Moral Consistency Is Not An Autistic Deficit : A Letter to Hu et al

Some researchers need to be reading books by neurologist Oliver Sacks.

One of the greatest joys in reading about the neurological disorders he treated, including autism, was his delight in all the myriad ways brains work. He didn’t treat people as defective. Where other people saw deficits, he saw potential, talent, opportunity, and skill. He celebrated neurodiversity before it was even a thing. Decades later, I can pinpoint specific stories he told that helped me see the ways “disorders” like Tourette’s or autism could be assets – despite the difficulties they cause in a world filled with people who believe brains should only function in certain ways.

Unfortunately, a lot of neuroscience researchers haven’t gotten Dr. Sacks’s message. They see difference as deficit if you have a disorder, no matter how ridiculous it sounds. (Prefer YooHoo to Pepsi? If you’re allistic, you’re quirky. If you’re autistic, you’re defective – and suddenly, enjoying YooHoo is an issue that needs to be cured.)

So you end up with papers like this one, wherein the authors discover that autistic folks are more morally consistent than allistic people, and decide that’s because their brains are broken:

Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is characterized by a core deficit in theory-of-mind (ToM) ability, which extends to perturbations in moral judgment and decision-making. Although the function of the right temporoparietal junction (rTPJ), a key neural marker of ToM and morality, is known to be altered in autistic individuals, the neurocomputational mechanisms underlying its specific impairment in moral decision-making remain unclear. Here, we addressed this question by employing a novel fMRI task together with computational modeling and representational similarity analysis (RSA). ASD patients and healthy controls (HC) decided in public or private whether to incur a personal cost for funding a morally-good cause (Good Context) or receive a personal gain for benefiting a morally-bad cause (Bad Context). Compared with HC, individuals with ASD were much more likely to reject the opportunity to earn ill-gotten money by supporting a bad cause than HC. Computational modeling revealed that this resulted from unduly weighing benefits for themselves and the bad cause, suggesting that ASD patients apply a rule of refusing to serve a bad cause because they over-evaluate the negative consequences of their actions.

Huh. My parents taught me it’s important to do the right thing, even if no one’s watching, and even if doing the wrong thing meant I’d get something nifty. I guess they were defective, too.

My friend Andrew Hutsell, who is autistic, isn’t having it. They, together with friends JadeHawk and Alyssa Hillary Zisk, wrote a letter to Hu et al explaining the authors’ many critical failures. They’ve given me permission to share it here:
Have the authors considered the possibility that autistic people having moral consistency may not be a deficit?

Autistic people here are characterized as lacking Theory of Mind [ToM] or having a deficit. It would seem the authors’ ToM deficits are evident in their inability to interpret autistic behavior and decision-making.

For instance:

We show that ASD individuals are more inflexible when following a moral rule even though an immoral action can benefit themselves, and suffer an undue concern about their ill-gotten gains and the moral cost.

When I and other autistic people look at this same set of data we see it this way:

Allistics are less able to follow a moral rule when an immoral action can benefit them; they suffer from a reduced concern about their ill-gotten gains and the moral cost.

The framing here matters. The authors did not consider the existence of other valuation systems, and attributed autistic ethical valuations as indicative of a faulty cost-benefit analysis.

Autistic integrity in moral judgement could instead be interpreted as a highly developed Theory of Mind.

Theory of Mind is described in the literature as:

[…] our appreciation for people’s cognitive states, such as beliefs and knowledge. (Lane, Wellman , and Kerr, 2010)

Emotion understanding as:

[…] our ability to identify overt emotionals reaction, to predict others’ emotional reactions, and to appreciate that people have both palpable and private emotional experiences. (Lane, Wellman , and Kerr, 2010)

Given these definitions, it seems there could be a link between the development of Theory of Mind and moral integrity. Lane, et al., did find a positive link between children’s development of theory of mind and higher level moral reasoning. (Lane, et al., 2010)

Interpreting the autistic people’s choices and behaviors as a deficit is a choice the authors made according to their own lack of understanding their autistic subjects. Autism research tends to rely on a deficit model to interpret autistic behavior and traits. This model creates a bias in researchers, to the point that moral integrity and consistency is even seen as a deficit.

