Racism meets autism

posted by Jeff | Friday, June 5, 2020, 8:50 PM | comments: 0

We have generally tried not to totally hide the problems of the world from Simon. We let him watch the news sometimes with us, and we talk about what he sees. We don't really try to impart political views on him either, though he routinely asks why President Trump is so "angry" and "mean" to people. We felt it was important for him to see the demonstrations this week. The discussions didn't go as planned.

For context, Simon has never existed in a non-diverse place. Heck, even our parents' group in Seattle included black, East and South Asian kids. Now he lives in Central Florida, which is also diverse. He's known a gay couple since he was 1. I'm relieved that his normal is this.

We tried to explain racism to him, specifically in the context of police enforcement, which has been particularly brutal and proportionately deadly to African-American people. I'm fairly certain that it's the autism, but he couldn't understand it. If I can empathize on the way he thinks, where often social contracts are illogical, he just can't reconcile how racism is a thing.

From a moral character standpoint, sure, this is great. He literally doesn't see color, and not in that "I have black friends" kind of way that's icky. But there's a down side to that, too, because it suggests that he doesn't have the empathy or wiring to be an advocate and guard against systemic racism. I think that's the important point in this essential revisiting of civil rights: It's not enough to not be racist, we have to actively stamp out the systemic and institutional racism. So yay for raising a child that is not racist, but we're struggling to get him to understand the more abstract concepts.

From a maturity standpoint, he's probably a year or two behind, something reinforced by the fact that he seems to connect best with younger kids (or very kind adults). But this sort of thing fits in a broader context of things that he doesn't naturally "get" because they're based on larger social contracts. Racism is taught, certainly, but if you see the world in more absolute terms based on factual observations, racism is completely illogical. It's one of those situations where autism is in some ways a gift.

I talked with a coworker about this recently, as he has a child with autism who also doesn't entirely grasp racism. The stakes are higher for him though, because his child isn't white like mine. I don't have to teach mine that driving while black is a risk. In my case though, I hope it's just a matter of delaying the discussion until he "gets it." The simple things like "please and thank you" and holding doors for others has also been a struggle.

Item #9274 of things I never expected to talk about as a parent.


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