An Open Letter to Multiracial Autistic Teens

Dear multiracial autistic teens,

Have you ever felt like you don’t belong? Is belonging something you’ve tasted but never drank fully. Did you have it when you were very little, only to lose it once everyone around you started dividing themselves by race and ability and more?

Me too. Even now, long after secondary school and post-secondary school, I sometimes wonder why it seems I never belong. As a Black multiracial queer autistic woman, I am often confused by other people. These other people have somehow managed to fit into boxes. In those boxes, there are even more people, seemingly just like them.

I sometimes feel like I’m in my own box, all by myself.

In order to fit into someone else’s box, you may feel the urge to see yourself in a black-and-white manner. Personally, I mean that both literally and figuratively. I received pressure to behave “normally,” or else I was labeled a “freak.”

From as early as eleven-years-old, I was asked if I racially identified more as a Black person or a white person. Never was there an option to be my authentic self neither in personality nor as my multiracial identity.

I have light brown skin. So, my “exotic” body was labeled racially Black.
I like heavy metal music. So, my “weird” music taste was labeled racially white.
I have naturally curly, oily hair. So, my “unique” hair was labeled racially Black.
I play RPG video games. So, my “nerdy” hobby was labeled racially white.
I enjoy stim dancing. So, my “hyper” dance moves were labeled racially Black.

I had few close friends, almost none of whom stuck around for more than a year. I was awkward, unsure how to engage. My interests and body did not fall into a category that others could understand.

I am neurodivergent and multiracial. My brain is different. My body is different. My cultural background is different. In middle school and high school, different often means not belonging.

I cannot change my neurodivergence. I cannot change my multiracial identity.

The truth is: I don’t want to.

I don’t want to pick a race. I don’t want to choose between normalcy and authenticity–although I do choose authenticity because I don’t really know any other way, but then I don’t always feel like that is a choice I get to make, especially when safety is at stake.

I don’t want to change. I grew up with parents of different races. Because of this, I can often see the root of racial conflicts in a different way. I grew up autistic, without supports, and fighting assimilation. Now, I can share just how damaging a life without supports and understanding is for the many autistics out there who need true inclusion.

But even more, being different is not wrong. My uniqueness doesn’t need fixing. I refuse to conform to boxes for the sake of others’ comfort.

Different, not less.

This mantra applies to so many parts of me. These many parts of me make me whole.

In my wholeness, I am content.

It is only others’ ridicule that knocks me down.

I have met other neurodivergent and/or multiracial individuals who feel the same. In these communities, I have found the people who help me to stand whenever I have fallen. Our unique perspectives are powerful. Just like all others, we are inherently valuable as we are.

Hopefully a day will come when those who encompass multiple identities will no longer need to go through pain in order to see from multiple perspectives. But to the multiracial autistic children who don’t feel like you belong, please know:

  1. You are not alone.
  2. Your choices are yours to make.
  3. The future is ours to build.
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3 Responses

  1. I appreciated everything you had to say. I’m 61 and I spent some of my formative years in the old South. I am just barely old enough to remember the old Jim Crow laws before they were repealed in ’64 following the advent of the Civil Rights Act. I’m Asian but remember how we weren’t allowed to take a seat at McDonald’s because seating was for whites only.

    When I was in high school, I was one of two minorities at my school. The white kids said that the other was okay for being a n—-r because he was on the football team. I was told that I was okay for being a ch–k because I “talked white.” At the first and only football game I ever attended we were playing a team from the inner-city and they were almost all black. On the home team side of the field some white teens stood at the top of the bleachers waving the Stars and Bars. “THE SOUTH WILL RISE AGAIN!” they shouted. I was really quite embarrassed and then completely mortified because none of the white coaches, administrators, teachers, or parents said or did anything. The visitors on the other side of the field just took it because that’s what people did back in the 70’s.

    A few months ago I was at a doctor’s office and the office manager called me over to tell me that there was something wrong with my name. I was told that I couldn’t be David Chin because David is a white American name. (The reality is that David was originally a Jewish name.) The office manager told me that my parents must have been really ignorant to have given me the name of a white American. In point of fact my father was a doctor and my mother was an English literature professor. With only three degrees to my name, I am the least educated person in my family since my parents either have an M.D. or a Ph.D.

    Even though I myself am not multi racial, I was raised in the (largely) white suburbs and have attended schools with mostly white classmates. My values are likely more those of a white American than that of a Chinese American. I like rag time, Big Band, and the blues. I don’t really care for traditional Chinese music because their musicians use a pentatonic scale with just five notes instead of seven. I don’t observe any of the Chinese holidays but am completely vested in July 4th, Thanksgiving, and even Christmas. I am told that I have a midwestern accent. I do not speak Chinese because my parents thought it was important for me to mainstream into the American culture.

    There are times when I “feel” white even though I’m not. As I’ve gotten older I’ve come to largely regret that I grew up outside the Chinese culture because I’ve missed out on a lot of my cultural heritage. My parents were so fixated on raising me as an American that I had to learn how to cook Chinese food through various cookbooks. At home we rarely ate Chinese. Our meals were largely American i.e. meat loaf, mac and cheese, pot roast etc.

    1. Thank you for sharing so much of your personal account. I think there may be many similarities between the experiences of Black and white multiracial Americans and Asian Americans due to the falsehood of the “model minority” stereotype, but I can’t say for sure, because there has unfortunately been so little research done in these areas (but so many stereotypes and assumptions spread).

  2. I suspect that all minorities in this country have had their own issues with prejudice and their struggles to be accepted. People have an unfortunate tendency to not like those of us who look different, have different views, or come from different cultures. I wish I could suggest that most of this comes from ignorance but I’ve known some college educated people who were incredibly racist while some of the most loving and accepting individuals were high school dropouts.

    I can only imagine how challenging things must be for people with multi racial backgrounds since there are likely people from both ethnicities who will never accept someone of a mixed race background due to all sorts of bigoted reasons.

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