Allistics’ lack in understanding autistic people, and vice versa, has been termed the “double-empathy problem.” (Milton DE, 2012)

In an Expert Discussion of Autism and Empathy, moderated by Dr. Christina Nicolaidis, published in Autism in Adulthood, 2019, Dr. Milton shares that comments from autistic people regarding lack of understanding from allistic people “[…] far outweigh any comments and issues autistic people have in understanding others.” (Nicolaidis, et al. 2019)

Dr. Milton goes on to discuss how autistic people are often putting in much more effort to understand allistic people, while allistic people are not putting in the same effort. It would behoove researchers to question their biases and interpretations of observed autistic behavior.

Furthermore, the researchers assume lack of ToM as the basis for this paper, even though there is a significant lack of actual empirical evidence that autistic people lack ToM (Gernsbacher, Yergeau, 2019). In this study, they found a lack of convergence for the definition of ToM, lack of reproduceable results regarding autism and deficits in ToM in larger sample sizes, and various other issues with previous empirical findings and studies based on autistic people’s proposed lack of ToM.

References:
Lane JD, Wellman HM, Olson SL, LaBounty J, Kerr DC. Theory of mind and emotion understanding predict moral development in early childhood. Br J Dev Psychol. 2010 Nov;28(Pt 4):871-89. doi: 10.1348/026151009×483056. PMID: 21121472; PMCID: PMC3039679.
Moderator: Christina Nicolaidis, Participants: Damian Milton, Noah J. Sasson, Elizabeth (Lizzy) Sheppard, and Melanie Yergeau. Autism in Adulthood. Mar 2019.4-11.
Gernsbacher MA, Yergeau M. Empirical Failures of the Claim That Autistic People Lack a Theory of Mind. Arch Sci Psychol. 2019;7(1):102-118. doi:10.1037/arc0000067

So yeah, this is where pathologizing neurodiversity has gotten us: pretty much everything autistic folks do differently than allistic people is seen as a defect, and they assume it’s autistic folks who need to be fixed. They don’t examine their own behavior to see if maybe folks on the spectrum are the ones who’ve got it right. And they don’t question their assumption that autistic = defective, which causes them to do asinine things. Like, for instance, assuming that moral fidelity is somehow wrong.

This particular instance is unintentionally hilarious, but it exemplifies the kind of framing that leads to autistic people being punished and abused for behavior that isn’t actually wrong. It’s insidious, and it’s dangerous.

Thank you, Andrew, JadeHawk, and Alyssa, for taking the time to show Hu et al that their framing is bad, and they should feel bad.

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Moral Consistency Is Not An Autistic Deficit : A Letter to Hu et al
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Yeah. Actually. We Won

My darlings, we did it. We ousted a sitting president.

I know it may not feel much like victory. The Senate may remain in Republican hands. Republicans gained seats in the House. We barely squeaked out a win in Pennsylvania, and several states that we thought might turn blue didn’t. We didn’t get the full-throated roar in the electoral college that would have definitively destroyed Trumpism. We aren’t yet seeing the Republican party in ruins, as they so richly deserve.

Nevertheless, this was a victory.

I’m even calling it a resounding one, despite feeling quite otherwise in the early aftermath.

Continue reading “Yeah. Actually. We Won”

Yeah. Actually. We Won

Pirate Women: Badass Buccaneers Since the Dawn of Piracy

Cover of Pirate Women

Why shouldn’t women be singing “A pirate’s life for me!” right alongside the men? Laura Sook Duncombe’s exquisite Pirate Women: The Princesses, Prostitutes, and Privateers Who Ruled The Seven Seas certainly proves that women have always had the skill and determination to sail and plunder. Many answered the siren call of the sea. Men have tried to write them out of history, but good evidence for pirate women exists, and Laura found plenty of it.

