Thursday, November 1, 2012

Autistics Speaking Day Post One: Tone Argument is Bullshit

As today is Autistics Speaking Day and I don’t blog enough as it is, today will be a double header blog post.  This first one will be less formal/proper than the second, which won’t be too overly formal as it is.  So, without further ado:

First Blog Post (Second Post will probably come tomorrow)

In which I Chronicle Exactly Why Tone Argument is Concentrated Bullshit
(Just Add Water)

So, as you all know (or at least should know), the most excellent Neurodivergent K of http://timetolisten.blogspot.com had a sort of run in with a local fantasy/science fiction convention, the details of which are recorded on K’s blog and tumblr (http://sherlocksflataffect.tumblr.com).  The resounding talking points that privileged folks and various super-reformist appeasers in our own ranks repeat is that people are reasonable, kind beings who will give us our rights and treat us with respect if we merely ask politely, appeal to their better senses of reason and decency, and give them due chance to be good people, we will get our rights.  The resounding argument of the “reasonable people” and “good Autistics” is that politeness and courtesy will always pay off and that there is really no reason to be in any way belligerent.

Of course, said people will be prompt to argue that I am painting too broad of a brush stroke, saying that of course there is a time for belligerence, but we merely haven’t reached it yet.  This is the problem that pervades “legitimate” and “reasonable” anti-oppression circles.  To the devout reformist, the traitor, and the pseudo-ally, oppressors are always just about to concede rights to the oppressed per their talks with the legitimate and reasonable representatives of the oppressed class.  I’m sure we all remember how the Wagner Act, the eight hour workday, child labor laws, minimum wage, and other such worker protections were won by Samuel Gompers, his successors,  and their AFL cronies sitting down with the bosses and the Democratic Party and negotiating for workers’ rights.  Sit-down strikes such as the Flint Sitdown Strike of 1937, any of the other hundreds of sitdown strikes that occurred that same year, or other such radical actions taking course over the early 20th Century labor movement clearly had nothing to do with it.  The simple fact is that the devout reformists and their cronies will never believe that there is a point in which radical or confrontational action is warranted; they may concede that such a point exists in theory, but I know of no historical example of a reformist being radical or confrontational without openly denouncing reformism in the process.

Reformists are always quick to point to Martin Luther King Jr.’s philosophy of nonviolence as an example of the great victories won by devout reformism, attempting to differentiate him from the “radical” voice of Malcolm X.  Aside from being thoroughly appropriative of the struggle against racism in the US (as most of the people articulating this philosophy are white), this viewpoint reflects a profound misunderstanding of the history of the struggle against racism in the US and King’s role therein.

The first myth about King was that his opposition to racism was not “radical”.  White liberals want to divide the radicals from the reformists by pretending that King was promoting a “harmony at any cost” line, contrasted with Malcolm X’s allegedly “anti-white” ideology.  These characterizations are purely political and divisive in nature.  Although they had ideological differences to be sure, by no stretch of the imagination did King hold this na├»ve notion that negotiating with oppressors would win liberation for the oppressed.  King writes in his letter from a Birmingham Jail, "We know through painful experience that freedom is never voluntarily given by the oppressor; it must be demanded by the oppressed."  (http://teachingamericanhistory.org/library/index.asp?document=100)

There are several historical points around King and the Civil Rights Movement that have been completely sterilized from history books to make King safe for Imperialists to teach to in their schools.  Herein I will right these historical inaccuracies widely believe by white “liberals” who seem hellbent on appropriating King:

1. King’s philosophy of nonviolence served a purpose other than moral/ethical purity.  Some historians have argued that King loudly preached nonviolence in an attempt to protect the Civil Rights movement from violence that was sparked by the media playing the “dangerous Black man” stereotype.

2. While King’s branch of the anti-racist struggle practiced nonviolence, they did still resisted racism confrontationally.  They did not sit in libraries and write letters to the editors, unlike what white liberals would love to think.  They were out on the streets and in the segregated rooms refusing police orders to move.  They might have been nonviolent, but nonviolence does not, nor will it ever, imply non-resistance.

The Martin Luther King Jr. that white liberals worship is a mythological figure that bore little resemblance to the Martin Luther King Jr. that actually led a major portion of the anti-racist struggle.  Given the mythologies that white liberals perpetuate about a nonconfrontational civil rights movement, is it surprising the Glenn Beck, ardent racist, capitalist, and anti-Semite, tried to “reclaim” the name of King to the political far right?  We have only privileged liberal activists to thank for this development.  The fact was that King was most certainly a radical in the struggle against racism in the US.  

Now that my direct polemics against the reformists have been aired, I will proceed to tell everyone the story about exactly how the tone argument fails.  So, as anyone who read about the Orycon incident knows, K was perfectly courteous to the Orycon organizers when extending the initial question and only became more confrontational as they showed their resolve to condescend in the extreme in explaining that they had parents, who were close enough, an issue which I will thoroughly address in my second post of today.  Now, someone could make the absurdly ableist argument that K, being Autistic, was unaware of how impolite she was being, but the pursuant story is direct contradiction to this claim.

