Writing in the mid-1960s, cultural anthropologist Anthony Wallace described Lost Cause religion as a revivalist movement aiming “to restore a golden age believed to have existed in the society’s past,” terms eerily close to contemporary calls by President Donald Trump to “Make America great again.” It is true that old-school Lost Cause theology is rarely aired in mainstream white churches today. But its direct descendant, the individualist theology that insists that Christianity has little to say about social injustice—created to shield white consciences from the evils and continued legacy of slavery and segregation—lives on, not just in white evangelical churches but also increasingly in white mainline and white Catholic churches as well.
To be sure, this theological worldview has done great damage to those living outside the white Christian canopy. But what has been overlooked by most white Christian leaders is the damage this legacy has done to white Christians themselves. To put it succinctly, it has often put white Christians in the curious position of arguing that their religion and their God require them to aim lower than the highest human values of love, justice, equality, and compassion. As antebellum Presbyterian preacher Donald Frazer argued emphatically, many abolitionists had the shoe on the wrong foot by pretending to be “more humane than God.” It was God’s law, not human conscience, that set the limits on the treatment of blacks by whites, he argued. Moral discomfort, even moral horror or outrage, has no place in this theological worldview. But surely it should give white Christians pause to continue to pledge allegiance to a theological system that contracts rather than expands our moral vision; that anesthetizes rather than livens up our moral sensitivities.
My issues with processing empathy meant that I was absorbing all of my clients’ emotions and carrying them around with me almost constantly.
I absorb the emotional weather and have difficulty doing customer support because I burnout from the flood of empathy.
Not only do autistics not categorically lack empathy, many of us are hyper-empathetic.
Masking can leave a person with less energy to handle other aspects of their day, from performing basic housework to processing thoughts and feelings. This, in turn, can lead to meltdowns and burnout. Something as simple as trying not to play with my hair or keeping my legs still while sitting in public can leave me depleted after a few hours.
I must pull my hair, scratch my scalp, and bounce my legs to regulate.
I called it autistic burnout, a term I learned not from professionals but from my fellow autistics trying to illuminate the gaps in the autistic experience that the so-called experts on us were either missing or ignoring. It describes a fairly common phenomenon that autistic adults were noticing in their lives. When faced with periods of major change, we can see a sizeable shift in our autistic traits. Causes of autistic burnout can include forcing yourself to pass as neurotypical, major stress or upheaval, sensory or emotional overload and illness. Symptoms can include a decrease in motivation, loss of executive function, selective mutism, problems maintaining social skills, memory loss, lethargy and decreased tolerance for sensory or emotional sensitivity. Basically, we hit a point where we can no longer manage our issues or keep up appearances in the same way that we have been and we end up feeling and/or looking “more autistic” as a result.
I’d been lurking on the periphery of autistic burnout for years, shaking off mild periods of confusion and exhaustion like a fighter moderately rocked by a strike. In the spring of 2015, I got knocked the fuck out. In my case, I think it was just a culmination of my entire life up until that point. Digging out from the catastrophic meltdown that had forced my diagnosis was very much a two steps forward, one and five-sixths steps back scenario. I was making progress, but I was tired. At least subconsciously, I was starting to realize that some of the coping mechanisms I was currently employing might not be long-term solutions.
“Knocked the fuck out” by autistic burnout. Been there. Still recovering.
On autistics and the hurtful fuckery of anti-vaxxers:
No one should have to see themselves used as a boogeyman in an evidence-free conspiracy theory that leads to increasingly frequent public health scares. But I’m hard-pressed to think of a population less equipped to handle being dragged into such an absurd and dangerous mess than autistic people. And yet here we are.
Imagine that you have a neurodevelopmental disability that gives you some challenges with social skills and possibly the occasional rigid adherence to things like truth and fairness. Chances are good that you’ve been explicitly and implicitly told that you are pedantic, rude, blunt and not considerate enough of others’ points of views for your whole life.
Now picture this: You are told that people are dying because spoiled rich assholes are afraid to vaccinate their kids because a discredited former doctor—who either buys children’s blood at birthday parties or at least thinks it’s appropriate to joke about buying kids’ blood for research purposes—told them that the autism fairy will visit their kids if they get them vaccinated. Because, well, when it comes down to it, they’d much rather risk having a dead child than offspring who are anything like you.
Now imagine trying to employ all of those social skills that might not come naturally to you in order to fake some semblance of politeness and tolerance in the face of that incredibly wrong and hurtful fuckery.
Sarah Kurchak on a dilemma many autistic people have experienced when sharing their diagnosis:
Where I saw the first irrefutable proof of myself, though, so many others saw a referendum.
I spent twenty-seven years trying to convince people that I was normal enough to accept, or at least leave alone, and no one ever fully bought it. When I finally knew why that experiment was such an ongoing failure, though, few believed that either. I was using it as an excuse. I was exaggerating. I was faking. I was not as autistic as someone else someone knew and was, therefore, not really autistic.
These comparisons only ever go in one direction. No one has ever said to me, “Temple Grandin is a successful scientist, writer and public speaker, and you have the career of a mildly plucky freelancer half your age. You can’t possibly be autistic.” I suspect that this is because no one is genuinely trying to weigh what they know about me against a set of diagnostic criteria, or fit me into their greater understanding of autistics in the world. What people are really doing when they’re trying to determine if I’m really autistic is figuring out if I make them uncomfortable or sad enough to count. If I show any coping skills, any empathy, any likability, any fun—essentially any humanity—I complicate the narrative too much and usually end up ignored.
