The Colonisation of Neurodiversity And How To Break Free: Part 2
by AJ Singh
In Part 1, I looked at how the Neurodiversity movement has been co-opted by white supremacist culture. Now let’s see how we move beyond this.
To break free of these self-defeating cycles, we need a radically different lens through which we view the Neurodiversity movement. A paradigm shift. And that starts with language that speaks to a decolonised reality, rather than a colonised reality.
Unpacking Two Lies
I believe there are two things we must understand and accept.
1. Normal is a lie.
What even is normal? Who on earth gets to define that? Largely, a bunch of white, cis, het, men who lived according to colonial, white supremacist, patriarchal ideals, who did research only on white, cis, het men, throughout the 20th century and decided any experience other than that of a white, cis, het man was ‘abnormal’.
In addition, if you happened to be Neurodivergent and were also a wealthy white, cis, het man, then your Neurodivergence would simply be written off as ‘eccentricity’. The definition of normal shifts to serve those in power and cannot be extracted from other intersectional aspects of identity. If you're tying this in with Characteristics of White Supremacy Culture, you're right.
2. Neurotypical is a lie - and a performance.
Similarly, ‘Neurotypical’ is a word given to the colonial, capitalist, patriarchal, white-supremacist version of what ‘normal’ cognitive functioning looks, sounds and acts like. This is not a natural state of being, it is something we have been taught to mould ourselves into, as closely as possible. Cutting off, ignoring and shaming the parts that don’t fit. Following constructed colonial norms without question.
It’s politeness, niceness, urgency, socialising with people you don’t feel safe to be yourself around, wearing clothes that aren’t comfortable, speaking in the localised, white-supremacist-approved, cadence and accent, lying because it’s easier than conflict, having no boundaries with ourselves or others because we are taught we are entitled to others’ time, energy, attention, the list goes on and on.
We are all being raised in this coloniser constructed reality and neurotypicality is a constructed product of that.
Are there any people whose mindbodies genuinely fit the concept of Neurotypical? Maybe. But how would they know when they’ve never been encouraged to critically question that from a place of non-judgement and support? And how can we untangle that from the taught behaviours of white supremacy?
Reclaiming The Language
This clearly isn’t working. What other language could we use?
Dr Nick Walker describes divergence from this performance of neurotypical as Neuro Queering - a term I have much love for as it helped me to start to understand myself and my mindbody for the first time in my life. I was 34 when I discovered her work.
Walker also talks about people having different ‘neurocognitive styles’ - I LOVE this. This is depathologised, celebratory and involves no ‘normal’ and ‘other.’ While I love the term Neuro Queering, it still refers to something we are doing to break the status quo, something we are doing within the confines of a colonised reality. And while Neuro Queering exists, it means that there is something to Queer/Diverge from.
And I keep coming back to this: I am not divergent, because there is nothing REAL to diverge from.
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Our identities cannot exist only in opposition to an imaginary, destructive construct if we want to create a new reality where our needs are met with love and abundance.
How can we move forward to equality when we are still operating from within an us and them framework? A binary framework? A colonial, capitalist, patriarchal framework designed to oppress and exploit us?
It means creating new terms from a new perspective.
Here are some of the terms we're starting to use at Mission Equality and beyond to shift the conversation:
Neuro-performative: Ways of existing that align with the construct of normal, but require an individual to move away from their own unique baseline of normal.
Neuro-embodiment: The process of finding our own baseline of 'normal' and learning to recognise when we are and aren't operating from it.
Neuro-normal: Ways of existing that align with your specific mindbody, and that are the 'normal' baseline for you as an individual.
Anyone who is not living according to the needs of their mindbody is neuro-performative. This might be a permanent state - for example in those who identify as neurotypical but have never critically challenged this identity and its context in colonisation and white supremacy, and those who have never thought about their mindbody baseline at all. It may be a fluid state - like in those who identify as Neurodivergent but who are masking for survival, and those who code-switch to survive in white spaces.
For those whose mindbodies cannot neuro-perform, they are living as close as is currently possible to a permanently neuro-embodied state, although I would venture that those people are still attempting to perform in any way that their mindbody will allow unless being cared for in a highly anti-ableist, decolonised environment.
So where do we go from here?
These new terms signify the recognition that our movement has been branded, packaged and sold on the altar of capitalism. They signify a paradigm shift. A new focus on collective healing and radical change. The letting go of binaries. The decolonising of ourselves, our mindbodies and our future.
A future where there is only us, and no them.
AJ Singh is Decolonising Mindbody Health Lead at Mission Equality.