Our Diverse fathers group talks about racism and White privilege

On Martin Luther King’s birthday, just after the White-supremacist insurrection at the capitol and in the midst of the public health catastrophe having claimed over 400,000, we met to check in with each other.  As always, we did our best to stay balanced, grounded, and safe. Our diversity across race, faith tradition, our children’s ages, neurodiversity, and age was increasingly present on this day. We began by sharing some of our favorite quotations from MLK:   

  • “The time is always right to do the right thing.” 
  • “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.”
  •  “Darkness cannot drive out darkness: only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that.” 
Our diverse group on a Zoom screenshot, January 16, 2021

It was 58 years after the “I Have a Dream” speech, which made it sadly ironic to see troops in Washington DC loosely policing White insurrectionists. White fathers in our group shared how they’ve personally evolved, believing things were different- and more just – now, only to reconcile our socio-political climate was the same or even worse than it’s ever been. Another father who works in a crisis center shared the disparities in access to care between the “haves” and the “have nots.” We also shared hope in seeing veterans cleaning up in Washington DC and the outpouring of support for the Black Lives Matter protests over the summer.  It was indeed a sad day that many of us hoped would never come. 

As facilitators, we shared the fears of some of our clients of color who wanted a better world but terrified of a civil war. Another expressed “I think they want to get rid of us with dark skin.” Some of us in the room later voiced the same fears. People with disabilities, queer people, and people of color were all sent to the gas chambers in Nazi Germany. This aspect of White supremacy is particularly dangerous for the autism community. 

One of our Black fathers expressed the difference experienced by Black people when pulled over by the police. He told us in a matter of fact way, “White people generally think that the police work for them. But I don’t know any Black people who feel like the police work for them.” It was a sobering moment for all of us. A father of color who is also on the spectrum recalled how in his diverse neighborhood with White, Black, and Asian people, the Black and Asian residents were always being pulled over. They’d be asked things like, “Do you live around here?” and “Where are you going?”  He found this especially hard to reconcile as a person on the spectrum. He expressed pride that one of his sons who is on the autism spectrum wants to protest, but he is worried about him doing that. 

Another one of our Black fathers pointed out that “conversations like this help people to see the differences in experiences by race.” He shared his own sense of being privileged to have his son diagnosed at the age of 2 1/2 at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia because his wife met someone who told him how to speed up the one year wait for an appointment with a developmental pediatrician. One of our White fathers shared that he is on an anti-racism taskforce in a major Philadelphia medical system. He expressed being embarrassed to think about White privilege, but he was clear that his life would have been drastically different if he were Black, and he reminded us of the genocide of Indigenous people who were here before any of us. This acknowledgement of White privilege is a key for being anti-racist and an effective ally to people of color.

Another father shared that Black and White people have helped him achieve in life. He wants to pay it back, he but realizes the need to say vigilant for those who do not have good intentions. He hopes that the new administration will put resources into disinvested communities and disrupt the pipeline to prison that exists for so many young Black men and women.

Faith drives another father to believe that change is coming. “Being surrounded by White people at the protests saying that Black Lives Matter was very powerful to me.” There were mixed feelings to be sure. Another father said, “I’ll believe it when I see it. I see economic disparities at the door of the crisis center every day. Speeches don’t matter. Just do better.”

Another father from Florida was inspired by the group. He expressed that perhaps we are living in a better time as evidenced by having these kinds of conversations, and he compared it to the sunlight coming in his window. A new Black father new to the group expressed that he was heartened by the conversation and commended the men in this space for being open to just listen and learn. He explained clearly, “Privilege is not racism. The structural framework of racism is what allows the privilege. It doesn’t make anyone racist, but lack of defensiveness about it gets us to a better place.”

The value of community in this shared space can be channeled into advocating for justice in the broader autism community as well as the communities where we live. During this massive public health crisis, the pain of 400 years of systemic racism has been laid bare. The recent White-supremacist insurrection is an attempt to stifle the progress that awaits us as our moral compass and convictions, as MLK expressed, bend towards justice. The diversity of our group has been a catalyst towards this essentially human goal.

Wishing you safety and peace!

Robert Naseef & Michael Hannon

P.S. If you’re a father and haven’t been in touch with us before and want to join in on Saturday, February 20, email autisminstitute@drexel.edu.

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