This separation between real autistics and people who are “just quirky,” “just awkward” or “almost too high-functioning to count” is a mental dance that non-autistics have to do whenever they’re confronted with a 3-D autistic human being in the flesh. Otherwise everything they’ve ever thought, everything they’ve ever been told about us, starts to seem a little monstrous.
I collect mentions of the meritocracy myth. This one comes from Kimberlé Crenshaw’s Harvard Law Review paper “Race, Reform, and Retrenchment: Transformation and Legitimation in Antidiscrimination Law” back in 1988.
Race consciousness also reinforces whites’ sense that American society is really meritocratic and thus helps prevent them from questioning the basic legitimacy of the free market. Believing both that Blacks are inferior and that the economy impartially rewards the superior over the inferior, whites see that most Blacks are indeed worse off than whites are, which reinforces their sense that the market is operating “fairly and impartially”; those who should logically be on the bottom are on the bottom. This strengthening of whites’ belief in the system in turn reinforces their beliefs that Blacks are indeed inferior. After all, equal opportunity is the rule, and the market is an impartial judge; if Blacks are on the bottom, it must reflect their relative inferiority. Racist ideology thus operates in conjunction with the class components of legal ideology to reinforce the status quo, both in terms of class and race.
The eradication of barriers has created a new dilemma for those victims of racial oppression who are not in a position to benefit from the move to formal equality. The race neutrality of the legal system creates the illusion that racism is no longer the primary factor responsible for the condition of the Black underclass; instead, as we have seen, class disparities appear to be the consequence of individual and group merit within a supposed system of equal opportunity. Moreover, the fact that there are Blacks who are economically successful gives credence both to the assertion that opportunities exist, and to the backlash attitude that Blacks have “gotten too far.” Psychologically, for Blacks who have not made it, the lack of an explanation for their underclass status may result in self-blame and other self-destructive attitudes.
The meritocracy myth and the “lowering the bar” narrative are big barriers to inclusion. This study frames the struggle as “merit vs. the diversity imperative” and identifies it as one of four primary organizational challenges to D&I.
The “Fix Injustice, Not Kids” Principle: Educational outcome disparities are not the result of deficiencies in marginalized communities’ cultures, mindsets, or grittiness, but rather of inequities. Equity initiatives focus, not on “fixing” students and families who are marginalized, but on transforming the conditions that marginalize students and families.
Further, I maintain that those of us who insist on adjudicating the Christianity of others in the public sphere are only serving to reinforce the Christian supremacism that is so baked into American society that too often we don’t even notice it.
This Christian supremacism, however, which is very much white Protestant inflected, overlaps heavily with white supremacism. Inasmuch as the two are intertwined, it’s impossible to dismantle the one without tackling the other. It may seem like an innocent reaction on the part of progressive Christians to denounce their authoritarian coreligionists as “fake Christians” or “not following the teachings of Jesus,” but it’s neither innocent nor accurate, as I have previously discussed on my blog and at Playboy.
The Jesus portrayed in the Bible is a complex and contradictory figure, and there’s nothing resembling a universal consensus among Christians about how to interpret the teachings attributed to him. Christianity has, since the fourth century, frequently gone hand in hand with imperial power, and the existence of liberationist strains of the faith does not negate the existence of these punitive, power-grabbing strains.
Finally, when Christians deflect from addressing the bad behavior of other Christian individuals and groups by writing them out of “true” Christianity, they’re essentially equating Christianity with goodness at the direct expense of nonbelievers and religious minorities who are afforded no equivalent deference. Christians are as capable of atrocities as members of any group and adherents of any ideology, and so long as polite American society proceeds as if this isn’t the case, polite American society is complicit in the normalization of Christian extremism.
This series is framed for “fellow White Christians” but is a good survey of Critical Race Theory for everyone. It’s full of great quotes and links.
- The Christian and Critical Race Theory, Part 1: A Survey of the “Traditional Civil Rights Discourse” : The Front Porch “Traditional Civil Rights discourse predates and dispels allegations of cultural Marxism.”
- The Christian and Critical Race Theory, Part 2: The Segregationist Discourse and Civil Rights Retrenchment : The Front Porch “To tell the story of the rise of critical race theory historically, we have to consider the segregationist and anti-Civil Rights context that spawned it.”
- The Christian and Critical Race Theory, Part 3: A Bridge: Dr. Derrick Bell : The Front Porch “Bell’s work signaled a return to the more “radical” elements of W.E.B. Du Bois, Oliver C. Cox, Stokely Carmichael, and even Dr. King.”
- The Christian and Critical Race Theory, Part 4: Alan Freeman and the Contribution of CLS : The Front Porch “Laws reflect dominant social morality and power distribution. That’s why our laws are more likely to legitimize racism and racist systems than remedy them.”
It seems to be a fact of life that human beings cannot continue to do wrong without eventually reaching out for some rationalization to clothe their acts in the garments of righteousness. And so, with the growth of slavery, men had to convince themselves that a system which was so economically profitable was morally justifiable. The attempt to give moral sanction to a profitable system gave birth to the doctrine of white supremacy. (Where Do We Go From Here?, p. 76-77)
Racism is a doctrine of the congenital inferiority and worthlessness of a people. (Where Do We Go From Here?, p. 49)