Earlier this month, Slate published a piece on Eugene Hoskins, a black man who lived in Mississippi in the early twentieth century who today would have been diagnosed with autism. Hoskins crossed paths with William Faulkner at some point in his life, and the author of the Slate article surmises that he may have been one of Faulkner’s inspirations for The Sound and the Fury.
The account of Eugene Hoskins raises questions about the relationship of autistic history to black history in America. The history of autism is necessarily woven into the histories of any and all populations affected by autism, yet what one would term “autistic history” is largely treated as monolithic. Overwhelmingly, race is neglected not only in tracing the history of autism, but in contemporary research and coverage. Recent studies have shown racial disparities in obtaining a diagnosis and in accessing treatments. Representations of autism in popular media—including real high-profile autists and fictional characters—are almost uniformly white. The only real-life exception I can think of is Stephen Wiltshire, and he is certainly less well-known—at least in the United States—than Temple Grandin or John Elder-Robison. A relatively recent documentary called Wretches and Jabberers seeks to draw attention to “low-functioning” self-advocacy, but nonetheless falls short in other aspects of diversity, since it features two middle-aged white men. (The film is still definitely worth watching.)
The only fictional autist of color who comes to mind, who features prominently in a film or other text, is Zen from the movie Chocolate—a Thai woman in a Thai film.
The intersection of autism and race is a site of thorough erasure. Where does that leave the intersection of autism, race, and sexuality? Autism, race, and gender?
I don’t know what else to say, and I think that’s telling. There’s so much left unsaid and unanswered for that one doesn’t know where to start. And I am not a person of color. While there is a place for white anti-racist allies, and part of the work of anti-racism is rendering whiteness visible as a construct, the voices of autists of color should be at the forefront of any dialogue about autism and race.
So what do you think? Where do you see the spaces and potential for rendering the invisible visible? How would you like to see the intersection of race and autism addressed?
AutismToday.com: Autism and Race
thAutcast: Neil Latson—Arrested for Being Black and Autistic—to Serve Two Years Rather Than Ten (click through for a link to a really troubling Washington Post article)
Racial Harassment Alleged During Arrest of Autistic Teen
Critical Race Theory, Feminism, and Disability: Reflections on Social Justice and Personal Identity
Racialicious: Race as disability: an update on fertility clinic mixup case