J.Cole offended many over the lyrics “I’m artistic, you niggas is autistic, retarded” in his Jodeci Freestyle rap number. He was called on this. The Anti-Bullying Alliance created a petition and asked for a formal apology from each rapper, as well as the offending words be removed from the song.
Kuddos to J.Cole for writing an apology letter that sounds sincere. The disheartening thing about his letter is that it is addressed to Autism Speaks. J. Cole offended autistic people, not an organization – in this case an organization that many autistic people have actively boycotted over the years.
If you read his letter, yes, it does sound sincere. Also, it is very obvious that his view of autism has been gotten through the media. Unfortunately, this is where most of John Q. Public gets their information about autism. And by the way, understanding autism and understanding autistics are not equal things. I needed to say that because most people I run into assume they understand me, an autistic person, because they have heard about autism in the news and understand autism is whatever the news story happened to say about autism.
A friend pointed out to me that J. Cole was reaching out to autistics and simply chose the most visible venue. I understand this and it makes me mad. As an autistic I have understood for ever-so-many years just how invisible I am. You see, it is parents of autistic children who have been given by society the right to speak for and about all autistics – who they are, what they want, should and shouldn’t have, what their experience is, etc., etc., etc. Even though there are many autistic adults who can and do speak to the issues we remain, in large, invisible to society while an organization like Autism Speaks continues to be what is visible. And so it winds up that J. Cole apologizes to this organization, assuming that this will cover it nicely, assuming his audience to be parents of children with autism and college students with Asperger’s. That is pretty much the public face of autism in America.
Regardless of how sincere the apology sounds it isn’t directed at the people J. Cole needs to apologize to for his behavior. Autistics are human beings. We should count as real people. Unfortunately, this rarely happens, but instead typical people tend to interact with parents, effectively sending the message that autistics do not count as real people…again and again and again.
People, please think about this – truly think about it – For example, if you were hit by a drunk driver and paralyzed how would you feel if the driver apologized to the doctor and everybody thought that was perfectly ok because that drunk driver chose the most visible venue and he meant well. Even though those things are true, how would that make you feel? And then how would you feel if the people at the doctor’s office tried to make you feel ok by saying things like the drunk driver was doing the best he knew to do and he sounded sincere. Would you be ok with that – to not even count as a human being? Probably not. So then, why am I supposed to be ok with being counted as less than human only because of being autistic?
Society’s perception of the autism viewpoint needs to go beyond the parents of autistic children and college students with Asperger’s. We need to be represented by our own selves. In fact, all of yesteryear’s autistics have grown up and yet, very few ask us…they only ask parents to speak for us even though many of us – even those of us who do not have speech – have been speaking, writing books, blogging, etc for a very long time. We still are largely invisible to society. And if that weren’t bad enough, we are also discounted by ever so many in the larger autism community that include parents and organizations – people who actually CAN see us and DO KNOW we exist. We are often discounted and told either we are not autistic enough to know their autistic child’s experience or we are too autistic to be able to understand their child’s experience. So, autistic adults remain discounted or invisible for the most part.
When J. Cole apologizes to Autism Speaks for his offensive behavior toward autistics it feels to us like we are once again counted as less than human – not real people – in fact, invisible. And yes, maybe you are right that it is not really his fault because he has the public perception about autism. I would agree, but then, who’s fault is it? Who is the public? Are you the public?
BOOKS BY JUDY ENDOW
Endow, J. (2019). Autistically Thriving: Reading Comprehension, Conversational Engagement, and Living a Self-Determined Life Based on Autistic Neurology. Lancaster, PA: Judy Endow.
Endow, J. (2012). Learning the Hidden Curriculum: The Odyssey of One Autistic Adult. Shawnee Mission, KS: AAPC Publishing.
Endow, J. (2006). Making Lemonade: Hints for Autism’s Helpers. Cambridge, WI: CBR Press.
Endow, J. (2013). Painted Words: Aspects of Autism Translated. Cambridge, WI: CBR Press.
Endow, J. (2009). Paper Words: Discovering and Living With My Autism. Shawnee Mission, KS: AAPC Publishing.
Endow, J. (2009). Outsmarting Explosive Behavior: A Visual System of Support and Intervention for Individuals With Autism Spectrum Disorders. Shawnee Mission, KS: AAPC Publishing.
Endow, J. (2010). Practical Solutions for Stabilizing Students With Classic Autism to Be Ready to Learn: Getting to Go. Shawnee Mission, KS: AAPC Publishing.
Myles, B. S., Endow, J., & Mayfield, M. (2013). The Hidden Curriculum of Getting and Keeping a Job: Navigating the Social Landscape of Employment. Shawnee Mission, KS: AAPC Publishing.