No Quiet Waters

stormy ocean waves splashing high against rocks

Growing up with parents who were immigrants from Africa to the United States, I heard a lot of proverbs. I liked many of them, but there were some that I, an autistic child with a very literal mind, simply could not understand. One of those was a proverb that stated how calm, quiet waters are the ones that drown a man (person). I found that puzzling; wouldn’t a person be more likely to drown in turbulent waters than in relatively peaceful ones?

I later came to understand that the proverb was referring to the fact that when we are at ease, when we are complacent, when we don’t feel a sense of urgency or danger, we are less vigilant, less prepared, and less protected, and therefore at risk. Just as statistics show that a disproportionate amount of car crashes occur within close proximity to one’s home, this proverb warns of the dangers we open ourselves up to if we become too comfortable and if we – like rancid, stagnant water – don’t keep moving.

I’m writing this post because I want to stir up some waters today. For several months the other members of the board of trustees of the Autistic Self Advocacy Network (ASAN) and I, as well as key ASAN staff, have been engaged in lengthy conversations about our shared commitment to inclusion, diversity, and representation not only here at ASAN, but within the Autistic community and the broader disability community. We’ve had thought-provoking, soul-searching discussions about how critical these concepts are. And this month, which happens to be the commemoration of Black History Month, we are bringing you into some of that dialogue with us.

Please note: we are not doing this as solely a Black History Month “thing.” While all of us acknowledge and celebrate the importance of Black History Month not only in our community, but in general, this is not only that. You see, I, and other Black people, don’t suddenly appear, in all our Blackness, on February 1st only to be cast aside the evening of February 28th (or 29th). I’m Black every month. I’m Black every week; I’m Black every day; I’m Black every moment. Just as disabled people aren’t props for abled people, people of color, including Black people, are not to be used and discarded when the hashtag stops trending. #BlackLivesMatter every day of the year, whether it is February or not. That includes Black disabled lives, and specifically with regard to ASAN, Black Autistic lives.

ASAN seeks to honor the lives, contributions, struggles, and uniqueness of the Black community during this Black History Month while also conversing publicly and transparently about what our organization, our community, and greater society needs to do to differently and better with regard to centering, actively partnering and demonstrating solidarity with, and signal boosting those in our community with multiple marginalizations – including Black Autistics, as “Nothing About Us Without Us” means all of us.

For over a decade the Autistic Self Advocacy Network has sought to empower Autistic people and to ensure that we have a presence and a voice. Though there remains much, much work to be done and many obstacles to overcome – especially now, in the current political climate – it is apparent that we have made, and are making, an impact. A lot of that progress has been achieved in conjunction with many community members, partners, and supporters across the globe. While we are grateful for our collective accomplishments as an organization and as a community, we must continue to grow, as it is not our desire to rest on past achievements, become complacent, and “drown” in familiar waters.

Over the next few weeks we will be sharing a multi-part blog series with you as we begin to address these topics – together. These posts will be collaborative articles written by members of the ASAN board of trustees, ASAN staff, and Black Autistics in our community who will be sharing their perspectives as guest contributors. We welcome your feedback on all of these posts as well as on this topic, and as always we thank you for supporting ASAN and for considering this with an open mind and open heart.

Yours in the struggle,

Morénike Giwa Onaiwu

#UnapologeticallyBlack and Autistic, on behalf of the ASAN Board of Trustees