The Yin and Yang of Privilege and Empowerment

Leah Kelley

I have been reflecting on privilege … and perhaps entertaining the loss of it as we work to find our place and way to support others in the autism community.

I have been raised with privilege (not riches and extravagance — see the link at the end of this post to learn more about this). Although I am in my late forties and have occasionally felt the sting and squeeze of sexism, or the judgment of others in dealing with low mood and depression, I have not suffered abuse, nor have I been silenced because of my neurology, or my ethnic background, or…

That sense of privilege has a shadow, and the shadow is the assumption that I have the right to speak up — to say my piece — to be heard. And I am coming to realize that this attitude may actually silence or dilute or diminish the message of others.

I am trying to be aware of this so that I do not assume the same privilege when I am interacting with Autistic adults. If I am working to empower the voices of others, I may need to be willing to make my own subordinate. If I am sensitive to this, I may feel silenced … I may need to silence myself.

This feels uncomfortable at times. I am learning to make peace with this discomfort. It may feel like I am being silenced by those I am trying to support… and it may even feel like there is an irony to this.

But this is not about me.

I may feel misunderstood at times. I need to carry on regardless.

Sometimes I may want to jump in to try to repair a misunderstanding — or to explain. But the difficulty is that doing so can seem dishonouring to others.

So I am learning about my own silence.

I am learning to embrace it, and to understand that my discomfort is deepening my understanding of the experience of others — and I also acknowledge that this is merely a glimpse of their experience, and that I cannot fully understand.

And within all of this I know that this is still not about me.

There is a deep questioning about my assumptions, and in my quiet I see there also exists an opportunity to reframe my experiences and question what I have held to be truth as a subjective reality. I am open to examining this.

I am shifting and changing, and my response to being misunderstood is now sometimes a quiet one. To rail against the perception of others can seem like silencing their perspective — the very perspectives that I want to honour.

If I want to make things different, I need to be willing to take the blast. Sometimes it may be because of something I did or said, and inversely, sometimes it might be because of something I didn’t say, and my silence was interpreted as complicit. Sometimes it has been because I wanted to support others and extended support in two opposing directions. There is no easy path that I can see, there is no way to get it all right, every time.

I am coming to accept that I will not get it all right. I am learning that as passionate as I may be about supporting others and working to create a world that is more supportive of diversity, there will certainly be mis-steps and some of those will most certainly be mine.

And I am learning that there is a yin and yang to voice and privilege. I may experience less power to my voice, I may perceive less privilege in an interaction, fewer rights to have my perspective understood — but the space left with my silence may be the space needed to allow for the action and empowerment of others.

And I am working to be open to that.

Previously published at as Easy Silence Part 2: The Yin and Yang of Privilege and Empowerment.