Identity first: I want you to see all of me

Before I knew I was autistic, I was hanging around online when an Autism Expert ™ (most likely a relative) showed up to tell us to refer to autistics as a person with autism, not autistic an person. Or else we would reduce said person to their autism only. You know how it goes. It sounded reasonable to me as they presented it. Therefore, I’m really thankful that actually autistic people showed up and informed us that they preferred identity language first, and why. What if no one had challenged that person? Do these so called experts show up everywhere telling others to separate disabled people from our disabilities? The answer to me, seems to be yes. I’ve seen them pop up in places you least expect them to. I find it really strange.

For me, one of the hardest things in this world seems to be to get people to understand me. To understand me, they first need to see me. That is, see all of me. White people refuse to acknowledge that I am racialised. ‘I don’t see colour‘, they say.

”There’s only one human race. The only reason racism still exists is because people like you split us up in groups. You seem to think that there’s races, I’m just giving you a head’s up, but that’s kinda racist don’t you think?”

All said to me by white people. The last quote was actually from a guy who mods a racist white supremacy group on Facebook.

Time and time again I’ve told people that it’s okay. I am brown. I’m not like you, I’m not white. I will never be like you. I don’t even want to be like you. But all it does is apparently exposing me as an evil reverse racist. And honestly. I’ll be damned before they separate me from my autism too. I’m autistic. I’ve always been autistic. There has never been a me before autism. All parts of me are autistic as hell and I wouldn’t have it any other way.

I know that there’s a lot of people out there, even in the autistic community that want to
move away from labels. Some might just not identify strongly enough with the label. Others might be scared. Of being dismissed, reduced. But I believe that you can only be reduced to a label if it’s something that you feel reduces you. Which can happen, especially if it is a label with negative connotation not chosen by oneself. In my case? My autism doesn’t reduce me at all. My brown skin doesn’t reduce me at all. Ignoring these these parts of me do, because they make me myself. My autism and brown skin affects how I see the world and how the world sees and treats me. Neither my race or my autism are invisible to the world, I promise. They affect everything. Pretending that they do not matter means erasing the reality I am experiencing and that is dangerous to me. Until you see all of me, you do not accept or respect me at all. And if you don’t? Well, then I am likely to lose any interest in you.

Before I found out I was autistic, I wasn’t able to see myself clearly. I already knew myself like no other could, but I didn’t understand myself the way I do now. I didn’t have a community where I actually belonged. These things mean a lot to me, and because of them I am in a better place now. And it’s all because I learnt that I am autistic. Therefore, this label means a lot to me. I never want to be separated from it ever again.

 

A circle of ignorance: whitewashing & white habitus

As many of you are aware, the film Ghost in the Shell featuring Scarlett Johansson is coming out in many countries this week. This isn’t a review, but a few arguments for why you should avoid this movie and other media that use whitewashing. In an interview with the magazine Marie Claire, Johansson talks about the controversy and says:

”I certainly would never presume to play another race of a person. Diversity is important in Hollywood, and I would never want to feel like I was playing a character that was offensive.”

It becomes apparent that Johansson doesn’t understand why exactly the movie is being criticised; the actual problem is that she is playing a character that in the original reads as Japanese. This might not be offensive to her, but it is to many of us. When people of colour point out the dangers of whitewashing the standard replies are often ”trololol triggered” or  ”focus on real racism”.  In fact, whitewashing is ”real” racism, and this kind of  racism affects our lives and society at large. Since racial minorities tend to know what whitewashing is and how it affects us, I’d like to spend this post talking about how whitewashing affect the white majority that often points out how meaningless and a waste of time our critiques are. So why is this topic so divisive?

I believe that Johansson and the film’s producers, along with many other white people are stuck in ”white habitus”. “White habitus” is used by scholars to describe racial dynamics occurring in real life. This refers to the socialisation process that ensures that the perceptions, feelings and views on race by white people remain in power and unchallenged  Whiteness is reinforced as the human default,  that is not a race or ‘the’ race. Being seen as not a race but a universal category, this view on whiteness helps hiding the power, practices and ideas between racial relations as well and also deflecting any group-based blame or privilege.

In films where the main characters are mostly white, the movie reinforces whiteness and white features as the norm. Choices like these by the developers do not only reflect values and
norms of a society, they also reinforce them . Moreover, studies show that the lack
of racial minorities in the media also reinforces whiteness as the human default, which is not a
race or ‘the’ race. As mentioned earlier, whiteness becomes simply a state of being and not a race, leading to whites being seen as individuals, while minorities are seen as representing their racial groups. This helps explain how society sees and blames the acts of racial minorities, who often are victims of group-blame.

White habitus can, and should be challenged. Mainstream media, including films often show ethnic minorities as threats, such as offenders of crime and terrorism, but also as competitors for other resources such as jobs in the context of stealing these from the majority. In a study from 2012 by Durkin et al, the researchers come to the conclusion that children appear to learn from media messages promoting ethnic inclusiveness. The results showed that white children were not inherently prejudiced against other racial minorities, but if the overarching attitudes towards ethnic minorities are hostile, it is very likely that children of the white majority will pick up similar attitudes. In conclusion, a more positive representation of ethnic minority groups might lead to a more positive attitude towards these groups.

Johansson’s choice to take this role helps preserve a society with racial inequality. I believe these are very important things to keep in mind when discussing inclusiveness and representation. Discourse often focus on minority representation only and is therefore seen as problem to be discussed in minority communities only. But this clearly isn’t the case. We need to hold the perpetrators accountable. A great way is to speak up and refuse to see movies that contain whitewashing and other types of harmful representation.  Let’s make it impossible for these companies to keep producing non-inclusive media.