Transcript for Morénike Giwa Onaiwu

Kelly Bron Johnson (00:07)
Welcome to season two of the Intersections on the Spectrum Podcast. The Intersections on the Spectrum podcast is the brainchild 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.
Doug Blecher (00:38)
Today we get to talk with Morenike Giwa Onnawu. Morenike is an educator, writer, public speaker, parent, global advocate, and I'm sure much more than that.
Doug Blecher (00:51)
But that's just kind of the beginning.
Doug Blecher (00:53)
So, Morenike, thanks for joining us today. 
Morenike Giwa Onaiwu (00:58)
Thank you both. 
Morenike Giwa Onaiwu (00:59)
I'm so excited to be able to meet with you all. It's been a while.
Doug Blecher (01:04)
Glad we made it happen.
Doug Blecher (01:07)
Starting out, we like to learn people's identities. And what would you say are the identities you're mostly connected with?

Morenike Giwa Onaiwu (01:19)
I'd say probably my disability identity is very important to me. So although im neurodivergent, autistic, ADHD as well as a person of color being an educator and activist, writer, advocate, all of that, they are all intended for the same purpose, which is to amplify voices of the people.

Kelly Bron Johnson (02:46)
Nice. So I actually kind of identify very similarly to you in terms of I'll often say I'm a nonbinary them just for simplicity sake because that's how I present. But now that you mentioned nonbinary women, I'm kind of curious if you don't mind, if you want to go into that a little bit more before I jump into our next question.
Morenike Giwa Onaiwu (03:06)
Sure. I don't mind at all.
Morenike Giwa Onaiwu (03:07)
It's interesting because it's so funny to me. There's so many things about one's identity that you start to learn. But it's almost like later, the more you find out about yourself. So I remember when I get the diagnosis that I'm autistic etc all of these things started to unfold but I still thought, okay, but I'm still this heterosexual cisgender woman, right? Because I thought that I spent a lot of time looking at HIV advocacy. I worked very closely with a lot of really amazing trans activists, and I just always had the impression that if you're not dissatisfied with the body that you have, then your gender is fine, that no one feels like a gender. I knew some people felt sense of disconnect from the gender, but for me, it
almost kind of like I have a name. I was given a name. And this is the name I call or this is what we call this piece of furniture, this color or this food. I was like, okay, people with this plumbing are a women. Some people may feel that it's completely wrong, but no one feels that it's completely right.
Just a thing, like, clothing . As soon as you come home, you try to take off your clothing and get comfortable and take off your shoes, but you can't take off the gender.

Morenike Giwa Onaiwu (04:42)
It's just there. And so I never realized that there were people who the gender they were assigned at birth didn't really kind of match them. I didn't understand how it was something you can feel it really just didn't make any sense to me. It was just kind of like how my brain worked I thought everyone thought the way I did and surprised they didn't and I thought they were weird. When I started to figure
things out I had to look at myself. I have a lot of privilege, although I have a lot of marginalizations and I don't want to misrepresent myself because I will throw on lip gloss and a skirt
Morenike Giwa Onaiwu (05:30)
And so I know how I present to people and look like I know what my family composition looks like.
And I didn't want to seem to be an imposter, but I started realizing that a lot for me of the difficulty of letting go of womanhood was really more about the identity in terms of how I always view women as these change makers and these leaders who wrestle against the cis man and find ways to do things and make things happen. And there are so many luminaries that I had admired, especially being a
black person. It just was such a core part of my identity that I didn't want to leave any behind, at the same time I want to be honest about the fact that of the idea of being a woman so I did some reading for a long time as an autistic mind this doesn't make sense. It cannot be this, just like anything else, that our identity and culture is not that simple, that binary. There's a mix of things. And so it was reading up things on gender or reading some of the work of some of the queer black writers,
reading some of things for Rebecca Sugar, actually watching Steven Universe, understanding the character s that are nonbinary fems or nonbinary women there am i helping anybody with having the quote unquote straight cis clothes on. And that's not really me. People need to see the variety of who
we are in our community and need to accept it.
Morenike Giwa Onaiwu (07:41)
Some people see themselves if I share myself, sorry that was so long.

Kelly Bron Johnson (07:48)
No, but it's deep, too, what you said. I kind of overlap in some ways, but not completely. I call myself almost gender agnostic, like when you talk about the plumbing. I really feel no attachment to my plumbing, so to speak. I don't have any attachment to my parts. And even I had a hysterectomy a few years ago for completely unrelated reasons. But there is almost a sense of relief in having that part of my womanhood gone and not being defined by that. So very interesting, very complex. We could probably talk about this all day.