Pirates are for many of us, an inherently fascinating subject. Tales of famous pirates both historical and fictional abound. We dress like them for Halloween, talk like them on one special September day, and flock to movies about them. But outside of a few notable exceptions, most of those pirates we encounter in song, story, and screen are dudes. So many dudes.

Laura uncovers a world full of lady pirates from around the world.

Continue reading “Pirate Women: Badass Buccaneers Since the Dawn of Piracy”

Pirate Women: Badass Buccaneers Since the Dawn of Piracy

Falwell Has Fallen. Liberty University, Alas, Has Not

The conservative Christian education world is experiencing one hell of a circus this week. Its principal star, now-former Liberty University President and all-around terrible human being Jerry Falwell Jr., fell right off the tightrope. The usual evangelical safety nets couldn’t save him this time.

He’d already been teetering after foolishly posting a photo of himself, pants unzipped and holding what appeared to be a mixed drink, clutching his wife’s pretty, young, not-married-to-him assistant. Either of these violations of the Code of Conduct would be enough to get a Liberty University student in serious trouble; both together could get them suspended or expelled. It was too blatant for even evangelicals to ignore. Falwell took an indefinite leave of absence from his position in early August after that fiasco, and he promised he’d “try to be a good boy.”

Unfortunately, he’d been a bad boy for a very long time, and it’s finally caught up with him.

Continue reading “Falwell Has Fallen. Liberty University, Alas, Has Not”

Falwell Has Fallen. Liberty University, Alas, Has Not

A is For Arsenic: The Poisons of Agatha Christie is Deadly Good Fun

I’ve been a Dame Agatha Christie fan for very many decades now. She wasn’t my fave when I was young – I was a misogynistic jackass and thought she was a pale imitation of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. As I’ve gotten older, though, I’ve realized that she’s the better writer. I guess I’ll have to do an entire post on that eventually. But for now, just know I respect her story craft immensely.

And after reading A is for Arsenic: The Poisons of Agatha Christie by Kathryn Harkup, I respect her a hell of a lot more.

This is a very necessary book for any Christie fan. It’s super neat getting to know her killers’ poisons better, especially the rare ones that are featured in this wonderful book. Kathryn does a marvelous job explaining such uncommon death-dealers as eserine, monkshood, nicotine, and veronal. There are even chemical structure diagrams as the section break symbols. If you’re a geek or a nerd, this book will make your heart grow three sizes.

Kathryn begins by singing Christie’s praises for knowing her poisons. She describes Christie’s work as a nurse during WWI, when she worked in a hospital dispensary. She was a natural, and keen-eyed, and saved a patient from getting an overdose when she spotted a grave mistake made by the man who was training her. (That dude later got memorialized as the pharmacist in Christie’s The Pale Horse. Having read this book recently, I can assure you that was a dubious honor indeed.)

Learning that she was actually a trained apothecary, and drew directly on her medical knowledge for her books, shot my respect for her through the stratosphere. And it makes The Mysterious Affair at Styles pop with elements that were taken from her direct experience. This chapter is wonderful for those of us who love her works, but haven’t learned much about her life.

The rest of the book is divided into chapters that are each devoted to a particular poison, and the Christie novel(s) they appear in. Spoilers abound, so if you haven’t read all of Christie’s books, and don’t want to know details, you’ll need to skim in places. Kathryn does warn when major plot elements are being discussed.

Each chapter gives a history of the poison in question, talks about how it affects the human body, and discusses the biochemistry behind its effects. We also learn how Christie’s characters used it, what details she got right, and what she got wrong and/or took some dramatic license with. Kathryn also talks about real-life criminal cases that may have inspired Christie’s stories. There is so much good stuff packed into a not particularly large book!

The appendices are one of my favorite parts. Appendix 1 gives a table that shows cause of death for all of Christie’s novels and short stories, in order of publication, and listed by both UK and US titles. This has simplified my quest to complete my collection by 1000%. The second appendix gives the chemical structures of the poisons. And if you want further reading, there’s a very nice bibliography.

