This piece is the first of the ongoing series “Neurowrites” – where disabled writers comment on politics, society, and media.
When I was young and was unaware of my autism diagnosis,I did not have a reference point for autistic people because there was no representation of Autism in the media. I only knew about autism through a Baby-sitters Club book. The book, entitled Kristy and the Secret of Susan, was about one of the titular “baby-sitters” taking on a non-verbal autistic charge and I honestly don’t remember much about it, except that the main character Kristy decides to leave her autistic charge Susan alone after unsuccessfully trying to force her to integrate with other kids. I didn’t much care much for the book at the time despite being a big Baby-sitters Club fan, and I’m sure if I read it now I’d be appalled at how the characters were written and treated. Either way, I didn’t have a reference point as to what autism was because I didn’t really have that much exposure to it in media. I had characters that I liked and related to, but none that felt especially representative of me as an autistic girl.
warning: some mild Star Wars: The Force Awakens spoilers follow.
Even before its release, Star Wars: The Force Awakens was the subject of both critical praise (and racist hate) for its multicultural cast. But while the seventh chapter of Star Wars has been lauded for appearing more inclusive, the film ultimately suffers from some of the deeply conservative, even subtly racist tropes inherent to most big budget action movies—the same kinds of flimsy hero logic that provide the moral justification for racist “Stand your Ground” laws across many US states.
Do stormtroopers have humanity behind the mask, or can they be murdered without mercy?
To understand this connection, let’s start with a recent article about Star Wars written by Aaron Bady in The New Inquiry. Bady writes:
[Finn the Stormtrooper’s] psychology makes no sense at all if you think even a little bit […] there’s something extremely unsettling about how easily he shrugs off a lifetime of indoctrination into a fascist death-cult, how quickly and painlessly he becomes one of the guys, just basically a good dude. […] Where is the ideological indoctrination (and psychological scar tissue) that would have accompanied being crassly made into biopower and canon-fodder?
Bady doesn’t quite go so far as to touch on the allegory of Finn-as-slave, though it seems like the filmmakers are rubbing it in our face. Finn (John Boyega) is a “rebel” stormtrooper who describes having been stolen from his family as a child to serve in the despotic First Order—a series of events that, in our own galaxy, we’d be apt to call “slavery.” The Star Wars movies have touched on slavery before—recall Darth Vader (formerly Anakin Skywalker) was a child slave, although as a white character serving an alien master, his character lacked the symbolic thrust held by a black character like Finn. (“Do race and racism exist in the Star Wars universe as they do in ours?” is a wholly different question, and one that is never really examined with any satisfaction). Continue reading →
You’ve probably heard the urban planning acronym NIMBY, which stands for Not In My Backyard. Often used in a pejorative sense (as in nimbyism), the word recalls the political sentiments of neighborhood groups—nominally, wealthier ones with more clout—to cease any local development or change whatsoever, regardless of social benefit. The term could be applied, for instance, to Marin County’s perpetual efforts to stop BART from running through their county (much-needed 40 years ago when first proposed) —motivated by racist fears of diluting their lily-white demographic.
Then there’s SFBARF, a citizen activist group that promotes YIMBYism—the counterfactual to NIMBY, i.e. a philosophy of “Yes In My Backyard.” A punk-sounding acronym for “San Francisco Bay Area Renter’s Federation,” SFBARF advocates for building more luxury homes and condos as a way of reducing the housing crunch on middle- and lower-income households in the Bay Area. To that end, they travel around the Bay Area and attend city council meetings, lobbying on behalf of developers.
Does that sound confusing? Here’s the economic logic: lots of rich people want to move to the Bay Area, and they don’t necessarily want to live in poorer neighborhoods—but, they will if that’s all they can find. Better to keep building condos and luxury high-rises in wealthy areas, so as to keep the poor and middle-income neighborhoods for those who need them most.
