Filters, autism, and Rosanne Barr

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I have a t-shirt that says “you know that little thing inside your head that keeps you from saying things you shouldn’t? well, I don’t have one of those”. A lot of people on the spectrum don’t have filters, and that’s why some people have jobs as autism coaches and why there are so many books about social skills. Autistics aren’t, as a group, people who automatically have a talent for social skills or fitting in or saying the right thing at the right time. Everybody has a story about a time they wish they hadn’t said something, but people on the spectrum have a lot of those kinds of stories. This is what happens when nature doesn’t install a filter in your brain: There’s a direct connection between the stupid part of your body and your mouth. Today’s news provides a dramatic example of what can happen when you don’t have a good social filter.

Roseanne Barr went on Twitter early Monday morning and blew up her career.

The good news is that Ms. Barr doesn’t appear to hate one group of people; based on her tweets, she can find something to hate about just about everybody. The news has described her as being racist, Anti-Semitic, a bigot, and against anyone who differs from her (and perhaps what she would find worst of all – not funny). Some of the stars had a lot to say about her. Emma Kenney, who played her granddaughter on the show, said she was hurt, embarrassed, and disappointed, calling Barr’s racist comments distasteful and inexcusable, stating that “bullies will never win.” [Ms. Kenney is multi racial.] Sara Gilbert tweeted that Barr’s comments were “abhorrent and do not reflect the beliefs of our cast and crew or anyone associated with our show”. She was disappointed with Roseanne’s actions and adds that it’s sad and difficult for all of them because they created a show they believed in and were proud of and one that audiences loved-separate and apart from the opinions of a single cast member.

What Roseanne did is detestable and unforgivable. The media made her famous for all of this for years, the show made it funny, and she just assumed she could get away with it. Numerous other celebrities have expressed their feelings about all of this – and no one defends her. It must be very lonely to be Roseanne Barr right now.
The tweet was a joke that went too far and got out of hand as a result; there’s a lesson here because people on the spectrum don’t always know if what’s funny to them is funny to everyone else. There is a simple solution to this – when you’re in doubt, check with someone who isn’t on the spectrum. The best advice I can give here is don’t tell jokes about different types of people as they will likely find it offensive.

Roseanne Barr went on Twitter early Monday morning and blew up her career.”

The target of this tweet, Valerie Jarrett, a former political advisor who served under President Obama, reacted by responding at least she had a wide circle of support for her. She replied that she was worried about all the people out there who don’t have a circle of friends and followers to come to their defense in their time of need. The solution for this is if you hear racism or bigotry, simply be that circle for whoever is the victim of it; stand next to them and put your hand on their shoulder. Post a message saying that you’re sorry it was said and it was wrong, then address the author of the hurtful comment and hold them accountable.

There is good news, although not much, about this, and that’s we now live in a climate where hate speech is less tolerated. Because people on the spectrum are an easy target, it’s likely that comments, jokes, and sick imitations of them will be fewer and those that are made will be criticized much more heavily. Pakistani-American Kumail Nanjiani said that “nothing good has come of this entire thing”. If you disagree, you need to realize that talking about the damage is the start of change for this, and this change needs to happen for the world to be better.