This Thursday, June 18th, was the tenth annual Autistic Pride Day. A day for autistic people to celebrate our differences. It's a day for verbal and nonverbal people, those with intellectual disability or not, all across the autism spectrum to come together and focus on the positives of being autistic.
Since the creation of Autistic Pride Day, more and more people have become comfortable being openly autistic. Awareness and acceptance of autism have spread. It's becoming more common for even those outside the autism community to be accepting of autism as a natural variant of a healthy brain.
Unfortunately, tragedy struck on the same day in the United States, in the form of a domestic terrorist attack. A man entered a public building and announced of the inhabitants that they have “raped our women, and [they] are taking over the country ... I have to do what I have to do.” He then proceeded to kill nine people, including South Carolina State Senator Clementa Pinckney.
If you've been paying any attention at all to the news the past few days, you know what I'm talking about. I will not name the shooter here because I don't want to give him any more recognition than is necessary, nor will I talk about the politics of gun control, since I think that's best left for another time.
I will, however, say a few things about the mental health discussion. There seems to be a pattern in the reporting of high profile crimes like this. When the suspect is Muslim, we tend to hear talk about the supposedly inherent violence within Islam. If the suspect is black, there's talk of family structure and parental responsibility. In the case of a white suspect, the discussion often turns to mental health.
I'll say up front that I believe all of these to be inappropriate, since they all attempt to draw a line between 'us' and 'them.' Instead, I feel it's more important to look at the real motivation for each case. In this case, whether the shooter was mentally ill or not, this crime was not caused by mental illness. It was clearly caused by hate. Unlike mental illness, hate is taught by others. It's important to fight that by spreading not just tolerance, but acceptance of diversity.
Personally, I feel that the most offensive part of this story is the way it was covered on Fox News. Fox has presented story after story saying that this man's motivation was to kill Christians. While it is reasonable to assume that the victims were all Christian, comedian Mike Yard asked the question on The Nightly Show with Larry Wilmore, how many churches this man passed on the way to this one, occupied by entirely black people? This, combined with what he said himself before opening fire, strongly suggests that this crime was racially motivated.
There is a reason I mention both of these events together, Autistic Pride Day and the attack in South Carolina. Few people would argue that the racial equality movement has made considerable progress. The fact that this attack has gotten so much attention, when similar attacks were common in the 1960's, demonstrates that. However, the fact that this attack happened at all in the 21st century illustrates another point that I want to highlight.
No matter how far an equality movement comes, and no matter how unpopular hate against a minority gets, there will always be those who oppose equality. It is important to always continue pushing forward. Otherwise, the movement can easily lose ground and start slipping back.
The support of those outside a minority is vitally important. It's expected, for example, to hear a black person talking about racial equality. It tends to mean more to those who need to learn to hear it from someone they perceive as being one of their own.
Now, I know in the autistic community, we don't usually have to worry about mass shooters targeting us. We do have our own concerns, though. We are often shut out of the job market. Several of our number have been killed by their own caregivers, who are then made to look like only a victim in the story. We even have our own self-appointed advocates who actively speak against our message.
In fact, all minorities have their own sets of concerns and problems. Whether we're talking about racial or religious minorities, women, Native Americans, the LGBT community, or those with any type of disability, we need to stand together. Find out what each movement wants to say, and stand up for them. Never give up the push for equality. We're all human beings first.