Morenike Giwa Onaiwu (08:47)
I noticed there is a growing number of research studies talking about amount that we have are present differently. They're different ratios than other people. In a sense our experience of gender and our bodies are going to be different. I have this, this is what I'm born with but I don't freakin care about these things.

Kelly Bron Johnson (09:18)
All right, so let's go into your article in Autism and Adulthood Journal, which is actually edited by TC Wiseman, who we had as a guest last year. Anyway, okay. So, yeah, I want to talk about that article that you wrote about autisms white privilege problem. So what are some of the reasons that you see black autistics may be wary of the autistic community.

Morenike Giwa Onaiwu (09:49)
I feel that there is so much erasure. The thing is it's not intentional usually, impact and intent are not the same thing. Just even a lot the autistic community experiences people have are experiences they assume are being held collective by the community. For many
Morenike Giwa Onaiwu (10:18)
Autism is the first major marginalization they've ever had in life. It is a real marginalization for thos of us who are already autism is just another layer of what we already experience. We already been gender identity, racial identity, sexuality, or immigration identity is seen as less. You can't tease one or the other out I remember having a conversation with someone once I was saying when my siblings and I all three of us figuring out what we were they got surprised. I told people when I was born nobody knew what my personality was going to be like what my hopes and dreams would be, all they knew I was going to be black. Thats something thats a part of you whether your typical or atypical
Morenike Giwa Onaiwu (11:44)
that people don't understand. The idea of wearing you know I think some of the things that people have suggested, oh you don't understand. Excuse me thats the worst possible idea. You know, and, you know, and just making things intersect. And it's very interesting because this article you mentioned, it is actually another black autistic activist reached out to me that the article had been plagiarized word for word. Racism and disparities in the autism community in the article.

Kelly Bron Johnson (12:44)
I'm following a lot of great autistic black activists on Instagram who are burning out as well, but sharing a lot of these aspects. And I always find it really enlightening to read the comments because it's often white people who are clueless and don't realize that their advocacy is not intersectional and
that it doesn't in some cases. It's not just not helpful, but it's also actively harmful against the BIPOC community in general.

Morenike Giwa Onaiwu (13:47)
I just think about how there was about this thing or that thing. Alot of autistic charts or questionnaires are very very whitewashed.This is exactly the word that I would use. Bristling. Again, people would explain that, no, this is harmful.

Kelly Bron Johnson (14:32)
What I've noticed too is I follow another great Instagram account, just mentioning them all. It's called Melanin Base Camp, and it's about it's all, mostly black, but it's for any people of color getting outdoors, doing activities. I love travel, so I love to follow these things. And what was my point there?
Sorry, I lost my point. And my son is singing on the outside of my door.

Morenike Giwa Onaiwu (15:03)
It's okay, gave me a moment to look it up and I'm like, oh my God, I had no idea. I didn't know about this.

Kelly Bron Johnson (15:10)
Yeah, there's so much fun.  Oh, yeah. I got into an argument with somebody in the comments section where they were saying that there was a black woman. She actually happens to be a professor and an expert in wildlife care. She was cradling baby bears. And as her job, she's a researcher, she knows what she's doing. And a white person took it upon herself to say how dangerous this was and how she shouldn't be doing this and all this stuff. Or you should have a disclaimer on the account saying people don't do this. I'm like, okay, well, it should be obvious, don't
go pick up baby bears. But anyway, it doesn't matter. When I pressed her on what she was saying, I said, well, unless you're going and saying that on white accounts with white people who do ridiculous things, you don't really have a place to say this to a professor.

Morenike Giwa Onaiwu (16:04)

Kelly Bron Johnson (16:07)
After she had no other way to defend herself against my accusation of racism, she's like, Well, I'm autistic, so I didn't get it. And I'm like, well, no, it doesn't work like that. I'm autistic too.

Kelly Bron Johnson (16:18)
So let's go.

Morenike Giwa Onaiwu (16:21)
It's so frustrating when people try and use autism as a get out of jail free card. If you're being ableist or racist or being whatever autism is not causing things. It may make these things more obvious to us, I get some of the subtleties but we are still raised in this world with all other ism's. Thats not autism that's another ism. Be real don't try to use it as an excuse we all have privileges and marginalizations
and people want to do anything to not be accountable.

Kelly Bron Johnson (17:07)
I said, look, racism is not part of the criteria in the DSM. It's not in there.