Yet many Bay Area activists have called for SFBARF’s head, claiming that they’re a “faux-grassroots” group that only encourages developers, and poses as progressive. Is there any basis to that claim? Continue reading →
Autism may be one of the most misunderstood disorders in the world. As a developmental disorder affecting social and life skills development, it has been long been subject to misinformation as to why it occurs, how it affects people, and especially why diagnoses are on the rise. Even though diagnostic criteria for autism has changed twotimes in the last twenty years, panic has set in since the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported that 1 in 68 people are diagnosed with autism as of 2014 (opposed to 1 in 150 in 2000). Everything from vaccines to genetics has been scrutinized to try to explain why autism occurs and has prompted a push to find a way to “prevent” or “cure” the disorder. And this quest to “fix” or “cure” autism has pushed autistic people to face a world at best not accessible to them and at worst outright hostile.
Science reporter Steve Silberman argues that there might not be anything to panic over. Expanding on his 2001 Wired article “The Geek Syndrome”, his new book NeuroTribes: The Legacy of Autism and the Future of Neurodiversity explores the history of autism—from simultaneous “discoveries” in Austria and Maryland, to “refrigerator mothers,” to the modern autism advocacy movement. And through all of this, Silberman shows how autism has been plagued by narrow interpretations and how the modern era is changing them. The New York Times Bestselling book is being touted as changing how we see autism from a “disease” to a different way of life. PopFront interviewed Silberman to discuss his book in detail.
PopFront: Can you explain what neurotribes are?
Silberman: I invented that word based on an idea by Irwin Lazar, the founder of the Children’s Hospital in Vienna where Hans Asperger worked. Lazar tended to think of humanity as “clans” or “tribes,” based on inborn skills and aptitudes that each person had. So instead of seeing the children in his clinic as patients, Lazar saw them as future engineers or future farmers or future bakers. What he saw the job of the people working in the clinic as determining each “tribe” each child was in, and helping them express their maximum potential by developing methods of teaching them that would suit their particular learning style. Hans Asperger developed this idea and ended up discovering the autism spectrum because he was prepared to look for natural groups of people within the population of children at the clinic. Continue reading →
Santa Cruz County has taken quite a bruising in terms of housing costs. Despite being an ill-advised commute to Silicon Valley and having a much more working-class constituency, Santa Cruz County is the fifth most expensive in the US for renters. This is even more remarkable considering that the southern parts of the county are primarily farmland, that at least 20,000 residents are university and community college students, and that there are few high-paying industries besides higher education.
Hence, there’s a deep question as to why housing is so expensive in Santa Cruz. One theory touted is that despite the more working-class constituency, housing is subject to inelastic demand. Since shelter is a requirement to merely survive, demand for it is divorced from market price changes. Yet “inelastic demand” feels like a free-market euphemism. Landlords do not have to explicitly collude, but know that they will be paid when they raise rents. Working people have no choice but to pay them—or, as both students and farmworkers often do, live 2 or even 3 to a bedroom.
Housing, unlike tea, pineapples or manicures, is not an optional expense, nor a commodity. Yet it is treated as such by investors and financiers. It is not recognized as a right. The need for housing can mean life or death, shelter or homelessness, for many people. So it is unsurprising that renters have strong feelings. But, how can renters, the large majority of us, fight back against a system that tells us housing is not a right?
One piece of evidence that the housing kettle has boiled over? Craigslist. Continue reading →
In principle the annual Burning Man festival sounds a bit like a socialist utopia: bring thousands of people to an empty desert to create an alternative society. Ban money and advertisements and make it a gift economy. Encourage members to bring the necessary ingredients of this new world with them, according to their ability.
So why do rich libertarians love it unironically? Perhaps because the way that the city is created charitably allows them to build the world that they desire, unimpeded by the pesky democratic process or the protestations of the proletariat; in other words, it provides a model for the sort of laissez-faire, top-down economy they want to live in: .
