Emma and I have been discussing the civil rights movement and the events throughout American history that led up to it. We’ve discussed the word segregation and what it means to a society when we isolate a group of people and how people come to form opinions about other people they’ve never met.
We have discussed the word prejudice and how it is preconceived opinions based on an idea rather than factual. We’ve talked about how those preconceived ideas almost always do harm. We’ve discussed oppression and how many who’ve been oppressed internalize that message and how it changes how they then view themselves.
Emma has asked to read a biography of Harriet Tubman and we have been discussing the importance of Rosa Parks and her decision to not give up her seat on a crowded bus in Montgomery, Alabama. We have not yet talked about Martin Luther King, Malcolm X or Thurgood Marshall, though Emma wrote that she has heard of the first two, and for all I know, may know of all three.
When I asked Emma to write something about Harriet Tubman, she wrote, “defender of freedom.” This was a couple of months ago and I was shocked because the only time I’d mentioned Harriet Tubman to Emma was about three years ago. I had read one of those beginning readers to Emma about Harriet Tubman before bedtime. And while I always hoped she might be listening, even if only a little, I wasn’t convinced she understood what I was reading. This was during those years before I realized Emma understood everything. It was during those years when I believed what I was being told, that my daughter was only able to understand the most basic concepts, and even those, it was often questioned just how much she understood.
Prejudice is when we form opinions about people, that are not based in fact. Prejudice makes us blind, it twists our minds into thinking we understand or know, even when we do not. It can make us deny facts, or decide that what is true, is not real.
As Emma never indicated that she was listening, much less taking everything in, I often wondered. But a couple of people had encouraged me to “act as if” and so I did my best. I remember when I read the biography of Helen Keller and later she asked me to read it to her again. Still, despite the now obvious evidence, I doubted and even when I wasn’t actively doubting, I wondered. Often. It was as though I could not make the mental leap to believe what increasingly seems obvious in retrospect. Prejudice is like that, it fools us into believing we understand things about a group of people that we do not.
As James H. Cone writes in his book Black Theology & Black Power – “How should I respond to a world which defines me as a nonperson?” And later in the same book, he writes, “A man is free when he can determine the style of his existence in an absurd world; a man is free when he sees himself for what he is and not as others define him.”
Emma in Colorado – 2010
Posted in Autism, Parenting, prejudice
Tagged Autism, autistic, civil rights, civil rights movement, James H. Cone, non-speaking, Parenting, prejudice, segregation
A follower of this blog emailed me this morning about a new app for the ipad called, Pop It. It’s a “book” that when one shakes the ipad, the perspective of the story changes. The creator, an artist named Raghava, gave a talk on Ted.com, which is terrific – about perspective and tolerance of others and the role of art and creativity. Listening to Raghava made me think of a book I am currently reading by the extremely talented and insightful theologian, James H. Cone. His book – The Cross and the Lynching Tree is a deeply touching and powerful investigation of suffering and hope. James Cone writes at length about the nature of faith, how God “could make a way out of no way”, how “hope could remain alive in the world of Jim Crow segregation.”
I do not claim to know of the existence, nor can I claim to know of the non-existence of a god. I cannot even define that word. It is not a word that holds any meaning for me. But I do know what it is to struggle with hope. Hope for Emma, hope for all our children who will grow up to become adults, who many will fear, ignore or just wish would go away. Our children with autism are often misunderstood, in their inability to fall into line with societal norms they are in turn rejected by society. The continued negligence and worse, abuse, of people with disabilities is rampant. Their abuse is done by people who have deemed them incompetent, imbeciles and without value. This is the common thread that exists in the abuse of all groups of people throughout history. It is our intolerance of those we believe to be “less than” that makes us believe we have the “right” to punish, shun, ignore, hurt, torture and kill.
James Cone writes: “The cross is a paradoxical religious symbol because it inverts the world’s value system with the news that hope comes by way of defeat, that suffering and death do not have the last word, that the last shall be first and the first last.”
When I was in my late teens I began using food as a way to quell anxiety and emotions I felt incapable of dealing with. My overeating turned to full blown bulimia and the bulimia became a way of life – for 22 years. I remember when I finally stopped, the idea of “surrender” seemed antithetical to all I had, up to that point, believed. I thought that if I just had more will power I would be able to stop the destructive behavior. I believed that the bulimia was something I could control. I believed that my lack of control simply proved how despicable I was, which only served to fuel more of the same behavior. It wasn’t until I took a leap of faith – really took in that I was, in fact, out of control, that I received a respite from the behavior. Early in my “recovery” from bulimia someone said to me, “don’t you think that if you could have controlled the bulimia, you would have by now? Isn’t it true that in fact you have tried to control it all these years and this is where that control has gotten you?” With a great deal of support from others who had eating disorders and had come out the other side, was I finally able to find a way out from under it. In surrendering to the fact that I was unable to control it, was I finally able to find freedom from it.
I’m all over the map with this post, but perhaps some of these thoughts will prove helpful to someone else or if not at least encourage thought and conversation.
For more on Emma and our journey through her childhood of autism, go to: www.EmmasHopeBook.com
Posted in Autism, hope, special needs
Tagged addiction, art, Autism, autism children, autism spectrum, autistic, bulimia, children with autism, children with special needs, despair, eating disorders, Faith, God, hope, ipad, James Cone, James H. Cone, kids with autism, prejudice, racism, Raghava, special needs, special needs children, The Cross and The Lynching Tree