Hi, and welcome to season three of the Intersections on the Spectrum Podcast. The intersections on the Spectrum podcast is the brainchild and passion project of Doug Blecher and Kelly Bron Johnson created to discuss intersectional issues within the autistic community and give visibility to commonly marginalized, repressed, underrepresented, or erased identities and issues. We aim to introduce you to the people and stories you didn't know about but needed to hear and hope that by seeing yourself represented in the community allows you to feel seen. I wanted to also as we're starting this third season of the podcast, we are looking for sponsors to help us keep this going. As you know, it's a passion project between Doug and I and, and we've been putting our time and our money into it. And if you'd like to support us, we'll come up with a subscription model or a sponsorship model that could help us keep this going.
Doug Blecher (01:01):
Well, I am so excited for season three. I'm so excited to always see you, Kelly, and learn from you in in each of these seasons. And I can't wait to uh, learn during these conversations and I'm also really excited to, I couldn't think of a better guest to start season three. Kayla Smith is joining us. Thanks so much Kayla.
Kayla Smith (01:24):
I am happy to be here.
Doug Blecher (01:26):
So in each of these episodes we always start off with the same question, wanting to learn about people's identities. So what would you say are the identities that you feel connected with?
Kayla Smith (01:39):
I identify as a black autistic queer woman. I tend to more focus on, you know, being more toward being black and autistic and I'm still kind of new to being queer and I came out in 2021 a day after, uh, Bi visibility day. So, so I'm still learned about my queerness. So I, it's more in tune being black and autistic majority of the time.
Kelly Bron Johnson (02:12):
I think it's always wonderful that we can also embrace new identities as the terminology comes to us, as the experiences come to us. I think it's really important that when we talk about intersectionality, that we're not trying to put one on top of the other or anything. We are all of these things all the time, but we get to, I guess, share more about whichever identity we're more comfortable with at any time too, so. So jumping right in, in 2015 you connected with the community of autistic people on Twitter to start to embrace your autism and unlearn your internalized ableism. What are some of the ableist things that you have unlearned in order to improve the quality of your life?
Kayla Smith (02:55):
...I need to stop being up on myself. Three, I got limits and I should never overcome a disability because it's part of who I am and how it affect me in everyday life. So that's why really unlearn not to be hard on myself. Definitely the number one thing. And doubting as well because try to be overcome my disability and just that the one thing is stop being calling myself that and be perfection all the time. I had to learn the hard way.
Kelly Bron Johnson (03:33):
I'm still trying to learn that. I find it's very hard. But the same thing for me, my diagnosis, I stopped feeling broken and wrong or bad or guilty. I think that's what's really, that's really freeing and helps build a positive self-identity for sure.
Doug Blecher (03:51):
Kayla, you were mentioning about um, your limits and that's something I'm really trying to focus in on my life now is honoring my limitations. Like how have you gone about like figuring those things out?
Kayla Smith (04:05):
I be honest, I don't even know because I still trying to like unlearn my internalized ableism since I did got the mortality to pull people on kind of vibe and try to overdue myself at the same time. And I'm there trying to learn my limit and best way accommodate myself if I get overwhelmed and things like that. It's just hard to pinpoint like when I'm gonna be burning out. So I'm there trying to figure out what my burnout be. But I meant like, you know, someone asked me like, are you able to be yourself? I like, no, because I'll be in survival mode.
Doug Blecher (04:48):
Now in uh, 2018, um, you began to advocate around your autism and eventually focused your advocacy work intersectionality within autism, and created the hashtag black autistic pride to celebrate being black and autistic. What are some of the things within the intersection of being black and autistic that you wish would be celebrated a lot more?
Kayla Smith (05:15):
Acting too white or acting too black to be autistic. And just that for a long time like I have been called uh, rude and just mean, just guess with being a black woman, you always think "angry" in which I'm not angry, I just very straightforward, you ask me, I didn't go tell you the truth one way or the other. But sometime, or the fact I act too white, because growing up I had to go to speech therapy growing up, that why I had to pronunciate different vowels and <laugh> consonants, that thing. And also like being black and autistic, that's a really good question which I, they need to know more about is that like I, as I learn about intersectionality, like masking is different to black and brown people and then their white autistic peers, because even though that we are autistic but our reality is very different, and that why autism is a spectrum for a reason they not ever gonna experience the same thing. And just understanding that we are different and value each other, rather than just looking at one specific alternate that represents everybody, and not everybody represented the same way, or we not Rain Man.
