Autistic While Black
February 17, 2020 8:59 AM   Subscribe

‘Autistic while black’: How autism amplifies stereotypes "As a black woman living in the United States, I am always mindful of what others think about me, and the assumptions they may make. As a black woman with autism, I am especially aware that colleagues often see me as an ‘angry black woman,’ even though my thoughts and behaviors are the opposite of this stereotype. [...] In the workplace, I am often criticized for the way I carry myself. I am told that my calm, relaxed energy comes off as superior and naive, and that my assertiveness looks like aggression. When I ask exactly what aggressive behavior I need to tone down, however, I am told I am doing nothing wrong.

Many people with autism can also appear obstinate or are slow to react in new situations. When I am inflexible, I am sometimes called unfriendly, insubordinate, lazy, aggressive or uncontrollable. When I need to process a situation before I respond to it, some describe my quietness as a ticking bomb that may go off at any time. In other words, even when I do not validate the negative assumptions people make about me, they find a way to demonize my compliance."
posted by stoneweaver (5 comments total) 49 users marked this as a favorite
 
I thought this was a really interesting essay with many indicators of being on the spectrum that I've never heard of before. I'm always wondering if I'm actually on the spectrum or not so I guess I am a collector of symptoms. The stuff about not being able to code switch that well was really illuminating; I can do it somewhat but I've never been as good as it as I feel like you have to be to be accepted into the corporate world, which I call "that corporate polish" that I don't have and can't seem to fake.

Also this:
When I ask exactly what aggressive behavior I need to tone down, however, I am told I am doing nothing wrong.
This has happened to me so many times and it's so infuriating because I desperately want them to tell me what they want me to do and they can't do it or won't. At least I'm becoming an expert on what kinds of feedback are coming from a helpful place and what's actually "I want to say something mean that you can't contest to assert my power over you".
Actual example:
Coworker in charge of writing tests: You're making a classic mistake with how you've written this test.
Me: I know, you're not supposed to do it this way but I can't figure out how else to do it because of (circumstances). Do you have any tips for me?
Coworker: You're not supposed to do it that way because x, y, z.
Me: No, I know, but (circumstances), can you help me?
Coworker: Yes, well, you see, you're not supposed to do it that way because of x, y, z.
Me: Coworker, I appreciate your help, but I have the exact same masters degree as you in writing tests, if you don't want me to write tests this way I'm asking you to tell me how you would like me to do it instead.

Boss: Coworker told me you were aggressive and insulting with him.
Me: I asked coworker for help and he didn't provide it. It's all there in Slack if you'd like to review it. What should I have done instead?
Boss: Oh nothing.
Me: ????!!!??!?!????
posted by bleep at 10:50 AM on February 17 [38 favorites]


In my experience as someone on the spectrum the "aggressive/rude/insulting" aspect has historically come from being blunt and honest without considering or understanding the myriad of ways that this may offend due to the person's specific insecurities, disrupt traditional or contextual hierarchies, etc. If I am doing task, then X is X regardless of who wants to disagree with me or have a different "perspective" and younger me wouldn't have let this go like a pitbull until someone saw my way. This wasn't my attempt to be an asshole, it was just how my logical and literal brain worked: You do a process by the books/theory/whatever for it to work consistently, otherwise you risk running into errors or problems down the road.

This behavior is doubly a sin being biologically female.

This has gotten me in fired once. God knows what extended fresh hell I would have received in my life if I was a POC and female.
posted by Young Kullervo at 11:12 AM on February 17 [17 favorites]


This was something I was curious about when the conversation about the Outsider was underway. How likely would it be for a black autistic woman to be perceived as a savant instead of a problem and a “bad team player” in the professional world and mainstream educational institutions? I’ve had people within and outside of the black community interpret my introversion as a kind of haughtiness.
posted by Selena777 at 11:27 AM on February 17 [2 favorites]


> After getting my official autism diagnosis at age 46

Damn, 46? I really hope she was cognizant of autism and considered the possibility it applied to her far before that, and only waited until then to get an official diagnosis.

On the subject of autism and stereotypes, back when aspergers was a distinct diagnosis from autism, being an engineer and having aspergers were stereotypes for each other. It's no longer the 90's and "engineer" no longer implies white male and we no longer call it aspergers, so it's interesting to me to see how other stereotypes have been shaped by, and shape, the neurodivergent.
posted by fragmede at 11:45 AM on February 17 [1 favorite]


If I am doing task, then X is X regardless of who wants to disagree with me or have a different "perspective" and younger me wouldn't have let this go like a pitbull until someone saw my way. This wasn't my attempt to be an asshole, it was just how my logical and literal brain worked: You do a process by the books/theory/whatever for it to work consistently, otherwise you risk running into errors or problems down the road.

As an NT person, I have similar tendencies. As I got older, I came to appreciate that this can cause genuine problems in the workplace. You cannot work in a team if you cannot, to some extent, accommodate your teammates' varying interaction styles, and "direct and relentless to the death" is not the only valid way to approach a problem (indeed, it can end up silencing less forceful teammates, squashing creativity, blinding you to alternative points of view, making people junior to you feel really stepped-on, etc.).

However, I have no doubt that this woman is getting misread and held to impossible standards on a regular basis. I get a comment about being direct in each yearly review (I think they recycle the same one each time), and I know I take more criticism for it than a white man would, but I'm still a vaguely-normal-seeming white woman and I have yet to be pushed out of any job, ever, because of it.
posted by praemunire at 1:02 PM on February 17 [3 favorites]


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