All I Have, All I Am
“Don't tell me that this isn't real.
Don't tell me this ain't how I feel.
This is all I have. All I have…”
This is my first blog post of 2017. And I’m writing it out of...I’m not sure which emotion, truthfully. I guess a mix of them. Frustration. Sadness. Anger. But definitely not lack of familiarity.
Today I was conversing with a friend who remarked that their sibling, a person with whom I have had very limited communication in the past, had stated that I “wasn’t very intelligent” and that I, along with others, was “brainwashed” by the autistic community.
My first reaction was surprise, as this person - the sibling - barely even knows anything about me, so I find it extremely odd that they would feel justified making any sort of judgment about my intellect nor the way that I think. But after I got over that, my next reaction was sadness.
It seems no matter how old I am and no matter how “accomplished” I become, I can never escape the negative preconceived notions of people who are more abled than me, more wealthy than me, more masculine than me, and more white than me. I will never be able to be viewed as who I am to them, because who I am cannot exist. They can never perceive me as intelligent. They can never perceive me as competent. They can never perceive me as living my life without apologizing for my disability, my race, and my gender.
People like me, apparently, only exist as caricatures. I am unlike them, so therefore in their minds I have to be less than; I have to be broken; I have to be deficient.
And I have this to share in response to their inaccurate and bigoted perspective of me:
|Image is a silhouette of a hand with an outstretched middle finger. Photo credit: unknown.|
(I can’t/won’t type the words associated with this gesture, but I mean it wholeheartedly.)
I know who I am. I will not allow you to erase me, to degrade me, to patronize me. I’m not like you, and I don’t fit into your biased little boxes. But that gives you no right to deny me my identity, and I won’t let you. It is all I have, all I am.
I am going to use a Steven Universe example to illustrate my point for this post. Some of you might know that I love, love, love Steven Universe.
|Image is a picture of the main Steven Universe characters: Amethyst, Garnett, Pearl, Steven. Photo credit: Cartoon Network|
There is a character in Steven Universe named Peridot. Until very recently, Peridot was under the impression that unlike her Crystal Gem counterparts, she had “no powers” naturally and therefore was dependent upon technological enhancements to compensate for being different.
On Earth, once she is deprived of her more advanced alien technology, she begins to utilize a human tablet/iPad-ish like device given to her as a gift pretty heavily.
|Image is a picture of Peridot from Steven Universe with her mouth open and both arms pointing upward. She is holding a tablet in one hand. Photo credit: Cartoon Network|
In an episode entitled, “Too Short to Ride,” Amethyst tells Peridot that she and the other Crystal Gems accept and like Peridot for who she is - regardless of whether or not she has any powers - but Peridot is not convinced. She focuses on her tablet and does not respond aloud to Amethyst.
|Image is a picture of Peridot from Steven Universe looking down at and typing on her tablet. Photo credit: Cartoon Network|
Noticing that Peridot has been typing on the tablet the entire time she has been speaking, Amethyst becomes agitated. “Stop playing with that thing, uh,” Amethyst says in an exasperated tone. “Gimme that,” she demands, grabbing one end of the tablet.
|Image is a screenshot of Peridot and Amethyst from Steven Universe struggling over a tablet. Both are pulling on it. Photo credit: Cartoon Network|
A “tug o’ war” ensues over the tablet; Peridot desperately tries to stop Amethyst from taking it.
“You don’t need it!” shouts Amethyst.
“You don’t know that!” Peridot shrieks in return.
|Image is a picture of Peridot from Steven Universe with her eyes clenched tightly shut as she uses both hands to maintain a grip on her tablet. Photo credit: Cartoon Network|
Peridot, however, is unsuccessful. Amethyst forcibly seizes the tablet away from Peridot, and over her protests, attempts to cast it into the ocean.
Peridot is mortified. “Wait, wait...no, no, no, no, wait!” she cries desperately as Amethyst throws the tablet in the direction of the water.
|Image of Peridot from Steven Universe with her eyes closed and both arms outstretched. Her mouth is open and she has a pained expression on her face. Photo credit: Cartoon Network|
“NO! It’s all that I am!”
Peridot closes her eyes, unwilling to watch her tablet disappear into the waves. Her arms are outstretched, her desperate pleas now silenced. What happened next stunned them all.
|Image of a tablet suspended in the air. Photo credit: Cartoon Network|
Her tablet was floating in the air.
