Kimberlé Crenshaw’s work and insight into intersectionality impacted the world over.
Yet, we still see a lack of authentic understanding that creates barriers for those with marginalised intersectional characteristics.
There are many similarities between overt and covert racism and ableism- societal structures that prevent those of us who are ethnic minorities and disabled from living a fulfilling and meaningful life. I will explore the intersectionality of autism and race and the impact on mental health.
Firstly, medical and academic research is heavily Eurocentric. Therefore professionals will have innate biases, even internalised unconscious beliefs that may not be aware of. This leads to a flaw in treatment, but before that, a hurdle in accessing medical support.
Hidden disabilities like autism are still profoundly misunderstood and target of stereotypes, just like cultures and faiths. In the attempt to become a multicultural society, we lack the critique to question power imbalances and biases. When communication barriers are not addressed for both populations, then who so can we expect the compound barrier to be acknowledged? How autism presents in People of Colour differs from the typical white boy stereotype which leads to schools and health practitioners undermining our experiences and even dismissing our struggles. How do we communicate something that isn’t even tangible to professionals? Let’s not forget the angry or difficult Black woman label that we get stuck with when we try to be affirmative or challenge perceptions. The consequences are more often than not at the detriment of the service user rather than an improvement for the service provider.
The result of decades of racism is generational racial trauma. This can and will manifest into a lack of confidence to seek help and stand up for one’s rights. Autistics already find identifying and asking for help very difficult, add that to the racial inferiority complex ingrained in one’s mindset, then how do we prosper, or even access care? Recently migrated communities have it worst because of the rise in populist culture in the UK where right-wing narratives have been given too much oxygen. Imagine how many autistic asylum seekers and refugees we need to support and don’t.
That takes me to my next point. The impact of incidents – ones that all of the population are at risk of- is far greater for autistics than neurotypicals. The way we perceive the world which such intensity, coupled with rejection sensitivity hurts our mental health. But then add the layer of race to that. It is known that People of Colour suffer more from multiple deprivations- abuse, employment, education and medical care barriers. This number is even more disproportionate for Autistics of Colour.- and I don’t even mention gender, gender identity or sexual orientation in this! Depression and anxiety are common results for victims of racial abuse, discrimination and isolation, yet our care providers are unarmed with the empathy and understanding required to provide effective healing support.
Lastly, turning towards the various communities made up of rich cultures and diversity. It’s a sad truth that disability and mental health are still a point of stigma. Identifying hidden disabilities is extremely difficult due to ignorance and arrogance as well as fear of reputation. It is almost like colonisation has left such an inferiority complex in us that we much appear perfect to have value. However, no human can be perfect and we all need to be truthful to ourselves, support our communities and improve our understanding if we want to progress in life. Attributing autism as bad fortune, ‘evil eye’, black magic, something that will be grown out of, or bad parenting will keep the world from benefitting from amazing Autistic humans who have already contributed to the evolution of civilisation
Life happens to us all, but the outcomes are dependent on one’s characteristics, privilege, and socioeconomic background. Employers, educators, health professionals and government policy all need to account for the disadvantage we, ethnic minority Autistics face, by changing how they operate.