This is one of the books I enjoyed most this year, and I finished it hoping Kathryn has enough material for a Part II. If you love Christie, chemistry, and/or crime, treat yourself to this book. You deserve it!

P.S. The Kindle version of The Pale Horse is free to borrow for Prime members right now. If you haven’t read it yet, you’re going to love it.

Rosetta Stones and Dana Hunter’s Unconformity wouldn’t be possible without you! If you like my content, there are many ways to show your support.

Buy Me A Book

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Thank you so much for your support!

A is For Arsenic: The Poisons of Agatha Christie is Deadly Good Fun

Me and White Supremacy: “This is Truth Work”

Cover of Me and White Supremacy

We’re reading Layla F. Saad’s Me and White Supremacy. Today, we’re covering the rest of Part I: Who is this work for?, What you will need to do this work, How to use this book, and Self-care, support, and sustainability.

There’s a lot to unpack before we even get to the work! But we’re almost there.

Layla gives a shout-out to trans and non-binary folks in her “Who is this work for?” section. In addition to white people of all genders, she also points out that the work is for white-passing people. But while people who can “pass” as white do derive some (conditional) benefits from white supremacy, and therefore need to work to dismantle it, things are more complicated.

It is also important to know that this work will bring up some challenging feelings around your internalized oppression against yourself and your marginalized identities and about how you have also been oppressed by a system that only benefits you to the extent that you are able to present or pass as white and be anti-Black.

[snip]

Do not use this work as a stick to beat yourself with, but rather use it to interrogate your complicity within a system of privilege that is only designed to benefit you to the extent that you can conform to the rules of whiteness.

So if you’re a part of that group, definitely get all of your self care plans prepped and ready.

Layla says we’ll need three things for this anti-racism work: our truth, our love, and our commitment. She says something critically important under truth I think that we all need to pause and take fully on board:

I cannot emphasize this enough: This work is not an intellectual exercise or a mental thought experiment. When we talk about racism, we are talking about people’s lives. This is not a personal growth book that is designed to make you feel good about yourself. It is likely that in doing this work consistently, you will find some level of personal healing. However, I want to make it very clear that this is not the purpose of this work. The purpose is the healing and restored dignity of BIPOC.

Let me assure you from personal experience with confronting internalized misogyny and the fact we live in a world that hates women: this isn’t going to feel great. In fact, it’s going to probably suck quite a lot. But it’s necessary. And it gets better, especially when you’re working to change things for the better.

Under love, Layla reminds us that

Pain and shame are neither desirable nor sustainable as long-term strategies for transformational change. It is my hope that love is what initially brought you to this work. It is my conviction that love is what will keep you going.

We’re going to need a lot of love to power through and change the world. Self-flagellation won’t help. We absolutely need to avoid wallowing in shame: not only does render us less effective, it diverts people’s efforts from fixing problems when they feel compelled to comfort us. Tell your shame and pain to pipe down and let love have the driver’s seat.

Add love to a healthy measure of old-fashioned stubborness, and we can do this thing.

How to use this book is a fairly straightforward section, with recommendations like keep a journal and go at your own pace. I just want to highlight what I see as some critical bits.

Don’t Generalize

When answering the prompts, do not generalize about white people broadly. Do not talk about white people as if you are not a white person or as if you do not benefit from white privilege. Remember this book is about your own personal experiences, thoughts, and beliefs, not those of other people.

The temptation will be strong to generalize and push things off onto other people in order to protect our egos. Realizing you’ve engaged in problematic behaviors hurts. We have to do our best to face our own culpability head-on. We can’t change anything much if we refuse to admit we, too, are part of the problem, whether we want to be or not.

And this next bit is equally important:

Keep Asking Questions

As you move through the book answering each prompt to the best of your ability, dig deeper by asking yourself when, how, and why questions. For example: When do I react this way? When do these thoughts or feelings come up for me? How does this specific aspect of white supremacy show up for me? How does thinking or feeling this way benefit me? Why do I feel this way? Why do I believe this? Why do I think this is true? Why do I hold on to these beliefs? Asking when, how, and why will help you to get down into the deeper unconscious layers of your internalized white supremacy, thus taking your work a lot deeper.