Kelly Bron Johnson (06:43):
Yeah, that is super important. I think that what has been forgotten or not maybe not even forgotten, just ignored in research as well as not looking at the cultural differences. And it's not just the black community that's been ignored, it's the Southeast Asian community, the way that they, the culturally, the way that they embrace autism. Also the Asian Pacific community- completely different. And so, we need that understanding in order to better understand autism because not every culture sees autism as a stigmatized thing that needs curing either. I think it's really important that we start doing more research and more, and not always just research. It could be ethnocultural understanding of the differences and how we perceive disability and how we deal with it in communities. And want to go back a bit to the intersectionality we were talking about at the beginning and, of course, it's the title of our podcast but you know, it's not just a buzzword for us, it's not something new. It didn't just start yesterday, right? It was actually created by Kimberly Crenshaw in 1989. But what are some things that you would suggest that people could learn more about the history and that intersectionality of black and disabled folks?
Kayla Smith (07:54):
Where there's one book called Black Disability Politics by Sammy Schalk, I don't wanna pronounce her last name wrong, her name's Sammy. And she is a professor at, I think that Wisconsin, I can't remember what it is, but I know she wrote a book called Black Disability Politics and she talk about, you know, details how like a Black panther, Black women, helped them back in the 1970s and 80s and how they used disability politics. And I thought it was very interesting and did learn about just Black disability history behind it, how it came about. And also, following Black disabled creators on social media and [inaudible] like Imani Brittion, other people who are actresses, different range of uh, experiences like Tim from TikTok. And learn about Black and Brown autistic people. How we look at the world and learn about different perspective, and what it like to be us? And pay us, and come into racism and stuff. <laugh>
Kelly Bron Johnson (09:06):
Yes. Pay us.
Doug Blecher (09:08):
Now Kayla, in the last month or so I've been very excited to see that you've started a video series, which is titled, "The Life of a Black Artistic Queer Woman." And in one of the episodes you discussed your experience in special education in elementary school, and looked back at uh, picture from that time. And it sounded like there was not a lot of intersectionality in your class, as you were the only girl and you were the only other black student. So, I'm curious, what type of impact do you think that has on students when intersectionality may not be thought of at all?
Kayla Smith (09:47):
Look back at that picture like I think I got that picture either in middle school or high school, one and two options, and now I'm looking at like at the time like, "Oh, that's just me," you know, in the picture. I ain't think about the intersectionality part at the time. After years later, when I became an advocate and learned about intersectionality, looking back that picture, I'm like, "Dang, I was the only girl in the whole class." <laugh>, They kind of know basically, growing up because, you know, I've been around boys the majority of my life. It could make sense now why I am a tomboy for a reason, and then be walking with the boys, and have some reason I be more comfortable talking to guys now with, than again, with girls and women could be diff- operate different. I deal with emotional connection. It's just different and I'm just like, "Eh, I'm not, I'm not with that little drama stuff."
Yes, I'm, you know, I'm not that girly girl but I, you know, of course I'm a woman cis-gender woman, you know. I'm just, of course, like girl stuff but you know, I'm not like a typical girl/woman just, you know, and sometimes, since I'm kind of being forced you know, to understand what like be a woman, like it just sometimes don't fit me. Like I know my mom be telling me like, "Hey, let's show your girly side a little bit." And I'm like, "I get it, but I'm like nah, I don't feel like it." I just wanna be me and just how I show myself in the world. Yes, I'm go, of course I'm, I know I'm a woman, sometimes I do show my feminine side sometimes if I wanna be cute for once but <laugh>. But just looking back, you know, that fault of, I don't, I didn't realize, you know, they can learn about autism and disparity within autism.
I did not know it was that bad. I bet the younger generation, my age will experience, may experience the same thing like I did that you, you know, Black and Brown and autistic. I think I remember, and not really much our elementary school but, but as I came I guess became a little older in elementary school, I thought I seen more Black and Brown autistic people and part same thing in middle school. And then high school- I think so, but then I went all black high school and then graduated <laugh>. So it just, you know, I guess sometimes feel like I'm maybe the only autistic person in my own spaces, or be the maybe like be Black autistic people. Especially in my Black high school. I would probably like, I'm assuming I might be the only Black autistic person, but yeah. Middle school, not so much, it like five of us who are, you know, Black and autistic. So it's very a different experience but, but during the time I, since I felt like I'm the only one in my classes, you know, that might be autistic.
