“We must do the work that justice and equality calls us to do.”– John Lewis.
We write this article to (1) summarize intersectionality, (2) consider implications of intersectionality for Black, Indigenous, people of color (BIPOC) autistic communities, and (3) provide a call to action for disability researchers and organizations to foster and maintain an intersectional lens. The authors, who identify as disabled persons and family members of autistic people, seek to show how intersectionality affects the work of researchers and disability organization leaders.
Intersectionality of Race and Disability
Intersectionality, coined by Kimberlé Crenshaw, describes the complex and multidimensional social phenomenon of double oppression that Black women experience in the United States.1 The term has expanded to include interlocking aspects of identity as it relates to race and disability. To have a Black, Brown, and disabled body in the United States is to be connected to a history saturated in oppressive and discriminatory treatment. The sociohistorical relationship between race and disability perpetuates inequalities that impact Black and Brown disabled people and thus lead to overrepresentation in disability categories associated with more restrictive environments.2 Disparities in the diagnosis and treatment of autism in children in the BIPOC communities has resulted in later identification and higher misdiagnosis rates. Black and Brown children are less likely to be identified for autism spectrum disorder by either a qualified health or educational professional.3,4
In 2021, we see the conversation about race and its intersections with disability as overdue, dynamic, and urgent because of a failure to address systemic barriers to progress. We recognize the Civil Rights movement and the Women’s Liberation movement as the inspiration for the Disability Rights movement. These distinct forces served as the foundation for the coalitions that supported the disability community’s 1977 San Francisco Federal Building sit-ins, which led to the enactment of Section 504 regulations.5 With current movements such as “Black Lives Matter” and “Say Her Name” demanding an end of police violence against Black and Brown bodies, we see the cyclical connection to progress as we see these movements growing to include the lives of autistic BIPOC.
Call for Action
This is the time for continual improvement through the amelioration of research priorities, system design considerations, and for individual and group education inside and outside our laboratories and organizations. The work is not that of the affected communities alone. Racism and ableism harm all communities. However, the voices, needs, and wants of autistic BIPOC communities must be prioritized as we seek to move forward to create projects and programs that address complex issues associated with race and disability. We must use an intersectional paradigm to acknowledge the sociohistorical roots of race and disability and acknowledge our own contributions in perpetuating systems that have maintained unequal scales by taking the social justice steps need to undo harm in our work. This includes, but is not limited to, disability researchers and organizations elevating the voice of autistic BIPOC, which includes prioritizing funding for self-advocate researchers and leadership staff. This also includes the intentional incorporation and citation of autistic scholars and disabled scholars of color in all program design and research projects. The change will be incremental but will address health inequities and better support individuals and families from our autistic BIPOC communities.
Dr Morgan served as the lead author and drafted and provided critical revisions of the article; Ms Rodgers wrote sections of the article and provided policy content knowledge for the development of the publication; Mr Tschida wrote sections of the article and helped with editing drafts of the document; and all authors approved the final manuscript as submitted and agree to be accountable for all aspects of the work.
FUNDING: This project is supported by the University of California, Los Angeles office of Student Organizations, Leadership & Engagement and by the Health Resources and Services Administration of the US Department of Health and Human Services under the Autism Intervention Research Network on Physical Health, grant UT2MC39440. The information, content, and/or conclusions are those of the authors and should not be construed as the official position or policy of, nor should any endorsements be inferred by the University of California, Los Angeles office of Student Organizations, Health Resources and Services Administration, US Department of Health and Human Services, University of California, Davis, Association of University Centers in Disabilities, or the US Government. No funding body or source of support had a role in the preparation or decision to publish this article.
Black, Indigenous, people of color
CONFLICT OF INTEREST DISCLOSURES: The authors have indicated they have no potential conflicts of interest relevant to this article to disclose.