Clarification Statement About #BoycottHUBlackAutism 2022

person with a child on his shoulders looking at a protest
Photo by Life Matters on Pexels.com

They say that if something happens frequently enough, perhaps instead of looking around for the source of the problem, you should consider looking inward.

Maybe I’m just really obtuse…because in all honesty, the idea that I am truly the problem in some the majority of situations just doesn’t make sense to me. I’m being 100% real here; no games. I don’t get it. But maybe the reason I am confused is because my thinking is flawed, and as a result I’m not going to understand, and I just have to accept that. It could very well be that unbeknownst to me, I’m a real life Robert Neville from Matheson’s apocalyptic novel I am Legend (which differs significantly from the film). If so, I am creating harm rather than helping, and it’s my responsibility to address it.

Recently, I called for a boycott of a virtual event which was called HUBlackAutism2022 (which is why I called the counter-event #BoycottHUBlackAutism2022.) The HUBlackAutism2022 event, an online conference focused on autism and the Black community, was being hosted by Howard University toward the end of April 2022, which is considered Autism Acceptance Month and/or Autism Awareness Month.

Howard University is a revered American institution. Known as “The Mecca,” this private DC HBCU (Historically Black College/University) is over a century old and was pivotal in the Civil Rights Movement. Howard is said to graduate more Black doctoral recipients than any university in the United States, and it has produced many laudable “firsts” throughout the years. Our current American Vice President obtained a degree from there as well.

I was overjoyed to learn that Howard sought to highlight the important intersection between autism and race, for this is not a discussion that seems to be occurring widely at most HBCUs (or if it is, these discussions are seemingly not public). But my elation quickly turned to frustration once I learned that Family Voices’ Associate Director of Programs was being featured as an expert “voice from the Black autism community.” 

This was an extremely problematic discovery, for several months ago this individual and her superiors engaged in ableist and tokenizing behavior as well as unapologetic community subjugation and victim-blaming/shaming. This occurred over a series of exchanges that included this individual, myself, the current Executive Director of Family Voices, the current Board Vice President of Family Voices, and several respected disability and DEI+A leaders. 

The leadership team of a new grant Family Voices had recently acquired were also cc’d (but did not respond to my knowledge). My attempts to resolve this matter were largely unsuccessful, and to my knowledge remain as such. Given this context, I was aghast at such a hypocritical representation of “the Black autism community” and immediately decided to address the matter publicly in hopes that Howard and/or Family Voices would be responsive. As I am a community activist, I did what comes as naturally to me as breathing: engaged in activism on behalf of the community.

I hadn’t known all of the parties who were going to join the Family Voices director as co-panelists. I learned this later, via a flyer that stated the names and titles of each panelist and also contained their pictures, that there were several panelists that I am acquainted with in one way or another, including two that I considered to be friends. Things were already far in motion when I came to this realization, so learning of their involvement grieved me. I made an effort to be very intentional in my wording in hopes of making it clear that my concerns were related to the Family Voices personnel and Howard (as the host). I mentioned it explicitly more than once. 

I never once criticized the other panelists; in fact I either opted to not mention them, or I said favorable (or at least neutral) things when I did bring them up. I wasn’t under the impression that people would infer things from my words that weren’t there and would assume that I was indicting everyone. I’m autistic…inferences are not my thing. But perhaps I did not make myself understood, and for that I am sorry. If I failed to convey my actual meaning, I apologize. 

However, it’s one thing for me to be accountable for imprecise communication that might have inadvertently hurt others; that is something I should absolutely do, full stop. I shouldn’t, however, be condemned for something I never said nor did and/or for ill-informed assumptions people made based upon the manner they chose to interpret things. I never once said nor implied that Gyasi and Maria were “tokens” and that they had been part of the ableist and patronizing discussions from fall 2021. People might have jumped to that conclusion, but I didn’t lead them there. I tried to be as clear as I, a person with a communication disability, could given the circumstances. But apparently to some it doesn’t matter what I actually said or did or didn’t say; people would rather project things that were never there to sow strife where none should be.

I have been in contact with two of the panelists, Maria and Gyasi, since shortly after I posted about the proposed boycott late yesterday morning/lunchtime-ish.I have assured them, privately and publicly, that this was not about them, and that it was my hope that the powers that be would make the right choice and that the panel would be able to be held. I apologized immediately for unintentionally harming them, and I asked what actions I can take to make amends. I have no reason to lie about this.

In hindsight, I should have reached out privately to them myself once I realized that they were panelists. I was trying not to put them in an awkward position, but it seems that both would have preferred not to be broadsided with the news. I take responsibility for my failure to give them a “heads up” once I became aware that they were involved. It was an error, although not a malicious one, on my part.

What Family Voices did was wrong and I’m not going to say otherwise. Ethically, I think I did the right thing by opposing their problematic deeds; the boycott was necessary. I didn’t want to inflict pain on others in the pursuit of that, and I didn’t intend to. It’s not like I was all, “Oh, yay, two of my friends are on this thing; I’m gonna boycott!” It wasn’t like that, and I have explained that it wasn’t like that. But people instead prefer to assign malice that was never there to my actions.

I’ve known both Gyasi Burks-Abbott and Maria Davis-Pierre for some time now. Like me, they are both Black and neurodivergent, and try to use their experiences to help others. They openly promote Black pride and neurodiversity. They are people who give of themselves daily to try to make a difference.

Somewhere, I have a super cute picture from a few years back of Gyasi, myself, Erin Miller, Kerry Magro, Stephanie D., and a few other neurokin in Illinois at a conference. These people aren’t enemies. They aren’t people I dislike, and they aren’t figureheads. They are writers, like me. They are people I have laughed with and whose company I enjoy. We have one another’s emails, phone numbers, etc. Gyasi literally just hosted me as a speaker at an event days ago. And I was the keynote speaker at Maria’s conference less than a year ago. 

I figuratively “stand” by my choice to oppose what Family Voices did. I am an advocate for the community, even when it’s not fun (which, sadly, is much of the time). I cannot begin to tell you the frequency and the ugliness of the attacks I get regularly because of it. People literally seeking out my minor CHILDREN on social media to bully them. People making false reports to Children’s Protective Services to harm my family. People impersonating me and making horrible remarks. People hacking my accounts. People lying on me, calling me anti-semitic, saying I said and did things that never happened. People sending me DMs like, “How did it taste when you were on your knees sucking Autism Speaks’ d!<k for money?” and falsely accusing me of “selling out” the autistic community and “betraying neurodiversity” for money – even though that never happened. People calling me the “n” word, and talking about how fat, black, ugly, and stupid I am; how my lips are annoying; how they can’t stand listening to me talk. I could show you screenshots that would make a grown man weep – that’s how awful they are. And this isn’t once or twice or fifteen times. It’s much more than that. So why in the h3ll would I be so evil that I would do that to someone who has never been anything but kind to me? What reason would I have to want to stress out my fellow Black peers knowing how hard we have it already? What “beef” could I possibly have with Gyasi and Maria that is so awful that they would be deserving of me intentionally doing something to cause them harm?

I implore everyone to read what I’ve actually said, not what someone *said* I said or what you “assume” I meant. I have valid, credible reasons for my concerns about Family Voices. But I never meant to imply, intentionally or unintentionally, that there was something suspect about the panel itself, or that I have a problem with Howard University as a whole. Nothing could be further from the truth.