The Scapegoating of Neurodivergence

Alyssa over at Queerly Texan has nominated me for a Leibster award, and have been meaning to do that post for a few weeks now. In fact, I’ve been hoping to do some stuff in order to connect more generally with the people reading my blog  (as well as some of the blogs that I sneakily stalk in my downtime). I talk about support and community amongst autistic people and queer people, and I think I should be working harder to practice what I preach.

But, the problem is, stuff keeps happening to piss me off.

Like the scapegoating of mentally ill or neuroatypical people in the wake of any atrocity committed by a white person.

On the one hand, I completely understand the urge to slap a label on something instead of facing realities that you don’t want to face: like the flaws of an unregulated gun culture, the violent toxicity of modern masculinity, the prevalence of white supremacy, and the overwhelming and violent superiority complex of white male culture.

On the other, there is absolutely no excuse to stereotype and endanger the lives of millions of vulnerable people in order to avoid an inconvenient conversation.

I have close to zero faith that any of the politicians who have crawled out of the woodwork over the past few days (in the wake of the horrific school massacre in Florida) actually care about us (mentally ill  and neurodivergent people). If they did, that care would extend to beyond the point of convenience – continuing, for example, when we need greater funding and support passed through the political channels.

Now, a lot of people would argue that, as someone who lives in the UK, I should stop commenting on things that I don’t understand. But every time something like this happens, I am acutely aware of the similarities between events more local to myself – primarily, the hypocrisy of when people decide to give a damn about the vulnerable people existing outside of the neurotypical norm.

The starkest of these examples is the discrepancy between the murders of Lee Rigby and Jo Cox. On the surface, the two killings are horrifyingly similar. Lee was a Fusilier who was stabbed to death in broad daylight by two men shouting ideological soundbites. Jo was a Member of Parliament who was stabbed and shot to death in broad daylight by a man shouting ideological soundbites.

But they weren’t treated the same way.

Because Lee’s killers were black and Muslim. And Jo’s killer was white.

Following Lee’s murder, the media went rabid with calls for revenge against this terrorist act, people clamouring outside the courthouse during the sentencing hearing demanding a return of the death penalty for these men specifically. No one cared to report or examine the astoundingly extensive history of severe mental illness in either of the two men. In fact, when it was reported a few years later that one of the killers was being held in Broadmoor (a psychiatric unit) rather than a prison, memes filled my social media feed in support of executing him to save tax payer money.

Following Jo’s murder, the opposite occurred. Most media outlets shyed away from referring to the case as ‘terrorism’ (despite the fact that he had committed the murder whilst shouting ‘Britain First’, the name of an extreme far right white supremacist organisation in the UK). They honed in on his mental health history (which was actually less extensive than the psychiatric history of Lee Rigby’s killers). A commentator even feigned confusion when someone referred to it as an act of terrorism, stating in faux-obliviousness that they thought this was a ‘mental health’ issue .

Many commentators pushing the mental health narrative were the same commentators who had stood by as funding for mental health services were cut, and who had supported our current government as financial support for disabled people was gradually whittled away.

All of which points us to the same uncomfortable conclusion: that mainstream political concern about mental illness, neurodivergence and the relevant support systems exists only as a cover for an unwillingness to properly call out white male violence.

And, in doing so, they feed the myth that neurodivergent or mentally ill people are a danger to society – when the truth is that society is a much bigger danger to us.

When he-who-shall-not-be-named in the White House leads calls for greater ‘vigilance’ and reporting of ‘disturbed’ people who might commit these acts, he essentially declares open season on all of us who diverge from neurotypicality. And the people who will end up being targeted will not be the people most likely to do these crimes – no, the people targeted will be neurodivergent people, particularly neurodivergent people of colour, who act ‘odd’ or ‘different’.

And the US, in particular, has a nasty habit of shooting and killing vulnerable people who were no threat to anyone (except maybe themselves), but who were deemed dangerous for looking or acting differently. In the UK, where we have less of a gun-centric culture in our police forces (at the moment, anyways – we seem to be slipping somewhere else), many people in our communities still have awful stories of interactions with the authorities.

There is a really marvelous piece written on this topic by kpagination – it has sources, careful analysis, and everything my relentless emotional waffle doesn’t have. I would urge you to have a look at it. In this instance, I have found myself incapable of providing that level of backup – thank everything that there are people in our community who do have the wherewithal to do it.

The scapegoating of neurodivergence is not just an offensive way to avoid difficult questions. It’s a horrible, violent act that places a target on the backs of the most vulnerable people in society. It’s a danger, it’s a mockery, and it has to stop.

We are not reflective surfaces conveniently placed to deflect the topics you don’t want to address.

We are far more likely to have violence committed against us than to commit violence.

And the rest of the world is in far less danger from us than we are from the rest of the world.

Author: QueerlyAutistic
Erin Ekins is a queer autistic writer, speaker and attempter of activism. She has an interest in all areas of autistic social justice, but has a particular passion for improving understanding and acceptance of the intersection of autism and queerness. She runs the blog and is the author of the upcoming book 'Queerly Autistic: The Ultimate Guide for LGBTQIA+ Teens on the Spectrum'. By day, she works in campaigning and influencing at a disability related charity, but, by night, she is inhabits a busy space between angry internet person and overly-excited fangirl.

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