The level of prejudice and ignorance that is alive and well today is heart-breaking to me, and I was reminded of its prevalence during a recent group activity. When we began, we were not told the purpose of the exercise. The forty of us were divided into two groups. Group A was directed to go outside for their instructions. I remained inside with group B.
We were told:
You are the “Peaceful River Dwellers.” Your ancestors have lived in this community for thousands of years. You have no poverty, no homelessness. Your children are well-educated. You have a high standard of living. You are a peaceful people living in a Utopian society.
We were told this about the other group:
A group is coming that wants to infiltrate your community. They do not think they way you do. They do not act like you do. They will bring strife. They will bring viruses and disease you have not been exposed to. Do not make eye contact with them. Do not encourage them. Your group will be successful if you keep them out of your circle, out of your community.
We were then given time to discuss what our plan of action would be. One woman moved to the front and immediately asserted herself as Leader without asking if she could lead. She said we should keep them out at all costs because she is a mother and didn’t want them to bring illness to HER family! She asked what the group thought. People said:
We should build a wall to keep them out!
We should do whatever it takes to keep them from getting in!
We could build a moat!
We could throw rocks at them!
I stepped in and said, “Couldn’t we send an ambassador to talk to them to see why they have chosen OUR community? Maybe they need water.”
Leader spoke up and disagreed. “THOSE PEOPLE need to stay on their own side of the river!” Another group member suggested allowing them to live on the other side of the river and sending them care packages from across the river.
A quiet woman spoke up and stated she was a Christian and because of her religion, she wouldn’t be able to turn them away. Another member asked her “What would you do if someone tried to break into your home?” She replied “Shoot ’em with my gun!” and her voice was silenced.
I voiced my opinion more strongly. “This FEELS wrong. This feels very 1950’s racist to me. You folks stay on your own side of the river. Don’t come to our side. Don’t drink from our water fountains. This feels WRONG. We need to talk to them to understand why they chose us.”
Leader reminded us the paper said we would be successful if we kept them out. I persisted “But whose idea of success is that? Is that OURS?” Leader decided my idea was foolish because we need to protect our own. She took a vote to see who wanted to keep them out. Everyone but me raised their hand. We were to stand in a circle, arms linked, staring at our feet when the group tried to infiltrate us. My heart sank at the level of ignorance in the group. I could not believe these 20 adults were willing to just go along with one person without fully assessing the situation. They were willing to do these actions without question because of a piece of paper.
Group B entered the room. They approached our circle speaking kind words. They stroked our hair and told us we were “so beautiful.” They asked if they could come in. They said they had a lot to offer our community. They said they wanted to work with us. They complimented us repeatedly and smiled the entire time. Still, our group kept their heads down. When I tried talking to one of the people from Group B, my Leader told another member to “handle it” and I was reminded to keep my head down. At that moment, a younger member of Group B had crawled through a gap in the circle on the other side of the circle and the “game” was over.
We sat back down in our chairs and the facilitators read our group descriptions out loud.
Group B were called “The Explorers” They were told:
You are a group of explorers. You never stay in one place for very long. You travel from community to community learning new knowledge and sharing the knowledge you have accumulated. You are innovative and open to new ideas.
You are approaching a community that is very set in their ways. They have been following the same traditions for years. They will not welcome outsiders in their community, but if they do not receive the innovations you have to share, their group will die out in the next 100 years. Be pleasant and persistent. You will succeed if you are able to infiltrate their circle.”
We were surprised to hear how we had been described to the other group. Both descriptions were accurate, yet people allowed their personal prejudices to turn the words into more. We were asked to discuss the exercise and the group facilitator went over to me immediately. “I know Sherri had some very strong opinions about this exercise. Do you want to tell us about it?”
I did. I told them I felt my group was being very prejudiced. I felt we learned nothing from our history of racism. My “Leader” was quick to judge the other group simply because they were “different” than our group. The exercise affected me deeply.
Why am I discussing this on my blog about Asperger’s? Because it is relevant here. We are The Explorers in this exercise. We don’t think the way others do. Because of our obsessive thinking, we gather huge amounts of knowledge about specific subjects. We never fit in, so we are transient – moving from friend to friend, job to job. At each place we learn more about people and the way things work and we often want to share our knowledge with others only to be told “KEEP OUT! You’re DIFFERENT!” We watch as the neurotypical crowd huddles closely together to keep us from infiltrating. We try being kind. We try saying the things we think they want to hear only to be sent away. Usually we blame ourselves.
This exercise has reinforced a belief I have internalized for a long time. I grew up believing that it was my fault that I was on the outside because I was the one who was different. As I have grown, I’ve learned that I am not responsible for the lack of tolerance and acceptance in others.
If you have Autism/Asperger’s, It is not you.
It is not US.
It is not.
I ask that you please read this out loud to yourself:
I am NOT failing because others won’t let me in.
It is their failure.
It is their ignorance.
It is their wrongful prejudice.
I am not responsible for their cruelty.
Promise me this:
Promise me that from this day forward, you will never let another person’s intolerance and bigotry make you feel inferior. Ever.