Autism Interview #140: Kayla Smith on the Intersectionality of Race and Autism

Kayla Smith is an Autistic advocate from North Carolina. This week she shared some of her perspectives on the autism advocacy movement as a Black Autistic woman.

Can you tell me a little bit about yourself? Where are you from? What do you do for a living? What are you passionate about?

My name is Kayla Smith. I am born and raised in Winston-Salem, NC. I am a Black Autistic Disability Rights Advocate. I have been doing advocacy since November of 2017, so it is three years now. I am a creator of #AutisticBlackPride. It is about celebrating and embracing Autistic and black pride at the same time. I have a YouTube channel called Autistic Kayla: The Opinion of a Black Autistic Woman. I talk about my life and things like that. I am a college student at Forsyth Technical Community College. I want to get my Associate of Arts degree (College Transfer) and transfer to a four-year university to get my Bachelor’s degree in accounting to become Certified Public Accountant and work for non-profit organizations. I work as a lead sales associate at Dollar General. I have been promoted to the position in May. I am passionate about fighting for autism acceptance and bring more representation of Autistic poc.

How did you first become aware of your autism diagnosis? Was it explained as something positive, negative, or neutral?

I learned about my diagnosis when I was ten years old. My mom told me about my diagnosis and explain to me that I have autism when I was two years old. At the time, I was learning about my diagnosis and trying to understand it. It was a neutral experience, and I wasn’t shocked. As years went by, I researched my diagnosis and began understanding it. I did not mind telling people I am Autistic at that time. At the same time, I developed internalized ableism and did not like myself. Now that I am 22 years old, I am trying to unlearn my internalized ableism and be comfortable being Autistic.

What kinds of microaggressions have you experienced (or experience on a regular basis)?

The microaggressions I get as an autistic person are “you are high functioning,” “You are good at math,” “smile more,” and “I don’t know you have autism.” I am trying to figure out what other microaggressions there are. Most of the time it tends to focus on my disability. I get microaggressions as a tall girl. I am 6ft by the way. I have people telling me that I should play basketball or be a model (I did play basketball in high school). They make jokes like “Are you standing on something?” Yeah. I do get some microaggessions being black, as a woman, or as a black woman. I can’t remember other microaggessions that I get.

Comment on society’s understanding/acceptance of you as an Autistic Black person. In other words, in what ways are you embraced in your community or society at large and in what ways are you misunderstood or ignored?

I think the society’s understanding and acceptance of me as a black autistic person is not great. Society thinks I am either a threat, tragedy, or both. It is disappointing that I live in a world that don’t see me as a human being. For the Autistic community, it is good that the community is fighting for inclusion and acceptance for all Autistic people. I am happy to be part of it. It has one problem: the movement is mostly white. Most of the time my white autistic peers are leading the movement even though autism affects everyone from gender to religion. Whenever a black autistic or autistic poc calls their white autistic out for saying something racist, the white autistic may get offended. Or Autistic poc talk about race and autism in the same sentence, and some may say, why make a deal about it?

Also, there is not a good representation of Autistic poc. Autistic poc don’t get the recognition like their white peers do, and it is not fair. Few white autistic peers are willing to be an ally to Autistic poc, but I wished it was more. I find myself wanting the autistic community to be intersectional and include everyone, but sadly it is not working. For now on, I am going to focus on bringing more awareness and recognition of Autistic poc, especially black autistics. It is the same case with the black community, but it is the parents who are leading the movement.

I wished my community learned how to be accessible and accommodating to black autistic people. There is no awareness about autism in the community, so yeah. I feel like I don’t belong nowhere in Autistic space or black space. I am an outsider, and it is sad. Where do I belong, for real?

Describe someone who is a good ally to the Autistic and Black community or you personally as a Black, Autistic person (you don’t have to necessarily name them, but describe their behaviors, attitudes, perceptions, etc.).

Someone I know is an ally to me as an autistic person and I follow her on social media. She is a afro-latina parent of an autistic son. The thing I love about her is that she uses her art to advocate the world about neurodiversity and bring awareness about black autistic experiences. She is an art professor. She listens to the Autistic community on social media. She follows autistic people on social media and learns how to be a better ally. Her work is promoting neurodiversity. She has her own art shop. She created flyers for people who protest in the black lives matter movement. She has signs that said “black autistic lives matter” and “black disabled lives matter.” I admire her, and I am happy that she is an ally to the Autistic community, especially the Black Autistic community.

Someone else I followed on Twitter is from the UK and autistic. What I like about them is that they educate other white neurotypical/autistic people to not expect a black autistic or autistic poc to educate them about racism in the Autistic community. They are willing to call out their white peers about their racism and bias. It is a good thing that someone in the Autistic community is using their privilege to educate about racism and be anti-racist.

Do you have any good book or blog recommendations, people to follow on social media, or any other resources for individuals interested in supporting positive change for the Black Autistic community? 

The book called “All the weight of our dreams on living racialized autism,” people to follow on Twitter are Timotheus Gordon and his blog The black Autist, Finn Gardner (@phineasfrogg), Morenike Giwa Onaiwa (@MorenikeGO), Riah Person (@lilrirah), @autisminblack (neurotypical parent), Jennifer White Johnson (@jtknoxroxs), Tyla Grant (@tylgrnt) and her YouTube channel Autistic Tyla, and many more.

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