Many of us here either work in STEM fields or are science fans. Asking questions, interrogating our assumptions, and not taking superficial answers as final should be easier for us than it is for people who haven’t been trained to investigate.

Just remember, though, that white supremacy is a helluva drug. It’ll make us want to stop at the surface, where things are comfortable. Push past that and keep asking!

Layla finishes Part I with some self care tips. One of the most important tips is to reach out to others doing this work for mutual support. I encourage you to use the comments here if you want to connect with me and others (click here to report any issues). We can also start a Facebook group if you’d like.

Another important reminder:

Feeling the feelings—which are an appropriate human response to racism and oppression—is an important part of the process.

[snip]

No matter how bad it feels to wake up to the pain, shame, and guilt of your racism, those feelings will never come anywhere close to the pain BIPOC experience as a result of your racism. So instead of getting stuck or overwhelmed, channel those feelings into action and change. Talking to a friend, family member, support group, therapist, or coach will be helpful in supporting you to process what is coming up for you so you can keep moving forward. [Emphasis added]

Just, in talking out your feelings, please don’t dump those on your BIPOC friends, okay? They’ve got enough to handle as targets of white supremacy.

To close Part I, let’s reiterate one of the most important points:

You will have to learn to wean yourself off the addiction to instant gratification and instead develop a consciousness for doing what is right even if nobody ever thanks you for it.

None of us should get cookies for doing the right thing. We need to be very, very careful that we aren’t running to BIPOC and demanding praise and treat every time we do something decent. We’re not dogs. Most of us aren’t children. We shouldn’t need gold star stickers to do what we ought.

The groundwork is laid. Next, we’ll begin the work. Get your tools together, and I’ll see you there!

Me and White Supremacy: “This is Truth Work”

Prairie Fires: Kicking Nostalgia in the Tender Bits

Prairie Fires: The American Dreams of Laura Ingalls Wilder cover
Prairie Fires: The American Dreams of Laura Ingalls Wilder by Caroline Fraser

My earliest bookstore memory is of going to the mall (remember when malls had bookstores? Good times) and leaving with two books. One was the first Garfield collection. The other was Little House in the Big Woods.

Thus began a childhood reading the Little House series til the paperbacks disintegrated. I’d read them through probably at least twice a year. My poor patient field spaniel became my baby, stuffed into the wheelbarrow I’d converted into a covered wagon, as we lived the pioneer life every summer. Every few days, we’d pack our belongings into the wagon and migrate to a new homestead in the yard, following the lead of the Ingalls family. I swept my dirt floors clean with handmade brooms, and made a mattress stuffed with dried grass. I longed for real maple sugar candy and Indian beads. I wanted to make hay in the sunshine. I fully identified with that dark-haired, headstrong little pioneer girl.

Still do, actually.

Eventually, I outgrew the books. Other series replaced them in my regular rotations. But I still harbor all the warm fuzzy feels, and sometimes I remember my favorite bits and get transported back to those happy times.

So reading Caroline Fraser’s Prairie Fires: The American Dreams of Laura Ingalls Wilder was sort of like watching that grass fire leap Pa and Ma’s hasty fire break and burn the cozy little log cabin to the ground.

Pa, rather than being an enterprising pioneer whose misfortunes were due to circumstances beyond his control, turns out to be a man who had a disastrous knack for making foolish financial decisions. Laura had to get a job as a child because her family couldn’t make homesteading pay. Shit got a lot more real than she ever let on. Domestic violence and attempted murder were things she witnessed all too frequently. Babies died a lot, including her Ma’s, hers, and her daughter’s.

And speaking of daughters: her darling Rose was probably an actual psychopath.

There are always myths involved with fictionalized versions of a life, but the foundational myth of the Little House series, that rugged pioneer folk don’t need no help from the gubmint, proves to be a gigantic lie. Libertarians would probably scream in horror finding out the truth behind the Wilder myth, but I doubt they’ll read this book. And if they do, they’ll probably pretend Caroline is a lying librul shill. Too bad for them she’s got the sources to prove her claims.