Kelly Bron Johnson (12:52):
I think that experience can be very common for a lot of people that they feel that they're isolated, they feel that they're only only ones. And that's not always the case, it's just that you know, diagnosis doesn't come early to everybody that's uh, you know, this whole concept of making sure. For me, it was really important when I put my kids in school that they were in a mixture with multicultural, [I] don't want them to be the only one of their kind so to speak in a classroom. I'm really pleased to say this with my youngest one in his class, there is not one single white child. Everybody is something, like everybody is is non-white essentially. So you know, there's Arab, there's Latinas, there's, there's Chinese, there's a whole mixture, whole, whole mixture. There's Black, everybody, but there's not a single white child in that class.
So <laughs> I thought there was one, but it turns out he was Arab <laugh>. He's just light-skinned. But anyway, I think it's so important that kids have that and we're interacting with different races, right? It's important to learn how to interact not just with different genders, but different races. I think it's super important, especially as kids, that they have those experiences, cause one is less isolating and two is less scary. It's as simple as that. You're gonna be able to talk to anybody when you're older because you're not worried about how to act or if you're gonna, you know, make a mistake with somebody. Anyway, that's my whole little rant <laugh> on on why it's important. So now, you're a student again, you're a student at UNC Greensboro. What are you studying, and what do you hope to do with your future degree? And I'm also gonna ask you the secondary part to that. How is the racial makeup of your classes at UNC Greensboro?
Kayla Smith (14:34):
Basically, I'm double majoring in accounting and finance. And [you] mention the, the demographic of school, like I think I remember, oh Lord, um, it about a high percentage of Black people, but in the classroom not so much <laugh>. Yeah, I forgot what percentage, probably like 20%? I don't remember the percent, but I know it's a very diverse campus. And also my school also have large percentage of LGBTQ+ community as well. But in a classroom you... I might see a few Black people once in a while, but think me being disabled, I may be the only one. But then we was- one of my classmates, we, me and her, find out one day we just talking to each other, she's also Black, found out we're neurodivergent and LGBTQ+?! I'm like <laugh>
And I thought it seemed more of Black autistic queer on campus a little bit. You know, since I'd be finding them, but it is hard to find like people have an exact idea like I am being Black, queer, and disabled. It's hard to find.
And just, and also my roommate, also neurodivergent herself. So, it pretty cool. And also good friends. It's been not really much of like people have the same identity as me, it may be small. So it's good to see that, see someone like me once in a while who have [the] exact identity, but it don't matter. Be similar disability or different disability, at least they know what it's like be disabled. But majority of the time, I'm sure the majority of the population might be neurotypical but I do be seeing a lot of like autistic people, basically. I be seeing them especially in queer spaces. Basically that's how I be finding them. Interesting. And yeah, I thought it was <laugh> but yeah.
Kelly Bron Johnson (16:48):
We're out there. We're out there. <laugh>.
Doug Blecher (16:51):
Kayla you were mentioning like, you know, it's been hard to find other Black autistic queer people in a lot of the spaces you've been at. I'm wondering what about in terms of like social media? Have, you know, what's been your experience in finding community there?
Kayla Smith (17:10):
I guess I remember one day I just say- I remember saying Black autistic girl, something like that, and it kind of went from there. And then, when I'm not seeing just white advocates. Like Alice Wong and Imani Barbarin, all activists, different disability, and also though have a similar disability as me, and I thought I was very interesting. And then, when I thought learned about ADA and love about disability history and rights. And I'm like, well I didn't know all this stuff growing up but um, it'd be good to know that. And also Lydia [XZ] Brown they, you know, create spaces for Black and Brown autistic people. So I'm grateful for them doing the work and I'm in the, in their spaces. So, and just also following people who are Black and autistic and by like Latinae and Indigenous as well. Like different experiences and just, and be follow on different social media platforms, learn about experiences and like common and when I get a chance to, it's good to know that we did exist. So they're more important, [now] more than ever.
Doug Blecher (18:29):
And if our listeners wanna follow you beyond this interview, if they're not familiar with you, how can they go about doing so?
Kayla Smith (18:38):
Like I got YouTube, Twitter, Instagram, TikTok, Patreon, and I did finally create a clubhouse <laugh>. And when you go on my social media, basically where YouTube, Twitter, Instagram, TikTok, you see the Link Tree and you go to all of my social media platform. And also, you could pay me on PayPal or Cash App, [they're] able to be on a Link Tree. So they have to have people come follow me.
Kelly Bron Johnson (19:13):
Doug Blecher (19:14):
Well thanks so much Kayla. Uh, you know, I know me and Kelly have been following you on social media for a long time now, so it was really wonderful to get a chance to talk with you.