Easy Silence Part 2: The Yin and Yang of Privilege and Empowerment

I have been reflecting on privilege… and perhaps entertaining the loss of it as we work to find our place and way to support others in the autism community.

I have been raised with privilege (not riches and extravagancesee the link at the end of this post to learn more about this). Although I am in my late-forties and have occasionally felt the sting and squeeze of sexism, or the judgment of others in dealing with low mood and depression, I have not suffered abuse, nor have I been silenced because of my neurology, or my ethnic background, or…

That sense of privilege has a shadow… and the shadow is the assumption that I have the right to speak up – to say my piece – to be heard… and I am coming to realize that this attitude may actually silence or dilute or diminish the message of others.

I am trying to be aware of this so that I do not assume the same privilege when I am interacting with Autistic adults. If I am working to empower the voices of others – I may need to be willing to make my own subordinate. If I am sensitive to this…  I may feel silenced… I may need to silence myself.

This feels uncomfortable at times… I am learning to make peace with this discomfort. It may feel like I am being silenced by those I am trying to support… and it may even feel like there is an irony to this.

But this is not about me.

I may feel misunderstood at times… I need to carry on regardless.

Sometimes I may want to jump in to try to repair a misunderstanding – or to explain… but the difficulty is that doing so can seem dishonouring to others.

So I am learning about my own silence.

I am learning to embrace it… and to understand that my discomfort is deepening my understanding of the experience of others… and I also acknowledge that this is merely a glimpse of their experience, and that I cannot fully understand.

And within all of this I know that this is still not about me.

There is a deep questioning about my assumptions, and in my quiet I see there also exists an opportunity to reframe my experiences and question what I have held to be truth as a subjective reality. I am open to examining this.

I am shifting and changing, and my response to being misunderstood is now sometimes a quiet one. To rail against the perception of others can seem like silencing their perspective… the very perspectives that I want to honour.

If I want to make things different… I need to be willing to take the blast. Sometimes it may be because of something I did or said, and inversely, sometimes it might be because of something I didn’t say, and my silence was interpreted as complicit. Sometimes it has been because I wanted to support others and extended support in two opposing directions.  There is no easy path that I can see… there is no way to get it all right – every time.

I am coming to accept that I will not get it all right. I am learning that as passionate as I may be about supporting others and working to create a world that is more supportive of diversity… there will certainly be mis-steps and some of those will most certainly be mine.

And I am learning that there is a yin and yang to voice and privilege. I may experience less power to my voice… I may perceive less privilege in an interaction… fewer rights to have my perspective understood… but the space left with my silence – may be the space needed to allow for the action and empowerment of others.

And I am working to be open to that…

Related Posts:

And Then You Cry ‘Victim
Easy Silence: I am still learning to communicate
Autistic Advocacy, Jokes and Silencing
(Please read this important post by Brenda Rothman at Mama be Good to learn more about Privilege)


Image of a  black cat sitting in the sun on the roof edge of on an old white brick building streaked with rust stains, with intense blue sky above. Text reads: “I am learning that there is a yin and yang to voice and privilege. Leah Kelley – 30 Days of Autism. I may experience less power to my voice… I may perceive less privilege in an interaction… fewer rights to have my perspective understood… but the space left with my silence – may be the space needed to allow for the action and empowerment of others. And I am working to be open to that…”

30 Days of Autism is a project designed to fight stigma, promote civil rights, and increase understanding and acceptance for those who process and experience the world differently.

© Leah Kelley, Thirty Days of Autism, (2013)

About Leah Kelley, Ed.D.

Leah Kelley, M.Ed, Ed.D., Writer, Consultant, Activist, Speaker, and Educator, working with Teacher Candidates at UBC. Authors blog: 30 Days of Autism. Projects support social understanding, Neurodiversity paradigm, Disability Justice, and connecting Disability Studies in Education(DSE)to Educational Practice. Twitter: @leah_kelley Facebook: 30 Days of Autism: Leah Kelley
This entry was posted in acceptance, Aspergers, Autism, being wrong, diversity, Neurodiversity, neuromajority, Neurotypical, perspective of others, privilege, Silence and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

9 Responses to Easy Silence Part 2: The Yin and Yang of Privilege and Empowerment

  1. Leah, this is beautiful and wise. I cannot agree more. We will not always get it right, but if we do not have the willingness to look at this, to acknowledge the truth of this, we will be stuck. The goal of change, of meaningful societal change will not always be smooth. Thank you for writing this.


  2. I think that at times, we are mislead by the idea that there is a right, or a wrong that is absolute, but there almost never is. It’s almost never that black, and white, but rather on a spectrum of all sorts of other things intertwined. It’s about our perception of what is right, and what is wrong, and what we DO about that perception. That’s what matters. No matter what we believe, in the end only our actions (or even inaction) reflect what we honor. It’s our choices that makes us who we are. What’s one person’s right, is another one’s wrong. We can only decipher what is important to uphold for our own selves. Personally, I don’t need anyone to back down to let me have my space for empowerment. I appreciate being talked to, and with in the same way anyone does. I have to make my way for my own space, because if it’s given to me, then it’s not true empowerment. With that being said, I do find many autistic allies speaking on my behalf , as an autistic person in ways that I don’t agree with, or that I find not truthful to how I feel. They call it advocacy, but I I’m not sure who they’re advocating for, because they certainly don’t reflect my views. There is not much I can do about that, other than use my voice to honor my truth. I can only speak for me, and I always try make that clear,

    Powerful, thought provoking post.


    • Leah Kelley says:

      Thank you so much for your comment and sharing your perspective. There is so much to consider here and I very much appreciate you adding your insights. I think you are right about there rarely being a simple black and white in absolutist terms. There may be a perfect balance (something grey), but that will likely be elusive – or at least elusive at times. I think I hear what you are saying though… too much something – even something intended to be honouring – could ultimately not be helpful. It is complex indeed – and I appreciate that you have given me another angle to consider.


  3. wonderful and thoughtful, Leah. thank you for this.


  4. A thought provoking post. I read it at TPGA but thought I would hop over here to say thanks for writing this. I’m going to think about it while I do my taxes and dishes and cart kids around.


  5. Pingback: Why can’t we all get along?!? | Thirty Days of Autism

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