Unknowingly, Peridot had prevented it from being thrown into the ocean - by tapping into powers that she wasn’t even aware that she had.
|Image is a screenshot of Peridot and Amethyst from Steven Universe staring into the sky with surprised expressions on their faces. Peridot's hands are in the air. Photo credit: Cartoon Network|
|Image is a picture of Steven, Peridot, and Amethyst from Steven Universe. Peridot has one hand outstretched and a tablet is floating in the air several inches above her hand. Photo credit: Cartoon Network|
(If you’re interested, I’ve linked a very short [~30 seconds long] clip of part of that scene HERE, courtesy of Cartoon Network, YouTube, and B. Universe. If you wish to watch the full scene, which is ~2 minutes long, I've linked it HERE, courtesy of Cartoon Network, YouTube, and SU Clips.)
I like this episode for multiple reasons, some of which include the fact that Peridot, IMO, is very autistic, and this episode highlights that. There are also some good lessons to learn about feeling insecure about oneself (as Peridot did because she couldn’t shapeshift like Steven and Amethyst), about technology shaming (as Amethyst did when she tried to take Peridot’s tablet away), and about acceptance. Etc.
But with regard to this blog post, what resonates the most with me about Peridot is that she apparently possessed these telekinetic powers all along. Neither she nor the Crystal Gems realized it because Peridot’s powers didn’t manifest themselves in exactly the same way that the others’ powers did. Her powers seem, at least for now, to be similar to Steven’s in that it takes strong emotion for her to be able to channel them. But just because the way they manifest themselves is different doesn’t mean they aren’t there nor does it mean they are “less than” that of anyone else’s. Different does not equal less.
Also, what’s very interesting about Peridot is that in hindsight there were some pretty obvious hints that she might possess telekinetic powers, but it seemed to elude many (including me, to be honest). In hindsight, however, her ability to manipulate metal seemed to be “hiding in plain sight,” as evidenced by her ability to maneuver some of her limb enhancers so easily.
|Image is a picture of Peridot from Steven Universe with her (metal) technological enhancements. Photo credit: Cartoon Network|
Similarly, I *get* that I don’t seem to fit whatever the rich, white, male, abled definition of an intelligent, independent thinker must be. Of course not. Because...
- I’m black. Really, really, black, actually, several shades darker than my own mother. And not only am I black, I’m the child of immigrants with a “funny” name, so I’m really “other.”
- I grew up in what our current “president” would call “the inner city” (AKA “the hood,” AKA an “economically challenged” area). I don’t live there now, but it was, for most of my life, the place where I called home.
- I’m a woman. And it wasn’t too many decades ago in this country where women - of ALL races - weren’t considered intelligent enough to do much of anything. Our “place” was considered to be “in the kitchen and the bedroom.”
- I’m disabled. Autistic, ADHD, and several other acronyms. So apparently my brain is “broken” since it doesn’t function like that of neurotypical people.
I sympathize with Peridot for thinking that the tablet was “all” that she was. That she was nothing without it; that her ability to understand and utilize technology was her sole redeeming quality. That to lose the one thing she had was to lose herself. That could have easily been me as well.
You see, growing up, I knew what I wasn’t and what I was. And there were a lot of things that I wasn’t.
I wasn’t pretty.
I wasn’t wealthy.
I wasn’t a good singer.
I wasn’t an exceptional dancer.
I wasn’t a spectacular athlete.
I wasn’t an artist.
I wasn’t a musician.
I wasn’t an actor.
I wasn’t a mathematician.
I wasn’t a poet.
I wasn’t a programmer.
I wasn’t a linguist.
I wasn’t a scientist.
I wasn’t a leader.
I wasn’t very funny.
I wasn’t well-connected.
I wasn’t extremely popular.
I wasn’t charismatic.
I wasn’t skilled at board or card games.
I wasn’t a skater, a gamer, a goth, an emo, a geek, etc.
You get the point.
I’m not saying all of these things for people to chime in and say, “No, you’re so beautiful!” I don’t play mind games, and I’m not mentioning any of these things to elicit compliments. It is what it is. Or perhaps I should say, it was what it was, as a few of these “wasn’t” things no longer apply to me.
You see, I am a realist. I try to be hopeful, but I am not naturally so. I don’t think I’m necessarily a pessimist, but I certainly haven’t had much reason to *expect* best-case scenarios to be likely to occur either. I know, and have seen, that God can transform circumstances beyond what I can imagine, and I welcome that outcome.
However, again, growing up I knew I really wasn’t much of anything. Not the worst, not the best. Forgettable, really.
But I was smart. And that I did know. I knew, and multiple validated assessments verified, that I was smart.
Not just smart, d@mn smart.
Not just that, gifted. As in qualifies for Mensa gifted.
I might have had nothing else going for me except a beating heart, but I did have that.
