I am a morning commuter. I take an UberPool every morning from my apartment to my place of employment, as I have every weekday for the past six weeks since I started my internship. Uber gives me the freedom to travel. For those of you who don't know, UberPool is pretty much the same as carpooling, except you get matched with someone along your route and an Uber driver drives you to your destinations. I usually don't mind it. It takes between 12 and 20 minutes to go the few miles in morning to my destination, and I save a few dollars and the stress of driving in a big city. Typically, there is another commuter in my ride, texting or listening to music. Today was different; today was the Uber Ride From Hell at no fault of the driver or Uber itself, but other Uber "co-riders" (Uber's term for carpoolers).
I was the second one picked up. My ride consisted of three teenagers/young adults, likely under about the age of 20 - probably the first sign something wasn't right, since the maximum that can be there before the second rider is two (I am a supporter of rule-following). I opened the door to the front passenger seat of the sedan, sat down and pulled out my phone to see how long my commute would be, and the teenagers scoff: "why did you pick her up?"
I say nothing. They knowingly signed up for a carpool. The driver turns onto a busy Miami thoroughfare. These three people are loud; maybe they are going to the beach or something. I think nothing of it - just three kids on summer break who, for better or worse, are part of my commute.
Until they're talking about politics and refer to Hillary Clinton as "autistic as f**k." Until they start referring to each other as autistic, with the definite connotation of "autistic" meaning "stupid," or worse: a socially acceptable synonym for the R-word. They then jeer about their friends, trying to figure out who is autistic because of perceived intelligence. These people are unknowingly sharing a car with an autistic person. My insides were boiling.
When a situation like this arises, I get to choose between being a person or being an advocate. If I am a person, do I call this out when society makes a point to erase autistic voices? As a person, do I find the word 'autistic' offensive? No, of course not - it is not a derogatory term. If I am an advocate, how do I approach this? Do I speak up? Do I teach these people what autism is? Or do I say nothing and pretend this never happened? If I speak up, what will happen? Are these people worth my while? Is it really worth giving up my perceived personhood, because when you're "out," and a member of a vulnerable class of people, you automatically become less human to cruel individuals?
Even in the wakes of diversity movements, and blatant discrimination against our country's most vulnerable minority groups that ends in tragedy like what happened in Orlando, there is still hate. There will always be hate. I thought about Orlando the next minute. We as a nation are collectively learning about healing and love in the aftermath of discrimination and hate. Yet here I was this morning, feeling the familiar pangs of discrimination and hate, even if the people behind it didn't know better.
I said nothing. As much as I love to advocate and speak up, these people didn't deserve it. They complained to the driver about being late to their destination and that my drop-off was first (thank goodness). The driver and I told gently them not to carpool if that was a concern. They talked about saving money. I was thinking about saving fellow commuters from the emotional triggers of hatred and discrimination. They got into an argument with the driver. An annoyed peep about commuting came out of my mouth; they told me "No one is talking to you."
"No one is talking to you." This feels like bullying. This feels like an experience my collective autistic community knows all too well. We have been silenced, mocked, ridiculed, or told we are less at some point or another. I am three minutes away from work. Who am I to educate immature bullies in three minutes about what it means to be an autistic woman, celebrating her differences, a person with an internship and who is in law school and who others consider brave for facing adversity? I didn't speak up.
Our car finally arrives at my destination. I get out of the car, almost in tears, ready to face the day and adversity again - it is what autistic people like me excel at. We excel at being told we are less and rising to the occasion of being more than our personal bests. We are built to be resilient. While I am hurt, and questioning why the hate continues, and why I got hit with the Uber ride from hell this morning - I can't help but remember: those of us who are "different" by societal standards are perfect as they are in an imperfect world, full of imperfect people who are filled with hate and unable to live their truths and accept themselves or others.
I question if not speaking up was the right move. I am someone who tells others not to use the R-word. I write about autism; I live it, I breathe it, I love it. I educate people through the life I live. I decided these hate filled individuals weren't the ones who could learn or benefit. And that hurts. Yet I don't regret not wasting my precious resources or voice on those who will never elect to hear it.
Instead, I will continue to openly soldier on through a world that wasn't designed with me in mind, as I do every day, and that in itself is braver than speaking up to three ignorant bullies in an Uber ride.