It’s OK to be an ally. But it’s hard to do.
Because it’s hard to define.
In America and across the world, we’ve seen a surge in allyship for and with Black Americans in the face of racially-tinged injustices, both recently inflamed and those long-ongoing and overdue for change.
Many of us have stood up and out and declared ourselves allies.
But how do I go from “being” an ally to “taking action?”
If it’s not obvious, I haven’t lived the Black experience — just the autistic one. And this isn’t me saying “hey, autistic people need your allyship too – over here!”
But being an ally and doing what allies do — it is not a zero sum game. It benefits all people, groups, and people groups who can benefit from your influence, reputation, and advocacy – both neurotypical and neurodiverse.
Where can you start?
Learn. Don’t lean solely on us to teach! Do the work. Read. Find resources. Don’t just hear – listen. And, while you mean well, don’t use proximity as a replacement. Just because you have “that one autistic acquaintance” or have autistic children doesn’t quite replace the need to gain perspective on other person or group’s experience, perspective, and even history.
Speak up. Notice I didn’t say “speak,” because we don’t need people to speak for us, but rather in support of us. We don’t always have “the conch” of speaking, of opinion, or influence. But if you do, use that privilege. I’m one of the more vocal autistic people you’ll meet — unless I feel like I’m too different from the group. And that’s not just an autistic thing. Invite our opinion. Revisit our ideas. Make it easy for us to volunteer thought, especially when it goes against the collective grain.
Engage. From an autistic standpoint, our needs for inclusivity differ. For example, I might balk at someone’s well-intentioned-but-ill-advised attempt to shoehorn me into a presentation or project because “I’ll bring something different.” Allyship isn’t about knowing what’s best for someone, it’s engaging people thoughtfully, knowing that our needs are on our terms, not necessarily yours. Sometimes we’re good! Sometimes we are not. It’s OK to read the room, to ask, to let us share how you can help — or sometimes understanding where you can’t.
This isn’t just for autistic people. This is for your black co-workers. Your Hispanic acquaintances. Your gay neighbors. Those with disabilities. People.
Go beyond just being an ally. Go do.