(Disclaimer: Please note that by saying this about my IQ I am not in any way implying that I believe in the ableist notion that high IQ = better, and I have openly stated as such before, including right here on this blog. There are tons of problems with IQ and aptitude tests, including but not limited to ways that such tests fail to adequately capture true scores for nonspeaking individuals, people of color, etc. due to biases and other factors that exist in such tests. As a parent of a child with intellectual disability, a parent of gifted children, and a parent of children of average intelligence [and as an educator who has worked with individuals of all types], I recognize that there are a lot of misconceptions about intellect, and I vehemently denounce any notion that individuals whose IQ is lower are “less than” in any way. Plus, I can assure you - as any other gifted person will tell you, being gifted, whether you are twice exceptional like me or not, is FAR from a "gift.")
I was smart. I "had" a high level of intelligence.
But...even though I technically “had” it, I didn’t really have it.
But...even though I technically “had” it, I didn’t really have it.
Because as long as I can remember, people wouldn’t let me “have” it.
It started in elementary school. When teachers and administrators refused to believe that the work I produced was “really” mine. It *had* to be plagiarized, or else my parents *must* have done the work for me. No way that socially awkward little black girl from the ghetto with the poor eye contact did that work unaided, right?
Such began the recurring practice of my mother being called to come to the school and having to risk her job by leaving her job to go to the school office to defend me, to argue that YES, it was my work; YES, I did it by myself; YES, she could prove it - and had dug up all my rough, balled up notes out of the trash can to bring as evidence. (I eventually stopped throwing away my notes/outlines/original drafts in case I would need it later to exonerate myself.)
It continued in middle school, when I got in trouble for “being disrespectful to the teacher.” My crime? Pointing out the spelling and grammar mistakes in a packet of work that the (male) teacher created for us. Apparently it’s more respectful to pretend that you don’t see it.
It continued in high school, when a counselor wouldn’t sign the paperwork that I needed to take advanced placement and credit by exam - I had to appeal to the principal for help.
It occurred in college, when people asked me if I attending on a “minority scholarship” due to “affirmative action.” Apparently the thought that I might have acquired a scholarship on the basis of academic merit was unfathomable.
It happens as an adult when people tell me how “articulate” I am when I’m just talking - not saying anything impressive; just being myself.
|Image is a drawing of two hands making "air quotes" before and after the word "articulate." Photo credit: NY Times|
Or, worse yet, telling me that I “don’t sound black.”
|Image is a screenshot of a black woman with a "You've got to be kidding me," expression on her face. It reads, "2. People told you you 'sounded white.' 'You don't sound black!' 'Well, I'm usually shuckin' and jivin' and singing negro spirituals but I tone it down outside the house.'" At the bottom of the image it states, "This is often coded as a compliment, i.e. so and so is 'eloquent,' 'articulate,' etc." Photo credit: Black Millenials|
Then, of course, there are those who can’t reconcile the coexistence of my intellect and some of my autistic mannerisms, such as certain body movements, the way I communicate, some of my interests, the fact that I think literally about certain things, and/or my stims. They seem to be implying why would I interact/speak/present myself in such an openly autistic way? Why shouldn’t I suppress those things about myself so that I can “pass” 24/7 (with apparent little concern that in doing so I would be gaslighting as well as exhausting myself with all the pretending in the process). Why would I be publicly identifying myself as autistic, as disabled? What benefit could there be to doing that? (Because apparently being true to oneself is not a thing?)
So while Peridot, for a time, could rest in the knowledge that she still had “something” to offer despite seemingly having no powers, I have never had that luxury. The only thing I did have was regularly disregarded by those in authority and by those who really matter in this world. You know: men, abled people, monied people, white people (often a combination of several if not all of these). I could never emotionally “settle” into any identity as a gifted person because due to my socioeconomic status, my gender, my race, and my mannerisms (which, later in life, were found to be my disability), I was too busy defending myself for the audacity of existing as one.
I’ve been doing this all my life. It isn’t new. But it didn’t feel good then and it doesn’t feel good now. Knowing you’ll never be good enough to be seen as you.
You can be a college professor (like yours truly). You can have a graduate degree (like yours truly). You can present at peer-reviewed national conferences, publish bodies of work, be nominated for presidential advisory committees, ace the SAT/GRE/Stanford Binet/Wechsler etc (like yours truly). It doesn’t matter.
You're still "unintelligent" and "brainwashed" - because a rich abled white man says so.
You're still "unintelligent" and "brainwashed" - because a rich abled white man says so.
