A Poem I wrote long ago rings true now more than ever within the United States and perhaps this whole world in the turmoil that is waking from a nightmare. The Invisible are becoming visible, slowly but surely, but many stories are still unheard, unseen, and thus I dedicate this. To those like Matthew Rushin, like Osime Brown, and like Myself.
City streets a tepid trough, so far away from stalwart sky.
A steady beat that marches on, while not a dweller bats an eye.
The pavement cracked, a stigma’s stye in the land-locked commerce stocked desert dry, of which the seas retreat
Yet worry not repeats the lot, this is the price of “freedom”
– Governance or The Price of Freedom by Wolfheart Andrew Sanchez
The concept of Black and Indigenous People of Color’s (BIPOC) invisibility in media is something that is well known in many communities but not talked about enough in mainstream media. Many stories of systematic trauma are not covered. Our Media is, after all, a massive cog in the machine of systematic oppression.
To quote the late, great Maya Angelou, “There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you.” So many stories remain untold. Most often, these are the stories of those who are traumatized by an unprepared, calloused, and apathetic system which is already hostile towards those with disabilities, and even more so for those who are not White.
Invisibility and Accountability
When you’re part of a marginalized group, it’s like being invisible to the world. When police oppress the invisible, they are rarely held accountable; thus, the need to give a face and voice to the harsh reality of police prejudice against Autistic people of color is more important now than ever.
When you choose to look away, you are still complicit. Having the choice to look away is a privilege.
We all watched in horror the footage of George Floyd’s last 9 minutes. Undoubtedly, most people were screaming (internally or externally), WHY AREN’T YOU DOING SOMETHING!? at the officer who did nothing to stop Derek Chauvin from murdering Floyd.
But really, we have been screaming for years– decades, centuries– for you to DO SOMETHING.
Imagine the opportunities people had before that moment when Derek Chauvin put his knee on George Floyd’s neck.
- Imagine how many white friends could have told Chauvin that racist joke wasn’t funny.
- Imagine how many officers could have told Chauvin that he was too rough on the job
- Imagine how many supervisors looked the other way when people complained
- Imagine how many Black and disabled people were harmed by Chauvin before George Floyd
- Imagine the trauma Chauvin and people like him have cultivated in the community where he worked
- Imagine how many people will never work or reach their dreams because of the financial trauma of defending yourself against police injustice (car insurance premiums for target traffic citations, job loss from arrests or convictions, lawyer fees for bogus charges, etc.)
In earlier articles, I discussed my own experience with police apathy, and the extant nightmare which Mathew Rushin now faces terrifies me. I think about what it would like to be in his shoes, and I weep. Imagine being in an accident you can’t even remember, and then instead of being properly triaged and treated with care, you are treated like a wanted criminal.
Even if they don’t know why they hated you so much, you know. It’s because you are Black, autistic, young, and you dared to drive– sober, at that– with no weapons in your car, with no drugs or alcohol in your system, and while being an employed college student with a future.
All the work and years of self-discipline and following the rules and doing everything right could be swept away, in an instant. And, “doing everything right” is an impossible bar for most BIPOC disabled folk as they don’t have the option of following the rules and surviving.
Like Osime Brown. Osime was pulled away from his loving family and thrust into social services as a teen, shuffled through more than 20 foster homes and group homes in one year, then arrested while a ward of the state for simply being near people who stole a mobile phone, even though he tried to stop the theft.
Being different is a risk. For autistics and other disabled folk, it’s not a choice. For Black autistics, we are at the mercy of your biases, because when we don’t make sense, you will project those stereotypes onto us. You will make me a criminal, all by yourself, in your mind, without giving me a choice. Then, you will call the cops. Unless you are the cops. Then I’ll end up in jail. Or dead.
It scares me to think this could happen to me, no matter what I do right.
This could have easily been me, and when I think about how I have always wanted to drive, I become fearful. Such a big accomplishment for me could end in abuse and detainment at the hands of local law enforcement, too!
Everyone is at a risk of having an accident, of hurting someone else. It happens. A tire blows, a deer runs into the road, an unexpected slick spot…
But a Black man– any Black person– knows he doesn’t have to have an accident or break a law to be pulled over, shot, killed, have guns or drugs planted on him, etc.
And now, I debate internally whether I want to learn to drive anymore as my eyes fill with tears. When I think about everything that happened to Matthew Rushin, I realize that I, too, could meet a terrible fate for being Black, autistic, and not matching their stereotypes.
I frequently ask friends and family, who seem to be hypnotized by their television screens and glued to the news, if they have heard of Matthew Rushin. The response is often the same: “No, the name sounds familiar but doesn’t quite ring a bell.”
I soon begin to explain his plight. I say what his story means to me as I tell people who don’t use social media often who this unfortunate individual is. They are shocked, but they immediately understand. The mainstream media would never cover further wrongdoings by police during such tumultuous times.
Giving a platform to those like Matthew for any kind of special report or segment longer than a minute to throw up a mugshot and a few clickbait soundbites would mean once again staring the ugly truth in the eye.
The truth is, being Black and Autistic in America is a recipe for disaster. Existing while Black and Autistic greatly increases the likelihood of experiencing trauma, brutality, dismissal, or death at the hands of an oppressive system. Our society was built on a foundation of using humans, Black and Indigenous people especially, as machines to increase the wealth of the powerful. The marginalized people never stopped being a victim of this serfdom, oppression just changes its form to fit the shape of its container.
Inequity is maintained by the power of the wealthy and those who value above all else the almighty status quo. While tradition and “the way things were” may be comfortable for the majority, it needs to be acknowledged that those traditions were the things maintaining oppression.
Marginalized people can’t safely impact the systemic changes necessary to guarantee their own and their loved ones’ safety and equity without the enthusiastic buy-in of those already in positions of authority. By merit of numbers, we are not a large enough group to to demand change. We don’t occupy as many seats in power structures.
We need white people and non-disabled folk to demand social justice with us, for us. Breaking the status quo is always a risk, but the risk to your life and access to safety and ability to survive with a future in tact is not as high. You will be insulted, you will have people unfriend you on social media, and people will treat you differently for being “political.”
And you should do it anyway if Black lives matter to you.