Khali Raymond is a writer and musician from Newark, New Jersey. He could read at the age of two and his work ethic and love for words has led to a prolific writing career (with 163 books to date). Khali’s love for his city and community is extremely strong and is a primary influence for his work. This week Khali discussed his writing life, the stereotypes he encounters, and the direction of autism advocacy.
When/how did you first become aware of your Autistic identity?
Well, I was diagnosed with Asperger’s as early as the age of six. It showed in my behavior at school as I was extremely shy and antisocial. I did not catch onto social cues like everyone else did and my identity associated with Asperger’s really started to show in my late childhood going into adolescence. I had problems with social anxiety and putting myself out there in front of people. Because I was bullied in school nonstop, this only added to the damage and made me feel lesser about myself. I spent a grave chunk of my life being told that I was flawed and this condition defined my worth. It took a lot of introspection for me to finally realize I was a dope human being. No one had the right to tell me who I was or who I wasn’t.
Tell me about how you were first drawn to writing and what your writing schedule/life is like now.
Storytelling has been such an integral part of my life growing up. I learned how to read from a very young age. I had no outside help with it either, I figured it all out on my own. From there, I continued to draw myself to expressing myself through narratives. I would always be the student to share his writings with the class. Got to a point where the teacher deliberately made me go last because I hogged all the glory–I’m not saying this in an egotistical manner, but yeah. Due to bullying and the circumstances I was forced to cope with, it beat me down terribly. It was through my suffering that I discovered I had a passion for writing. So I used the stones I had tossed at me to build an empire with. I soon became unstoppable. Now, writing books has enabled me to branch out. I started performing spoken word, creating music, making films, and creating content for social media just by expressing my true and authentic self. I have developed a newfound sense of confidence. I became more spiritual in the process as well.
In your opinion, where can autism advocacy efforts improve? In other words, what do you see as the most effective, efficient, or important advocacy strategies to promote acceptance and improved quality of living for Autistic individuals?
Honestly, autism advocacy needs to stop pitying and making those on the spectrum feel like they’re unworthy or under some sort of curse. The most effective way to promote autism advocacy is to celebrate people as people and not objects. We need to treat them like genuine human beings because at the end of the day, that is exactly what we are, regardless of what we go through or have to cope with. I felt like that a lot when I was younger. People would either pity me or make fun of my condition. That never made me less of a person because I was different from everyone else. It starts with us having conversations such as these and reevaluating the way we treat everyone, regardless of race, creed, or disability.
What are some of the most common (and/or enraging) stereotypes you encounter related to race or disability? Where/when do you feel free of these stereotypes?
I am no stranger to stereotypes. A common one I used to hear was: “you sound all smart like you’re white.” I don’t get it. How is acting civilized and polite tied to a certain group of people? To me, it never made any sense. When people found out I had Asperger’s, they constantly called me retarded and wrote me off as a loon. They thought I was mentally incapable of doing anything. A lot of people also say I always look mad or am rude and standoffish because I keep to myself a lot. I remember there was one woman on an autism forum who said I use Asperger’s as a way to blame it on the personal issues of my life. Though I was respectful of her opinion, she did not know me from a can of paint and could not understand how this diagnosis shaped my life for better or for worse. She kept trying to throw science into it. Though I did agree with her when she said we should challenge how we diagnose Asperger’s, it sounded like she was trying to discredit my experiences. I did not like this. Really, I try not to feed into what those people say since I know who I am at the core, and their opinions are just opinions. What they say does not define me. I continue to use that as fuel to push myself and silence all the naysayers since they’re not saying much.
What are you most passionate about?
My passion for growth and creation is unparalleled. Yes, I am passionate about expressing my stories and putting them out there, but I seek to continue propelling myself spiritually and emotionally. I want to show others that no matter where you come from, you could always defy the odds to make yourself a success.
What projects are you currently working on?
Far as books are concerned, I do plan on releasing more work, but I have put newer projects on hold since I have to revise a lot of my old work. Being that I’ve published 163 books, it has been a lengthy process in going back to re-read and in some cases rewrite a lot of my books. I have done over a hundred titles. I have about 43 projects that I am either in the process of revising or will revise. This will most likely continue all the way into 2021. Once that is finished, I will drop new work for sure. I have branched out into other facets of content creation. I am doing vlogging, I make music now, and I create films while doing regular performances.