9 Autistic Superpowers to Fight White Supremacy Culture

Let’s get specific.

By Rose Ernst

Photo by Kevin Malik

I didn’t want to go.

I really, really couldn’t go to another organizing meeting.

The lights, the confusing signals, the endless masking, my alexithymia, the awkward small talk, the hours upon hours . . . I could already feel myself going into a shutdown, like a song fading out into silence.

But it wasn’t just that meeting. It was the whole setup. After 20+ years of organizing — and as much as I believed in and admired everyone in that room — my body just couldn’t cope anymore.

If you’re autistic, you might relate.

Perhaps you read the excellent “26 ways to be in the struggle beyond the streets” about other ways to organize.

And yet, you might want more.

Rather than focus on what we often cannot do — like being in the streets — let’s focus on our unique superpowers in fighting white supremacy.

Here we go.

Subverting the Norm

Photo by James Adams on Unsplash

If you’re not familiar with White Supremacy Culture, you can read the original and revised list by Tema Okun and Kenneth Jones here. Here’s a quick refresher:

Either/or thinking
Denial and defensiveness
Right to comfort
Fear of conflict
One right way
Progress is more
Worship of the written word

If you’re unfamiliar with these ideas, I urge you to read the entire article for further context.

These attributes maintain a system of violence and power on behalf of white people. They operate on a systemic and an individual level.

Let’s see how autism superpowers can help dismantle white supremacy.

Here’s a list of autistic strengths from Paul Micallef:

Attention to detail
Being Persistent
Being Creative
Being Honest
Being Non-Judgmental
Being Loyal
Being Highly Empathic
Extremely Flexible
Strong Sense of Justice

Already we’re getting into the spirit of things by focusing on our humanity and what’s right with us, rather than on the nauseating and harmful medical studies on how we’re supposedly broken.

So how is this related to an anti-racist practice?

Across and Within Oppressions


I now realize that so much of what drew me to white anti-racist organizing many years ago was my autism.

I can now see how the two can complement each other. Here are a few examples:

Attention to detail

  1. Utter confusion about the obvious lies and hypocrisy of the United States. If you pay attention to the details — even in your whitewashed history classes — you’ll realize that it doesn’t all add up, does it?
  2. Noticing the gap between people’s words and actions.

Being Honest

  1. Blurting “The emperor has no clothes!”
  2. Saying what everyone is thinking.

Being Highly Empathic

  1. Pain of witnessing others be degraded and injured by white state power structures — not that I can ever truly feel it.
  2. Listening.

Being Creative

  1. Being able to think outside the box (despite often being literal and linear).
  2. Pulling together threads and patterns that no one else sees.

Being Non-Judgmental

  1. Feeling confused by status games among peers and perplexing social norms.
  2. Listening, regardless of someone’s social status or so-called authority.

Being Loyal

  1. Being loyal to individuals rather than institutions.
  2. Having a few deep relationships.

Extremely Flexible

  1. If you can’t see or don’t care about social norms, you’ll take risks.
  2. You’ll entertain ideas that seem impossible to others.

Strong Sense of Justice

  1. An intuitive sense of when something is wrong or inequitable. This itself becomes a special interest.
  2. Where others see “nuance,” or say, “it’s not that bad,” you see clear-cut injustices.

Being Persistent

  1. You can keep telling me everything’s fine, but I know it’s not (see attention to detail). I’m like a dog with a bone.
  2. When combined with a strong sense of justice, you just can’t leave it alone.

Making It Concrete

Let’s focus on what you can do — with an acknowledgment that this list is geared toward white people taking action.

Attention to detail and pattern spotting
First, notice your environments: the doctor’s office, your work, your community center, your online spaces, the social service office, and even public transportation. How are people treated based on race? If you use your attention to detail and pattern-spotting, you’ll often notice things other people will miss.

Be honest
Second, lean on your honesty superpower (often known as blurting out!) instead of your fear of conflict, which so many of us have. Say something. It doesn’t have to be a loud declaration in front of many people. Sometimes you might notice how an online form makes erroneous assumptions about who is autistic. Email the organization about it.

Be loyal
Third, white supremacy operates under the guise of organizational traditions, red tape, and other strategies to silence people and maintain the status quo (also true of maintaining ableism, of course). Again, although we’re often rule-followers because it helps us just get through the day, lean on our loyalty to people, not institutions. If the organization you emailed says they’re “working on it,” keep pushing them. When you’re loyal to people rather than rules, people in power become flustered!

Be flexible and creative
Fourth, after announcing that the emperor has no clothes, you can make suggestions that no one else might have thought of — or thought was possible. Bravo!

A Scenario

Imagine you’re invited to participate in an online panel discussion about autistic adulthood.

You’re excited and happy to participate and ask for details about the other participants on your panel and the conference. Using your spidey detail-orientation, you notice that all the participant bio photos appear to be white and come from privileged backgrounds. There also aren’t any panel discussions or talks that even mention anything about anti-racist topics or different cultural perspectives, nor is there any sort of anti-oppression statement by the conference itself.

So you’ve noticed something, haven’t you?

How about emailing the organizer and gently inquiring about racial diversity among participants and topics discussed? You’re giving them an opportunity to respond and to make amends.

If they dismiss you, then maybe it’s time to explore this further by sending them resources, talking to someone else in the organization, calling on your allies, or putting out a query online. It all depends on your capacity, of course.

If you’re at capacity, then maybe pass the baton to a friend to take it a step further. Even though you may prefer to work alone, you’re not alone in making things happen. Neurodivergent people build relationships in a different way than the so-called norm, so remember that when using your superpowers.

The Bottom Line

Photo by Ali Kokab on Unsplash

Because each autistic person is unique, these strengths will look different for everyone. Our multiple identities will also produce different lived experiences. As we have new experiences or society changes, so too will our organizing.

The point remains the same, however.

Each one of these strengths can manifest in powerful change at an individual and collective level. As with all strengths, they’re so ingrained in the way we see the world that we often forget that they’re unique superpowers.

If you want to learn more, read Morénike Giwa Onaiwu’s piece in Autism in Adulthood, and for even more specific actions you can take, check out the Autistic People of Color Fund.

In moving forward, imagine what can be done.

If you don’t care about playing status games, imagine what you’ll achieve.

If you see the world differently, imagine what you’ll say.

If you have a rock-solid inner compass, imagine guiding others along the same path.

Get creative. Justice demands nothing less.