So the first piece of relevant information to this story is, strangely enough, my occupation.  For those of you who don’t know, I work in non-profit development.  My position incorporates aspects of business management, public relations, and fundraising know-how.  The relevance of all of this is that my job requires a high level of social skills in order for me to be successful.  I am required to manage a staff of students, interact with prospective donors, interact with our client on a daily basis, interact with a remotely stationed data team via email and phone calls, and interact with my remotely stationed direct superior via email and phone calls.  Additionally, four times every year, we hold a meeting with the upper management within my client institution during which I must appear professional and after which I usually attend a business social lunch with the upper management of my client institution.  The purpose here, other than making myself look awesome and making every Autistic who reads this post cringe at the mere thought of what this is like (and yes, it pretty much just as bad as you’d imagine), is to communicate that I am required to communicate with professional level courtesy, something with which most allistics struggle.

The second set of relevant background to this story is that K is a good friend of mine and a fellow swing dancer and that people profoundly suck at make dances accessible to epileptics due to society’s collective inability to remember that they had fun without snapping eight hundred billion flashed pictures chronicling the fun event, an ongoing issue chronicled here (with related posts linked in that post).  K was coming to visit me to attend a swing dance event in New York called “Big Apple Balboa, Blue, and Lindy Exchange” or “BABBLE”.  We clearly had reason to believe that accessibility was going to be an issue, especially given K’s issues with it in the past.

Deciding to be proactive about the situation, I reached out to the dance organizer via email, utilizing the full extent of my professional level courtesy and communication skills.  Not only did I communicate the situation tactfully, but I managed to insert all of the irrelevant fluff that is so necessary in allistic communications.  This communication style, which the two of us have dubbed “content free speech” or “CFS” for short due to its excessive use of words and ideas that do not add any information or content to what is being said, was so effective that K found my fluency in the communication style somewhat unnerving when I sent her drafts of the emails.  To say that I was polite would be a profound understatement; I went against all of the communication methods endemic to my neurology with the express purpose of being “winning”.  Eventually, after a long string of emails explaining what was needed and an extended delay in communications that prompted us to make other plans for that weekend, we got an email letting us know that BABBLE was planning on making sure that the Saturday night dance was accessible.  My reaction was that this was all a day late and a dollar short; K (who is constantly accused of being unreasonable) was the one who felt that we ought to go because of the positive reaction from BABBLE’s organizers.  We made plans to get there after eating some East Village sushi (because we are both sushi junkies and the East Village rocks for that) on Saturday.  “A victory for courtesy, reasonableness, and respect!” exclaim the devout reformists.

As we arrived at the dance venue on the greatly Autistic and epileptic unfriendly 34th St. in Manhattan amidst the plethora of tow trucks with strobing lights, sirens, and the 34th St. buses which have strobing lights on the front of them, we walked into the venue, which was playing recorded music (rather than the expected live music) with a strong subwoofer, something which I had explicitly communicated was an accessibility violation.  K and I grabbed a taxi to Union Square as quickly as possible and spared ourselves the cost of attending an inaccessible dance in Manhattan, but we had already spent major spoon reserves dodging the inaccessible midtown Manhattan and dealing with a singularly frustrating night.

Somehow, despite my professional level courtesy, BABBLE did not make their dance accessible.  In fact, they even directly lied and said that they planned to make their dance accessible when it clearly wasn’t.  One self-advocate likes to profusely make the analogy to Aikido (often while flagrantly ignoring the culturally appropriative nature of such analogies), drawing quotes from Japanese texts about the ethics of self-defense.  These analogies clearly fail to understand the reality of the situation; when one is entrenched in a war against an oppressive society, extreme courtesy, which is often mistaken for extreme passivity, is taken as a license to walk all over you.  If my cautionary tale does not serve as warning enough, please let the plethora of abuse victims testify to the falseness of the claim “if only you didn’t provoke your abuser”; this is an excuse again and again.  An abuser will abuse you, regardless of what you do.  When you make these victim blame statements, you are moving blame from the abuser to the victim.  You are failing to hold the abuser accountable for their actions.  You are enabling their abuse.  You are effecting abuse in the future.  It is no different with oppression.

The history of abuse and oppression might be the direct fault of abusers and oppressors, but it cannot continue with the long line of victim blaming that privileged bystanders and devout reformists have made endemic to their ideology.

The author is a white Autistic blogger.  Should any person of color feel that the statements made about King and the struggle against racism in the US were inaccurate, inappropriate, or otherwise problematic or should they have anything that they wish to be added, subtracted, multiplied, divided, translated, rotated, resized, or any other way transformed, please alert the author and such transformations will be enacted post haste.