When the Case Against 'All Lives Matter' Clicked for Me as an Autistic Person
Just when it seemed like the world was slowly getting back to “normal” — that things were maybe starting to feel OK — the death of George Floyd changed everything.
All of a sudden, we went from worrying about our local Target being out-of-stock to our local Target being looted and closed down. And yet those worries are nothing compared to what Black Americans are facing on a daily basis. As a White woman, I often feel like I have nothing to add to the conversation. I want to speak up, and I certainly always have plenty to say… but I also acknowledge we really don’t need another middle-class White lady’s take on racism. So, I take a step back, and let the people whose voices we really need to hear do the talking. Because the last thing I want to do is drown them out.
Still, there is one thing I wanted to add to the conversation. One revelation I had one day that made things click for me, and that I felt might help other people.
Right now, a lot of discussion revolves around the Black Lives Matter movement, as it should. Yet, amid the cries advocating for Black lives, some people have stepping in to “remind us” that all lives matter.
Back when Black Lives Matter first came to my attention, when I heard people respond by saying “All Lives Matter,” honestly, at first it sounded like an expression of agreement. Of course, all lives matter! Black lives matter because all lives matter! Black lives are just as important as all other lives!
I was actually confused at first when I saw people, people who I would generally align myself with politically, get upset over the sentiment. When I realized people were upset because that phrase diminishes the Black Lives Matter movement… I wondered, does it really? At first, I thought those people were overreacting. Now I realize I was wrong.
It just didn’t click at first. It didn’t click until one day something hit home, something that at first seems utterly unrelated to Black Lives Matter.
One day I was thinking of how I, as an autistic woman, cannot stand when people say, “Well, aren’t we all on the autism spectrum?” It just makes me cringe to hear it. Why? Because it diminishes the struggle actually autistic people face. Being autistic, I absolutely want the support of people who aren’t autistic. But, when they try to relate to my experiences, they often end up minimizing them in the process.
The fact is autistic people face challenges that non-autistic people don’t. Many, if not most, of those challenges are a direct result of non-autistic people not understanding and not making an effort to understand us. If you truly want to help and advocate for me, as a non-autistic person, I need you to acknowledge that. The people who say things like, “Aren’t we all a little autistic?” want to insert themselves and their experiences and challenges into the conversation… which are valid, yes. But they’re not what we’re talking about. There’s a time and a place for them — but not when the topic is about autistic lives and experiences.
That is when it clicked. Saying everyone is on the autism spectrum is… technically true, if we consider the very edge “on” it. But it misses the point. All lives matter is obviously true… but it also misses the point. Black people face challenges that White people don’t. Challenges put in place by White people. Challenges White people don’t see because we’re just. So. Damn. Used to them. To try and bring “all” lives, as opposed to just Black lives, into the conversation completely changes the topic.
And yet, that’s exactly what some people want to do. Because some people are just too uncomfortable to discuss the challenges Black people face, challenges that can lead to Black people being killed by the very same people who are supposed to protect them. Some people especially don’t want to acknowledge the role they’ve played in the systemic racism that causes those problems. Just like people don’t want to acknowledge how their ableism causes challenges for autistic people. Because it really, really sucks to acknowledge you’re part of the problem. But the truth is… until you recognize and admit you’re part of the problem, you really can’t be part of the solution.
Now, of course, there are obvious differences in my comparisons. And I want to make it clear that I am not trying to say my challenges are equal to what Black people are facing, and have faced, in a country that was essentially built on their backs. Even as an autistic woman, I recognize my Whiteness has helped me in more ways than I can count. I’m also not trying to divert the conversation. I’m just adding my voice to the chorus. Adding in something that helped make things click for me — in the hopes that, maybe, it’ll make it click for others as well.
So, yes. All lives matter… but no one was actually ever arguing otherwise.
Right now, we’re not talking about all lives. We’re not because we need to focus on the Black lives that are being taken. So, right now is when we chant “Black Lives Matter” because until our society recognizes that… and I mean truly recognizes that, it needs to be said. Again and again. Until it clicks for everyone.
Getty image via Daria Gilgur