So yes, this book kicks childhood nostalgia right in the teeth. But it’s worth it. It’s fascinating learning how the Ingalls really lived. Caroline is so very good at tying together historical events and providing social context. We get a bitter but compelling taste of the real pioneer life, and get to see how pioneers fared as the Old West ended and the 20th Century began. We learn how Laura’s life went after the books ended. We get to gawk at the utter shit show that is Rose Wilder Lane. And there are new, older, wiser fuzzy feels as we survey Laura’s legacy.

If you were even a casual fan of the Little House books, or if you want to see the rugged individual American myth busted, this is a book you need.

You also need Ana Mardoll’s review of it. Trust me. It makes excellent companion reading to this book.

Prairie Fires: Kicking Nostalgia in the Tender Bits

Me and White Supremacy: “We Must Call a Thing a Thing”

We’re reading Layla F. Saad’s Me and White Supremacy. Today, we’re covering Part I: What is white supremacy?

 

If we’re going to combat a thing, we need to know what that thing is. Layla defines it clearly and simply:

White supremacy is a racist ideology that is based upon the belief that white people are superior in many ways to people of other races and that therefore, white people should be dominant over other races.

Okay, so we know that’s bullshit, right? But we’re swimming in a society that reinforces that idea. Our classics, our companies, our entertainment, our government all are overwhelmingly white. Conscious and unconscious bias upholds systems and institutions built – and too often maintained – by that erroneous belief.

Layla hopes that by “exploring and unpacking what white supremacy looks like at the personal and individual level,” we’ll be able to change those systems and institutions. If enough of us commit to doing this work, chances are good we’ll at least be able to better help bend them toward justice and equity.

Next, we have to confront this truth:

White supremacy is far from fringe. In white-centered societies and communities, it is the dominant paradigm that forms the foundation from which norms, rules, and laws are created.

None of us are exempt. None of us are exceptions. It’s just like men living in misogynist societies hold some misogynistic ideas and participate in misogynistic institutions no matter how egalitarian they wish to be. The sooner we accept that, the more effective we’ll be at changing it.

She points out that yes, the most overt expressions of white supremacy, like chattel slavery and apartheid, aren’t legal now, but unequal treatment hasn’t stopped. “[W]hite supremacy continues to be the dominant paradigm under which white societies operate.” We can’t flinch away from that truth anymore.

Feminists should be able to understand this pretty easily. Coverture is dead, women can vote, marital rape is now a crime, and discrimination on the basis of sex is officially illegal. But none of us pretend women still don’t face serious problems. We don’t declare sexism dead just because the most glaring overreaches of the patriarchy have been ended. We know there’s a lot of work still to do. It’s the same deal with white supremacy.

So listen:

White supremacy is a system you have been born into. Whether or not you have known it, it is a system that has granted you unearned privileges, protection, and power. It is also a system that has been designed to keep you asleep and unaware of what having that privilege, protection, and power has meant for people who do not look like you. What you receive for your whiteness comes at a steep cost for those who are not white. This may sicken you and cause you to feel guilt, anger, and frustration. But you cannot change your white skin color to stop receiving these privileges, just like BIPOC cannot change their skin color to stop receiving racism. But what you can do is wake up to what is really going on. I invite you to challenge your complicity in this system and work to dismantle it within yourself and the world.

We can do this. The question is, will we?

Me and White Supremacy: “We Must Call a Thing a Thing”

Rosetta Stones Has an Exciting Future In Store!

Since leaving the now-defunct Scientific American Blogs Network, Rosetta Stones has settled happily into its sweet summer cottage. It’s been all about earthquakes lately: we’ve talked about the most recent Oaxaca quake, and checked on Puerto Rico’s still vigorous earthquake sequence. We’re going to be exploring the fault zone this sequence seems to be related to soon. It’s very groovy!

