My name is Carrie.
I have five kids, and my second son is diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder. His name is Jack.
His actual birth-certificate-name is John. But we call him Jack because we like to stand around in airports while the official in customs flags us down because Jack/John insists he is not John he is Jack and there’s a lot of eyebrow-raising and throat-clearing and passport-checking. We’re fun that way.
Autism affects everyone very, very differently. That it is why we refer to it as a spectrum. In fact, we have a saying in our community: when you see one person with autism, you have seen one person with autism.
Everywhere I turn these days I see what I think of as t-shirt slogans—somewhat hollow phrases better suited to a bumper sticker, or a piece of clothing.
Spread kindness like confetti.
Live your truth.
What if I don’t have a truth? What if my brain is like one big Venn diagram, with overlapping circles and ideas, and I cannot decide where to land?
I am what you would call privileged. I am a middle-aged white woman . I live in a wealthy community. I drive a minivan. Since the day I was born, the color of my skin earmarked me for a certain future of prosperity and ease.
But then I think back to when I was a kid, and the divorces and the late child support checks and the rage of two parents on the brink. I think about the way I could hear the rats fall through the walls in my first apartment.
Yet I know I can waltz out my front door and go for a run and not worry someone will shoot me. If I see an officer’s car behind me in traffic, I simply ease off the gas pedal and check my rearview mirror.
In other words, the shade of my flesh does not play a large role in my safety.
I believe in equality but looting makes me anxious and I know people need a voice and it’s gone too far and police brutality is awful, and real.
What do you wish I knew about you?
Because any day now, the flames will cool, and we will be left with nothing but soot and scars.
My brother is a police officer. His name is also John. He is gentle and kind and good. He is also at risk.
He is at risk because the much of our country hates the police right now and maybe there is a reason for it but this is my brother. He baked my birthday cakes and we rode our bikes down the driveway together and he was the smooth, cool rock that stemmed the rivers of chaos within our home.
I support police and I support racial equality and protests are good but I am not sure stealing and burning really makes the same point and this is all because of one man—a man who kneeled and stayed and defied and ignored.
This is my truth.
It doesn’t fit on a t-shirt.
When it comes to stereotypes, I know what little I know because of my son, and his autism.
The day he was diagnosed, I looked at my chubby toddler and I knew in my bones people were going to misunderstand him.
So I talked. I talked and I shared and I told the librarian how he loves avocados but won’t eat yogurt.
Then I stepped back, and made room for questions. Given enough space and time, people will ask almost anything.
I have been asked about medication, and puberty, and sibling rivalry.
Some ask if it’s hard to raise a boy like Jack, and if we’ve considered aromatherapy, and if he will ever live on his own.
I don’t care what they ask. I am simply grateful for the conversation.
The truth is, I don’t even know the right words to say.
Black? African American? A person of color?
Maybe you think I am ignorant—stupid, even. That doesn’t bother me. I have been called much worse.
I grew up in a town full of white people and I went to college with almost all white students and now I live in a mostly white community.
I don’t think this was on purpose. It is simply where life took me.
I was born in a small town in New York and I went to a state college because it was cheap and we chose a little town in New Hampshire because it had a good program for special-needs kids.
Maybe the point is that I had choices, where others do not.
I just want to know. I want to know what to do.
It is highly unlikely that any of my children will struggle to breathe beneath an officer’s unfounded rage.
And yet I did have to register Jack with the police department in case he ever ran away or became belligerent or aggressive.
He, too, is earmarked—not by the color of his skin, but by the wiring in his brain.
When it comes to autism, there is no handbook. There are no written instructions. And I don’t believe there is one for how to universally dismantle racial stereotypes.
The thing is, I like action items. I like explicit expectations. I like to know what I can do—big, or very, very small.
Help me. Help me understand.
What do you want me to teach my children?
I mean, I teach them now about how people come in all shapes, sizes, and colors.
I teach them that kids like their brother Jack are different, and equal.
I teach them to listen between the lines.
We’ve learned that from Jack, you see, because autism is a listener’s language. It requires you to sift through the words and look past the diagnosis, to the fire burning within his spirit.
He has a fire. He does. He has a fire unlike anything I have ever seen.
It’s true, when you see one person with autism, you’ve seen one person with autism.
And when you meet one black person, you’ve met one black person.
I believe the same goes for police officers.
It goes for all of us—we each have our own story of privilege and rage and shame and hope.
All we can do it hold it up in our upturned palms, and offer it to one another.
Ask. Share. Tell.
Maybe that’s what I’ll put on my t-shirt.