Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Protest and Privilege

You should be aware that I have all of the privilege.

All of it.  You see, I'm a white male lawyer who works in a position of authority for a bank.

That's what we call a trump card, ladies and gentlemen.

Now that my credentials are established, allow me to speak for a minute on the issue of the Black Lives Matter protests.

I've seen a LOT of Facebook posts and I've read a lot of commentary (and let's be honest, fellow white people, so have you) painting everyone protesting in Baltimore, Ferguson, and elsewhere as looters, rioters, and criminals.  Even the phrase "Black Lives Matter" gets people up in arms.  "All Lives Matter," is the rejoinder I keep hearing from the white folks I know who are likely to be bothered by this type of thing.

Allow me analogize for a second.

I write a lot about autism.  Because, you know, my kid has autism.  A lot of my friends and a pretty good chunk of my family are on the spectrum.  So autism is what I know, and I can tell you all about my experience with it.  It's also a borderline obsessive interest of mine, so I read about it a lot, and I do my best to gather a wide variety of experiences and opinions from all different types of sources.  If I were to tell you something about the experiences common to the autistic community, you could be fairly confident that I know what I'm talking about.

Education is a big issue for the autistic community.  For autism parents, it's probably the primary issue. 

Now, let's say I wanted to advocate for educational accommodations for my kid and other kids on the spectrum, for example an autism-specific classroom in my local public school.  I might come up with a slogan to get my message across quickly and clearly.

I might come up with something like, "Autistic Kids Matter."

Now let's say you have neuro-typical kids in the same school as my kid.  If you see me on the street and I give you a flyer that says "Autistic Kids Matter," and I ask you to support my efforts to get the school board to set up an autism classroom, would you respond by saying, "What the hell man?!? My kid matters too!"

I hope not.

Because you would know that my flyer wasn't about you.

You would, perhaps, realize that I have had very different experiences than you in getting my kid educated.

You might realize that, even though your child's grammar is maybe not quite where you would like it to be, that's on a different level from my child's inability to walk through the front door without melting all the way down into a puddle on the pavement.  Perhaps you've even seen him do it?

Maybe you think the school has serious issues: many schools do, after all. Would you want to fight me about whose kids have it worse? Or would it perhaps be better to try to work together?  Maybe my list of issues could join with yours and strengthen it.  Let's get all the money and do all the things.

Hopefully you see where I'm going with this.  Walk with me there. 

It's true that all lives matter, just as it's true that every kid deserves an education that suits them. But calling attention to special cases and differential treatment can highlight true injustices. If it offends you, maybe you should think about why that is.

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