Doug Blecher (17:21)
Morenike, Kelly was mentioning earlier about black autistic advocates dealing with burnout. What do you see as some things that really need to happen in the autistic community to make for changes to occur? So this is much less likely to happen.

Morenike Giwa Onaiwu (18:00)
I think people need to really self reflect. Theres a lot of ingrained biases and people say i'm disabled and yes you are but your still saying things And I think people don't want to sit, think and learn. We just react. It makes us feel gaslit because I think we're in a community where everyone shouting like, black lives matter, protect trans women, et cetera, et cetera. And then these are the same people who don't come back when things happen. It's frustrating. I think it's going to take a lot before collectively anything happens. People need to be willing to do the internal work. It doesn't make you a horrible person or a demon to have to unlearn some things that makes you human And I just wish that people didn't think that there's no possible way I can be this or be that. what their surroundings are look at things that they're saying or how it's impacting others, and just try to think, you know, more, you know, and be conscious of their actions. As long as we are, you know, the labor, you know that falls upon, you know, BIPOC and you know and in particular black autistic people to to explain ourselves and have to the ambassador and have to this and have to take everything with and give everyone a pass, but not to be given. And be, you know, in circumstances where we're, you know triggered or disregarded or, you know, undervalued or underpaid. It's just, it causes people to want to withdraw.
And I think also, people really need to look at things, everyone talks about intersexuality but I think they need to understand that things are a lot more complex in our communities, a lot of these things that are very quote unquote mapping on issues you know, it to our lives for us. We can't go into our communities, you know,
Morenike Giwa Onaiwu (20:32)
Policing the way Lydia talks about autism or whatever or, you know, we're happy we hear certain things that just don't work, you know, for variety of reasons. And I think that people you know don't understand how we're living that balance and they're not. And so really I just think community connection, learning oneself and being open to listen, being open to learning and being open to, you know, grow and apologize that those things are all muted, but it's something that we struggle to do as a community.

Kelly Bron Johnson (21:09)
And I think also two things that you mentioned that are really important, I think, for people who want to take something away that they could use if there are people who are listening that want to make some changes, one that your thoughts are not a character flaw. So being called out or being called in for whatever reason, whether it's sexism, ableism, whatever, that's not a character flaw. And it's not
like a personality trait that you can't change. The fantastic thing about these beliefs is that they can be changed. And that's what I always try and tell people, like, you're not stuck in this way. You don't have to be stuck in this way. It's a choice to be stuck that way with bad, I guess, kind of ideas. You want to call it bad or racist ideas or bigoted ideas. You mentioned unconscious bias. It's also really important to know. We've done a lot of research on unconscious biases. We all have them. The point is not to eliminate them. They're impossible to eliminate. They're in you. Okay. The point is that you can just be aware that you have them, and then you can take steps and there's tools, there's support you can use.

Kelly Bron Johnson (22:24)
If you're in a workplace and you're in charge of hiring and you know you have a particular bias, you then get a team of people to help you assess candidates so that you're not reflecting your bias in this case. Or you can step out and say, look, I can't vote on this particular issue right now, or I can't comment on this issue because I have a bias and I'm going to let other people go into that anyway. So just to say so that people can know that it's not that you're stuck like this. There's things that we can do to kind of I don't want to even say overcome. There's just ways to deal with it. Yes.

Morenike Giwa Onaiwu (23:00)
And that's the thing that I love the way you put that people feel like it's an indictment on you know their character no it's a thought pattern way you have something that recognized and addressed, like anything else. And I think about a story, this is pretty cool of a people was flying along, and I remember I was at the airport, and there was another colleague of mine was also, you know, we were
both there. I'm there early because I'm always
Morenike Giwa Onaiwu (23:46)
quote, unquote, randomly selected I'm black muslim And then the hair thing. You don't understand hair always flags the little machine but I guess I have, you know, like they would expect, you know, different texture so a lot of prepare for that. I know they get patted down and all this and that, and I'm gonna have to move to the side so I just built in the time. But I was confused about why this colleague
was there, he's white.
Morenike Giwa Onaiwu (24:30)
And when I go through the X ray, they don't understand why they're seeing boobs and and lipstick, but then they're also seeing my extra stuff down here because my friend was trans.
Morenike Giwa Onaiwu (24:45)
And I was like, that has never done on me. I'm thinking, whatever the privilege that I have that I'm stopped for racial things. But in terms of the gender piece I'm sliding right through, this person is not. And so it was something that I truly never really thought about I said seriously thinking why are you sure this is ridiculous and person's thinking if i'm not here early I'm going to miss my flight, and so it
just was, it was a huge, it was for me and just show Wow, what a huge thing that I've missed that I hadn't thought about. And, you know, it could be more conscious of. Whenever you know you said to people before so its just about learning and you know when you make your faux pas and you grow from them but the problem is people don't want to admit them they don't want to grow from and
that's why we remain stagnant.

