It’s not easy being a Black man on the autism spectrum

First-person essay by Joseph Vernon Smith

A war is being raged in this country against discrimination and stigma. It has been waged for as long as I can remember, but people are still being shunned because of their different skill sets and the hues of their skin.

Though the 1990 Americans with Disabilities Act made it illegal to discriminate against people with disabilities, there are still malevolent forces seeking to undermine the hard work activists have been doing for years to neutralize the venomous stigma of discrimination.

We have a long way to go.

Until then, I can tell you: It’s not easy being a Black man on the autism spectrum.

Ever since I was born, I have lived in the struggle of being perceived as aggressive or as a criminal. There is a lot of stigma about being Black in today’s society. I live in constant fear of being arrested by the police or being perceived as creepy because I do things differently due to my autism. As a photographer, when I take photos in public or do photo shoots, I fear that I might be perceived as someone with ill intent.

This is a very critical time for me in this country. I have not only been bombarded with news reports about Black people being disproportionately affected by COVID-19 but also with reports of Black men and women being killed — or murdered — by police because of our skin. The recent death of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis police has made me aware that being Black may be a death sentence for me.

It really makes me angry when the government and some police don’t care about the rights of Black people. I fear that I might get questioned by the police simply because of my skin.

Joseph Vernon Smith at his job bagging groceries at Giant Eagle in Crafton. (Photo by Jay Manning/PublicSource)

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