This isn’t entirely an Autism or mental illness blog. It is more a being human one. I write this as the world seems to be falling into a shadow of hatred. Everywhere there is ableism, xenophobia, bigotry, blame and judgement. In the USA there is a lot of bigotry and hatred fuelled by a number of things but possibly most significantly by the recent election campaign. The fact that the Ku Klux Klan are active for the first time in two generations demonstrates what this means.
But the USA at this moment in time is a very long way from having a monopoly on hatred. I remember when I was at university in the mid-2000s there was – for the first time in my knowledge – debate on whether or not the use of torture was OK in interrogations of terror suspects. More horrifying than the fact that this discussion was even being had was that I was one of a few people in my circle of friends to express concern about this fairly fundamental shift in the dialogue around the treatment of prisoners. You have to have lost the perspective of a persona s being human to a great extent to be thinking physical torture is OK. This was a response to a series of acts of aggression and hate by Al Qaeda – another group which had lost sight of other humans as being human.
So where does this sort of thing come from? I think it is the result of having a central, social concept of ‘self’ and than a deviation from that self to an outsider, an ’other’. The ‘other’ includes everyone who s eccentric (Literally outside the circle). It might be one of a vast number of groups, from Autistic people to Black people, those who identify as Queer – basically any group which does not fit within that social centre. These groups get ascribed negative qualities that members of the group are supposed to have which are then used to victimise them. I saw a documentary on the artist Christian Boltanski who found out at a young age that his father was Jewish. The young Boltanski was apparently horrified and said to whoever delivered this piece of information ‘but he can’t be. Jews have big hands for collecting all the money.’ That a young boy had come across such a horrific racial and cultural slur was appalling but these sorts of stereotypes exist for almost every ‘Othered’ group. They help perpetuate the stigma. When somebody is ‘Other’ they can cease to be seen as an individual. The other is ‘not like us’. This tends to result in a number of responses, from victimisation to paternalism.
This sort of thing has been going on for a very long time. It is the flip side of identity and it is terrifying to watch. Othering can be aided and abetted by media commentators and public figures.
It sounds pretty horrible and hopeless but there are some actions and attitudes which can help.
- One thing I try to live by is that when and where I see hatred or othering in place – be it against me or anyone else – I try to not stand by and say nothing. One of the ways othering and hatred work is by making everyone feel like to stand up against it is to go against what everyone else is doing. Some people may be victimised themselves for supporting the basic rights of others. The more people that stand up to hatred and bigotry the better.
- Another strategy is to live by example. Be out loud and proud as an ally. Secrecy and fear breed secrecy and fear. But if someone states amongst their friendship group that they support whatever ‘othered’ group, it is very hard for others to attack them without seeming foolish or nasty. Also, some people may be keeping their positive and supportive views secret for fear of being discriminated against themselves. You bearing witness to kindness and inclusion could make these people feel less alone.
- My final strategy – and I am aware there are several more but these are the ones I tend to use myself – my final strategy is standing together. I really struggle when I see someone form one ‘othered’ group being prejudiced against members of another. For example, an Autistic person expressing racist sentiments. We need to stand up together with others who are Othered. I live my life this way. I would never intentionally discriminate against any other person due to their membership of another ‘Othered’ group. As Terry Gilliam said in the dark but wonderful 1980’s film Brazil ‘We’re all in it together’. Terry Gilliam was being ironic. I am not. I suspect when standing together ‘minorities’ might not be a minority any more but if we are all attacking each other it just fuels the fires of hatred and is counterproductive for members of all othered groups.
I will finish with a statement which I sort of pledged myself to late last year due to some world events. It is “I will not stand idly by and watch the world go to darkness and see my friends and peers vilified and abused.” I really hope it doesn’t come to that but that if it does I hope to live up to my aim.