One thing, however, that this person got halfway right. They said I’ve “been brainwashed” by the autistic community. I was offended by that at first. But now I’m not. He might have meant it as an insult, but I view it as a compliment.
This is the very first definition of the verb “wash” in the Merriam-Webster Dictionary:
“a: to cleanse by or as if by the action of liquid (as water)
b: to remove (as dirt) by rubbing or drenching with liquid.”
That isn’t too far off. If in this instance we take this to mean not the actual brain itself (as in the organ) and instead assume that the speaker is using the word “brain” in reference to the thinking part of our identity, then if one’s brain was soiled by the ableism and stereotypes that are rampant in society, it would be good to be washed clean of all of that.
|Image is a drawing of a brain with a soapy/sudsy scrub brush on the top left. Photo credit: Godfather Politics|
I knew very little about autism as a child or as an adult. I didn’t know enough to have a very bad perception of it, but at the same time I didn’t exactly have a good perception of it either. I didn’t know enough about it to know I had it. And I was ignorant enough to be temporarily swept up in the problematic monstrosity that is Autism $peaks. I went to one of their “pre-walk” events when my daughter was first diagnosed. I even went to one of their walks…
|Image (sigh) is a Facebook post/status I made dated October 22, 2011. It reads, "They're about to cut the ribbon for the Houston Autism Speaks walk!" I am posting it because I believe in being real. I wouldn't go anywhere near an A$ walk today unless I was protesting it, but yes, I was an ignorant parent who attended their walk once, and I need to acknowledge that rather than act like I've always been "woke" when it came to neurodiversity - I haven't at all.|
But thank GOD that every day we live is a day that we have a chance to learn and grow. Because of the “brainwashing” of the very first autistic adult bloggers I was introduced to: K, Lydia, Cynthia, Paula, Melody, Bridget, Alyssa, Mel, Rachel, and the Caffeinated Aspie (later changed to The Caffeinated Autistic), I not only had a better understanding of autism, I better understood my autistic children - and had an easier time accepting myself when I too was diagnosed. (And I am so grateful to have not only met and befriended many of them, I have also been able to meet many others...too many to name, but you know who you are, and I love y’all.)
Thanks to the people who first introduced me to the concept of neurodiversity, Richard Davis and Shaun Bickley, I was able to recognize and celebrate the neurodivergence in my non-autistic but not neurotypical man and my other children.
Thanks to the first parent bloggers I discovered: Jess, Brenda, Jeneil, Kerima, Leah, and others, I knew that there were people who fiercely supported the autistic community.
Thanks to organizations such as the Autistic Self Advocacy Network, Autism Women’s Network, Parenting Autistic Children with Love and Acceptance, and Boycott Autism Speaks, I found kindred spirits and a mechanism to build on my activism, which at the time was primarily focused on HIV and racial injustice. These allowed me to view how interrelated disability justice was in the other causes.
I might not have been deeply ableist, but I certainly was ignorant of a lot of things, and I know I had some ableist views even if I wasn’t aware of them because it is impossible to be raised in such an ableist society as a presumably non-disabled person (as I thought of myself at the time since I wasn’t aware of my diagnoses) and not be affected.
I’m glad they washed that mess right out of my brain. It needed to be washed, just like people remove nits and lice from hair with specialized shampoos and combs.
So, unnamed person who robbed me of part of the Saturday of my birthday weekend, you got maybe 0.5 out of 2 correct:
Yes, autistic adults brainwashed helped me get my mind right (and thank God for that).
No, I’m not unintelligent just because I don’t fit in your cookie-cutter little boxes.
You don’t have to see me. You clearly won’t acknowledge me. But that doesn’t negate me. I am who I am. I have fought to be here, and I won’t let you erase me.
I won’t let you define me. I define myself.
I won’t let you tell me that this isn’t real: you don’t get to be the authority on my identity, my existence, my worth.
I won’t let you tell me this ain’t how I feel: I get to be proud to be black, to be a woman, to be a disabled person, to have come from a low-income family. I don’t have to hide that nor be ashamed of it. All of it shaped me.
This is all I have: Me. I am who my Heavenly Father created me to be. There will never be another me - so I choose to accept her, to love her. You don’t have to. Your approval/acceptance of me is neither desired nor required. I’ve got what I need.
It’s all I have, all I am. And it’s enough.
|Image is a meme that states (with my punctuation added), "I am strong enough to carry the world on my shoulders; vulnerable enough to ask for help when I stumble; humble enough to admit the mistakes I've made; confident enough to laugh at myself on good days and bad days; woman enough to take it all & give it all. I am enough." Photo credit: Etsy. I don't agree with every word of that, but I thought it was a decent sentiment.|