This is the dark heart of Burning Man, the reason that high-powered capitalists — and especially capitalist libertarians — love Burning Man so much. It heralds their ideal world: one where vague notions of participation replace real democracy, and the only form of taxation is self-imposed charity. Recall Whole Foods CEO John Mackey’s op-ed, in the wake of the Obamacare announcement, in which he proposed a healthcare system reliant on “voluntary, tax-deductible donations.”
This is the dream of libertarians and the 1 percent, and it reifies itself at Burning Man — the lower caste of Burners who want to partake in the festival are dependent on the whims and fantasies of the wealthy to create Black Rock City.
Eleven-year-old Kayleb Moon-Robinson was convicted in April of felony charges for kicking a trash bin and defending himself against an aggressive police officer in his Virginia school. PopFront covered Kayleb’s case as part of an investigation into a disturbing trend of police brutality towards disabled minorities (Kayleb is autistic and black). With his sentencing pending in June and an appeal currently in process to overturn his convictions, what is Kayleb’s case status?
Astonishingly, Kayleb’s former school district has made no attempt at transparency, nor apologized for the incidents leading up to Kayleb’s arrest. When contacted, the representative for Lynchburg City Schools released the following statement:
“We’re at a distinct disadvantage in responding. We cannot reply to all of the specific allegations that have been made because the law doesn’t allow us to discuss the specifics regarding the child or the court proceedings. The public is only hearing one side of the story, and based on our investigation of this matter, the incident did not take place in the manner in which it was portrayed. SROs [School Resource Officers] play an important role in the school division, and we have and will continue to work together on procedures for when SROs should become involved in incidents involving students. We feel they are being unfairly portrayed in this matter.”
Besides this statement, district officials have not responded to other allegations concerning the police officer’s misbehavior. The district is also currently under investigation for its high student-to-court referral rates. Kayleb has not returned his former middle school since his arrest—he is currently attending an alternative school awaiting sentencing. Continue reading →
Kayleb Moon-Robinson, after being assaulted by the police officer.
Eric Garner. Michael Brown. Walter Scott. We know all these names as victims of police brutality within the last calendar year. Their deaths have sparked nationwide protests and conversation about police brutality targeted at young black men and systemic judicial racism. These are important conversations America needs to have, but I’d like to talk about a recent case that hasn’t gotten as much nationwide attention. A case where a young boy was misunderstood and his innocent actions were seen as criminal. One that, like the aforementioned, pits a young black man against police with a special circumstance.
Meet Kayleb Moon-Robinson, an eleven year-old African American child from Lynchburg, VA. At the beginning of the school year, Kayleb was charged with disorderly conduct by a school resource officer after he kicked a classroom trash bin during a tantrum. Kayleb was acting out of stress of being overwhelmed on a bad day, but the officer overreacted to a bin-kicking near no one. Two weeks later, the same officer forcibly grabbed Kayleb to take him to the principal’s office for accidentally leaving class early. When Kayleb struggled to get the officer off him, the officer slammed the child down, handcuffed him, and charged him with felony assault. On April 13th, Kayleb was found guilty of both charges in juvenile court and is currently waiting his sentencing in June. And all because a school officer mistook Kayleb as a threat for his tantrum as opposed to a child who needed some extra help.
Why do privileged liberals care more about property damage than black lives?
“Riots,” wrote Martin Luther King Jr., “are the language of the unheard.” King is one of many civil rights radicals whose politics have been rewritten, his memory whittled into a sanitized, non-threatening corporate version fit for a Google Doodle. Liberals remember that he had a dream, even if they forget his sermons on sanitation worker strikes.
Two grand juries that failed to indict police officers for the murder of unarmed black men—Mike Brown of Ferguson and Eric Garner of New York—have spurred to action a burgeoning movement against systemic racism and police violence in the United States. (Solidarity protests have since spread worldwide.)
The number and breadth of protests in any region is difficult to coordinate and organize, but we’ve found a number of resources for finding local protests in the Bay Area. (Note: This post will continue to update as new information is available.)