Kelly Bron Johnson (25:46)
Yeah. And also great of your friends to be okay, disclosing. Like if you didn't know that they were trans first.
Morenike Giwa Onaiwu (25:52)
I did.
Morenike Giwa Onaiwu (25:53)
I just never thought about it.

Kelly Bron Johnson (25:54)
Yeah. But even so, just to say that maybe they weren't openly trans and they might have just like, well, I'm just here early because. Right. And then you would have missed that opportunity for growth yourself, but it could have also been uncomfortable together. Anyway, it's really cool. It's a good example of what you don't and what you don't know sometimes. So don't judge a book by its cover.
So speaking about books, you're one of the Editors for the book. Sincerely, your autistic child what people on the autism spectrum wish their parents knew about growing up, acceptance and identity. In the Editor's forward of the book, it was mentioned that an important reason for creating the book was to help with the division of autistic adults and non autistic parents. What do you think are some of the common mistakes and misconceptions that non autistic parents may make in the parenting process?

Morenike Giwa Onaiwu (26:56)
Oh my gosh there are so many.

Kelly Bron Johnson (29:27)
Exactly. It's finding that way of voicing concerns and also understanding this balance. Right. Like you said, there's outright abuse. It's going to need a different approach than somebody who is acting from a place of fear, which is I think a lot of people forget a lot of these parents are acting from places of fear. And that's because that's what they've been told by professionals. If you don't do this, kid's never going to succeed, right? If you don't do this, he's never going to live independently, as if that's the worst threat, too. And I'm like, why is that the worst threat? Why are those threats? Why are developmental milestones becoming threats? Oh, well, you're not going to finish school or not going to read. Why is that a threat? You know how many people don't read?

Morenike Giwa Onaiwu (30:24)
They latch onto someone's fear and try to make it look like your child will have no options. It's really one of the most cruel things you can do to a parent. To attack their fear when it comes to their child.

Doug Blecher (31:05)
You were talking about autistic community isn't always says things in the most gentle way to non autistic parents. Do you see autistic parents themselves in any way being a bridge to kind of reduce this division?

Morenike Giwa Onaiwu (31:23)
I hope so and want to go back and say that autistic people shouldn't be asked to communicate like non autistic people. Meet us halfway if we are just a little over enthusiastic or not very tactful about the way we say something just understand the heart of the message and it isn't every persons job just like with racial reconciliation of every persons of colors job to educate other people. The same
thing for autistic people in the sense of isn't a task that we should have to take on. I think that if given the opportunity autistic parents, kind of, you know, we are, we do have the experience of being autistic and being an adult we also have, you know, the, you know, the understanding of any parent of, you know, dealing with, you know, a child with the access needs that we do, dealing with schools and
providers and society and all these different things so I think there's a way that works from both sides. And hopefully, you know, generate some dialogue. That should allow us all you know really all to, you know, kind of try to understand where one another is coming from and, you know.

Kelly Bron Johnson (32:57)
So one thing you brought up before about having your writing stolen or plagiarized, there are positives of being a well known person in the autistic community, but the other side is not quite as fun. Sometimes I've got some examples from myself that I could share, but I'm looking at this question
now. I'm not sure I like this question anymore. Once they get their level of notoriety, do you see ways that this can be prevented from happening? In other words, having your writing stolen? I don't know. This puts the onus on the person rather than.

Morenike Giwa Onaiwu (34:18)
Those things are someone's blood sweat and tears someone's dream someone's life. And so it's just, it's disgusting I feel like it's the ultimate sense of entitlement and laziness, to just steal people's names. So I think that really, we have first look at society. It shouldn't be acceptable shouldn't be seen as a small thing persons overreacting because they weren't given credit, you know, you know, so really I think that know, everyone needs to, you know, make it done, it's done because people find it acceptable, get away with it and that's what they do with it works. But, you know some things that people can do to reset themselves, it varies, you know.

Morenike Giwa Onaiwu (34:52)
but something that people can do to protect themselves. I no longer have words, And so really I think this kind of goes to a deeper issue of why do people feel entitled to the labor, you know, of, you know, marginalized people and that they should be able to just take, you know, from us and and profit from
it without any sense of respect

Morenike Giwa Onaiwu (36:01)
to speak up and it hurts you deserve to be to have your voice heard and you have to have your, your labor, honored. And so, people still, it have to call it out to say something about it. And I hope that people see other person you're reaching out to me I'm so grateful that particular person. Other times I've come across it so someone to share, others know that it just let it be that you're a part of what we
can do to try and mitigate these issues.

