwhelmed with sadness at the fact that the city is just not the same now that the statue of my hero is gone.

Believe it or not, it is not only black women who have richness and beauty. All races and genders do. For example, lately I have been reading more about the life of Christopher Columbus, someone who I have always admired as a proud Italian-American but didn’t know a ton about. Learning more about his personality, his successes and failures, and the obstacles he overcame, makes he admire him even more. I’ve also read about a wide variety of Confederate generals, learning about their quirks, their skills, their temperaments, and their philosophies. There is richness and beauty in the lives of all of these brave leaders from history.

But the BLM movement doesn’t care about any of that; in fact, they seem determined to stomp out the memory of these historical heroes. All that they care about is people who look and think like them. Osterheldt does not care one iota about the Italian-American community, about those who value their Confederate heritage, or about people on the autism spectrum like me. We are the people who are truly “hurt the most” (to use Osterheldt’s words), and she is kicking us while we’re down. It is easy to be happy when the things that you love, the things that you value, and the things that make your life worth living are not brutally, mercilessly, and inexorably being destroyed. Osterheldt’s joy during the Breonna Taylor protest is what privilege truly looks like. Instead feeling empathy for those less fortunate than her, she is rubbing salt in our wounds.

bookmark_borderRights are not privileges

Numerous people have been posting the following post on Facebook in the wake of George Floyd’s death:

I have privilege as a white person because I can do all of these things without thinking twice:
I can go birding (#ChristianCooper)
I can go jogging (#AmaudArbery)
I can relax in the comfort of my own home (#BothemSean and #AtatianaJefferson)
I can ask for help after being in a car crash (#JonathanFerrell and #RenishaMcBride)
I can have a cellphone (#StephonClark)
I can leave a party to get to safety (#JordanEdwards)
I can play loud music (#JordanDavis)
I can sell CDs (#AltonSterling)
I can sleep (#AiyanaJones)
I can walk from the corner store (#MikeBrown)
I can play cops and robbers (#TamirRice)
I can go to church (#Charleston9)
I can walk home with Skittles (#TrayvonMartin)
I can hold a hair brush while leaving my own bachelor party (#SeanBell)
I can party on New Years (#OscarGrant)
I can get a normal traffic ticket (#SandraBland)
I can lawfully carry a weapon (#PhilandoCastile)
I can break down on a public road with car problems (#CoreyJones)
I can shop at Walmart (#JohnCrawford)
I can have a disabled vehicle (#TerrenceCrutcher)
I can read a book in my own car (#KeithScott)
I can be a 10yr old walking with our grandfather (#CliffordGlover)
I can decorate for a party (#ClaudeReese)
I can ask a cop a question (#RandyEvans)
I can cash a check in peace (#YvonneSmallwood)
I can take out my wallet (#AmadouDiallo)
I can run (#WalterScott)
I can breathe (#EricGarner)
I can live (#FreddieGray)
I CAN BE ARRESTED WITHOUT THE FEAR OF BEING MURDERED (#GeorgeFloyd)
White privilege is real. Take a minute to consider a Black person’s experience today.
#BlackLivesMatter

Although it’s always a good thing to raise awareness of instances of injustice and to consider the experiences of other people, I strongly disagree with the concept of “white privilege.”

All of the things listed in the post are rights, not privileges. To go birding is a right. To go jogging or running is a right. To relax in the comfort of one’s own home is a right. To go to church or to Walmart or to a corner store is a right. To hold a cell phone or skittles or even a weapon is a right. To cash a check is a right. To go to a party, decorate for a party, or leave a party is a right. Sleeping is a right. Breathing is a right. Living is a right.

To classify these things as privileges is to argue that people do not have a right to do them. It is to argue that the problem is the fact that white people are able to do these things without thinking twice, as opposed to the fact that black people are not.  

Even if you accept that all of the people listed in the post were victimized because they were black – which I do not, because in many of the instances there is no evidence that racial motivation was involved – that does not mean that white people have privilege. What it means is that the rights of black people are being violated. This is an injustice that everyone should fight against, and the way to fight against it is to make it so that black people’s rights are not being violated anymore, not to make it so that white people’s rights are being violated too.

Let’s work towards a society in which everyone, regardless of skin color, can walk and run about freely, not a society in which no one can.