I know it looks like it, but I swear Rosetta Stones isn’t turning into Dana’s Earthquake Emporium. I’ve got a review of one of the best Mount St. Helens books of all time loaded up – you’ll see it this Thursday. I’m having a subterranean homesick blues spell courtesy of giving old photos new life in Adobe Photoshop Express, so we’ll be stopping by some of my favorite Arizona geological haunts. And I’ve got some very hawt books about Hawaii volcanoes to tell you about!

But summer doesn’t last forever, and the sweet summer cottage is only an ephemeral home. What happens when the season ends?

Continue reading “Rosetta Stones Has an Exciting Future In Store!”

Rosetta Stones Has an Exciting Future In Store!

Me and White Supremacy: “Welcome to the Work”

We’re reading Layla F. Saad’s Me and White Supremacy. Today, we’re covering Part I: Welcome to the Work and A Little about Me.

You’ve decided to make a difference, to not just be “not racist” but actively anti-racist. You’ve got this book. The introduction didn’t scare you off. It’s a good start!

So now we’re getting to the gritty stuff. Fighting racism means recognizing the fact that we ourselves perpetuate racist systems, that we benefit from a social structure built by white supremacists, and it’s up to us to dismantle it. Thankfully, Layla Saad is going to give us some much needed guidance.

She gives us a good, concise introduction to the social conditions we face, and reminds us that the issues with racist people and institutions that we white folk are only now waking up to have been there all along for Black, Indigenous, and other People of Color (BIPOC). And then she says something about the work that bears repeating here:

This work is not about those white people ”out there.”

It is about you. Just you.

I’m putting that in bold, because so many of us resist it. “I’m not part of the problem! I’m part of the solution!” We believe that so strongly that we refuse to see where we’re complicit. We let our hurt feels take over when BIPOC folks try to gently call us out on problem behaviors. We get angry, we deny, we disregard, and we hurt the people we thought we were going to help. Sometimes, we even get so upset we stop doing the work.

We need to do better. We need to own the fact that we, by virtue of being white people born and raised in a civilization designed and built by white supremacists, are part of the problem. We have to work on fixing ourselves right here, not “those white people ‘out there.'”

Still with me? Good. Let’s continue.

This is where those of us who thrive on recognition and like to think the best of ourselves get some really bad news:

This work sounds overwhelming, intimidating, and unrewarding. I won’t lie to you: it is. You will become overwhelmed when you begin to discover the depths of your internalized white supremacy. You will become intimidated when you begin to realize how this work will necessitate seismic change in your life. You will feel unrewarded because there will be nobody rushing to thank you for doing this work. But if you are a person who believes in love, justice, integrity, and equity for all people, then you know that this work is nonnegotiable. If you are a person who wants to become a good ancestor, then you know that this work is some of the most important work that you will be called to do in your lifetime.

Yeah, it really is.

Layla takes a moment to introduce herself. She’s a Black British Muslim woman who has only experienced overt racism a handful of times, but has been subjected to daily microaggressions throughout her life:

And those indirect messages—from being treated slightly differently by schoolteachers, to hardly ever seeing fictional characters or media representations that looked like me, to understanding that I would have to work a lot harder than my white peers to be treated the same, to understanding that my needs were always an afterthought (why could I never find a foundation shade that matched me exactly while my white friends always could?)—painted an indelible picture in my mind. A picture that taught me this: Black girls like me did not matter in a white world. I will spend the rest of my life tearing down this picture and painting a new one that reflects the truth: Black girls matter. Everywhere.

This is the kind of stuff we white folks just don’t notice, because we don’t have to. We aren’t treated as “other” because of our skin. We see people who look like usin media, in STEM, in the halls of power. Makeup, skin and hair products that match our traits are everywhere. Heck, even adhesive bandages are made with us in mind!

Those are things we must train ourselves to notice. They are things we can and must help change.

Layla now lives in the Middle East, and she has a paragraph’s worth of privileges she can claim. But white supremacy still impacts her life. That’s why she does the work to help dismantle those systems, and why she’s showing us how to do our part. She’s our inside guide.

And now, we have a lot of work to do.

Me and White Supremacy: “Welcome to the Work”