This post may very well get me expelled from my college. But nah, I would say it brings up legitimate issues, even if it contradicts most social justice paradigms.
Activist circles are often intended to be safe spaces, where people are to be free from the oppressive treatment and language they often receive in the outside world, which includes racist, sexist and ableist slurs. This might sound like it can only be a good thing, but it can actually be potentially marginalising for those on the autism spectrum, as well as the socially incompetent in general.
For an Aspie, it is hard enough navigating mainstream society with all of its incomprehensible social norms and expectations, and it is very common for one to say something that accidentally offends someone. Enter a social justice setting, and you are suddenly presented with a whole new set of social conventions that are even more difficult to understand! I am speaking, of course, of politically correct social convention.
For a socially savvy neurotypical, political correctness and sensitivity to people’s identities are grasped naturally, through empathy and understanding. Aspies lack this intuitive ability to know what will or won’t offend someone. They might be better at grasping it if it followed a linguistically logical set of rules, but PC convention often doesn’t.
For example, it could be confusing to an Aspie that “Black Power” is not considered racist but that “White Power” is. Or that “queer” can be considered homophobic but not “genderqueer.” That it is okay to talk about “toxic masculinity” but not women’s hormones. That “nigger/nigga” can be used as both a racial slur and a term of endearment, depending on the context, pronunciation, tone and races of the people involved.
Was my use of the n-word in the previous sentence offensive? I have no idea, because I am Aspie. It takes neurotypical nuance to fully understand these concepts. An understanding of the histories of various oppressions can help, but a sense of intuitive understanding of others’ emotions is also necessary to fully get it.
Well, if you are going to call me a racist for that sentence, then you, sir, are an ableist. Because it is ableist to shame a disabled person for something they said when they didn’t know any better… Right? Well, in any case, I’m pretty sure the laws of political correctness dictate that the subaltern party is always right. At least I hope so, otherwise I’m a racist. Possibly also a sexist for using “sir” which is not gender-inclusive. But mentally disabled people can’t be racist or sexist can they? They’re all little special angels! Is that an offensive stereotype? But it can’t be ableist if a disabled person himself says it…Right?
It is for reasons like this that safe spaces, for an Aspie, can actually be hostile spaces, where one is simply afraid to speak for fear of saying the wrong thing. A safe space for us would be one where we can say whatever we want and behave how we like without being judged or shamed.
Which brings me to the bigger question of whether PC social justice culture is oppressive in general, not only to those on the spectrum. And this brings me to a point about empathy. This is a topic I may not be qualified to talk about because the DSM defines me as lacking of it, but I will give it my best shot.
Is it an empathetic environment where everybody is extra careful about what they say and do for fear of offending? Is getting offended empathetic? If someone says something with perfectly good intentions, but you get offended, you are suggesting that your reaction is more important than the person’s intention. In my opinion, this is not empathetic, but a bit selfish.
I would say that a truly empathetic “safe zone” would be one where everyone are just assumed to be friends, and all things said in the space are just assumed to be well-intentioned automatically. It is more empathetic to interact with one another as natural human beings than to have a speech code teaching you how to interact with one another. But then again, I am Aspie so probably don’t understand empathy properly.
However, I do maintain that the PC culture of getting offended is detrimental to social movements. I will even go as far as to suggest that its origins lie in the world of social movements from above. It is a cultural element injected into social justice movements by people in power in order to make them appear ridiculous enough that not too many people will support them, seeing them as culty. Hence, radical forces don’t gain enough power and the hegemony remains intact. Or maybe I am just a conspiracy theorist.
As a final point, I would like to say that as an autistic, a group frequently given the slur of “retard,” one of my favorite movie scenes of all time is this scene from Borat:
(starting at 0:42)
Borat: Do you ever laugh at people with retardation?
Humor Coach: Here in America, we try not to make fun of, or be funny with, things that people don’t choose.
Borat: But perhaps you have not seen someone with a very funny retardation. My brother Bilo, he have a very funny retardation!
I would also like to think I have a very funny retardation. I think social movements could use more humor, and less getting offended. Don’t you?