Kelly Bron Johnson (36:42)
No, I agree. It takes a lot of education. That's certainly what I've been trying to do, too, because sometimes people I'm not going to say they don't know when they're plagiarizing. But there are other cases where, for example, when I get approached the way that I get approached, where I'll get messages, private messages that are not appropriate, and letting people know that this is not something that I accept. So I think it's about education. It's no matter how much you like someone,
how much you feel that you connect with them. If I don't know you, I don't need a message. I don't need certain messages. I'm happy when people want to, when they appreciate the work that I do. I'm not so happy when people want to bring in physical aspects or something about my appearance. I'm not interested in that. To me it's about education. Partly. My twelve year old, he's doing school. He was filling out an assignment and he copied and pasted from Wikipedia. Totally like the whole paragraph but he didn't know it was wrong. Right. I have to sit down with him and explain what this is and how he can't get away with that right now.

Doug Blecher (38:37)
So Morenike, I've seen you give presentations a few times and it's always great but I read recently that you gave a presentation that I must know more about and that was a presentation on the animated show Steven Universe. What did you talk about in this presentation? How do you see animation in the way of being a tool and discussing disability and intersectionality.

Morenike Giwa Onaiwu (39:07)
I'm so glad this question it's very interesting just actually my very first keynote speech on Steven Universe that I had given you know and so it was written professional and I just was not feeling it it just didn't work and it wasn't right. So many mariginalized and autistic people are you know, very unfortunate sense of this imposter syndrome but you gotta perform in, you know, you can't mess up
because it's bad for your community. You know, work twice as hard getting all this stuff, you know that you have from, you know, trying to give presentations and I decided I don't want my presentation to have an autistic person that doesn't look like an autistic person so like so people look at such and such, you know, Tommy she has autism too or whoever having kids looking at you like not seeing anything autistic about you. I don't think there's any one way to be autistic but a lot of people are going to be alarmed to that, you know, you know tone down the stimming tone down the scripting to talk about things that are socially appropriate, they're going to get you know And, you know, that's all I can do that I can talk, you know, pull out this this, or this song and maybe amazing analogies and
things. And those are things I actually wanted, you know, I think that a person is capable of, you know, really, really being into, you know, you know, our philosophy and then also really liking, you know, you know Legos and, you know, Ninja Turtles are so this way, what I did was, it's very interesting to talk about the qualities of gems, and how they're found. And I'll use that to talk about traits of autistic
community as a whole and individual people went through and examples of a lot of different gems, you know, paradise and diamonds and this person, that person, and so forth had talked about them and kind of giving relating it to people and to experiences, and also talking about the humans I love using examples of right now, trying to be. I love using these different things to me my favorite speeches are when I take something from a special interest l and just quote unquote autisticfy it. I can take that research and practical and teach them something or make a point.

Kelly Bron Johnson (42:28)
Fun, I've actually never watched it. I'll check it out now.

Morenike Giwa Onaiwu (42:35)
Dragon Ball Super, and I'm you know so there's like for Disney and Pixar, there's just so much. I think growing up a lot of things like you know, Marvel and you know all these different things that taught me a lot about identity, and it's okay to be different, and just, you know, intersectionality but I feel like this has already kind of built into a lot these things, and we should really use them as a tool for us.

Kelly Bron Johnson (43:18)
Have you watched Doctor Who? Okay because I wrote a thing years ago about I was comparing Doctor Who and Sherlock but not about them specifically but about their trusted companions. The Doctor Who always has a companion and Sherlock has Watson as his companion and about autistic people meeting a trusted companion, somebody that they can. I consider that my partner. I say that
he's my cipher to understand human behavior because I always ask him what did this person mean when they said this? I don't understand. So it's interesting because Doctor Who is an alien but he lives in this human body but he always has a different companion with him. It's not a lover, it's just a partner that will go with him and kind of explain the way that humans see the world whereas he has
this understanding of the whole universe. If you're interested, check out.

Doug Blecher (44:51)
Morenike, thanks so much for joining us.

Doug Blecher (44:54)
It was a pleasure. I loved every minute of it.

Morenike Giwa Onaiwu (44:57)
Thank you.

Kelly Bron Johnson (44:58)
Thank you so much. Fun to be able to talk to you.