Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Autism Month Essays: The Price of Erasure

Harriet Tubman,  By artist H. Seymour Squyer, 1848-18 Dec 1905
National Portrait Gallery, Public Doman,
According to POLITICO, "Treasury Secretary Jack Lew on Wednesday will announce plans to both keep Alexander Hamilton on the front of the $10 bill and to knock Andrew Jackson off the front of the $20 in favor of Harriet Tubman." 

If this is true, it is a huge lost opportunity for a tremendous victory in the disability rights community's fight for representation and the presumption of competence.

If this is true, despite the erasure of neurodivergent people of color from histories of autism and disability studies textbooks , it is a victory for intersected disability rights activists because Ms. Tubman was neurodivergent, the result of repeated beatings and catastrophic head trauma while enslaved. Consider that her best civil rights work was done after becoming neurodivergent and what I mean becomes apparent. Harriet Tubman is the textbook historical example justifying the argument for the presumption of competence.
This dual situation of loss and gain is a typical example of why I began to write constantly about racial injustice within our community, particularly on the damage done by erasing neurodivergent people of color from histories of autism. Does everyone feel the price of erasure now? So much gaslighting has been done on how whitewashing must be accepted by those of us who are not white in order to present these histories to fragile white audiences that this incredible opportunity to move from reading about a neurodivergent historical figure in a recent history to lobbying in support of representation for all neurodivergent people was squandered by the very act of allowing our own activists to accept the erasure of Ms. Tubman's disabled Black identity, perpetuating structural racism among our own movements and organizations. It could have had the lobbying power that Lin-Manuel Miranda's voice had on the heels of a triumphant broadway production of Hamilton, personally reaching out to Lew to keep Hamilton on the $10 bill. No monumental opportunity some best-selling history of neurodiversity followed by a powerful voice for Harriet Tubman's face on U.S. currency will ever happen.That ship has sailed.
What is the benefit of editing out the voices of people so powerful to disability rights representation that their places in history have overcome the standard erasure endemic to their race and origin? How does this erasure from histories benefit the fight for my son's right to equal representation as a brown autistic teen?
Ah, the irony of the victory and failure of this series of events! Anyone grasping this after I've pointed it out should know that Ms. Tubman's neurodivergence, which was described very much with the same symptomology as today's TBI-induced autism, should have merited a mention in histories of autism. Those activists who aggressively insisted I was overreacting to the new slew of histories of autism and critical disabilities studies books that perpetuate the same erasure can now see where this kind of gaslighting leads. Neurodivergent Black people existed and mattered at periods in history when my race was made into chattel in this country. They played major roles in our nation's history and in the histories of human rights movements for centuries.
But all of these enablers of erasure can keep worshipping at the temple of white-washed histories only acceptable when written by white people and call themselves disability rights activists.
Here are the choices. Stew in the hypocrisy of fighting for disability rights while denying the rights of disabled people who aren't white. Or, when looking in the mirror becomes difficult, maybe try giving nonwhite disabled voices equal platforms along with their rightful places in history. 
Hopefully, this can be more than a token victory or appropriation of Ms. Tubman's life, objectifying her while silencing her neurodivergent black peers.

About Harriet Tubman, Civil Rights Activist
About Tubman replacing Jackson on $10 bill
About the erasure of Black Autistics from Histories of Autism

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