“You’re standing on public property, ma’am. This is not public property,” starts the now-viral #BrooklynBecky video. The 19-year-old white woman of Puerto Rican heritage, who uses the name “Bella” on social media, directed her confused statement to Darsell Obregon, as she called the police on her.
Why did Brooklyn Becky alert the authorities? For Obregon’s very serious crime of standing in her doorway during a rainstorm, and waiting for an Uber while being perceived (incorrectly, according to Obregon) as a black woman.
“She’s pretty old to be doing this” Bella says. “Heavy set. I would consider that.”
Bella wears what has come to seem like a uniform for urbane white women: floral yoga pants, which, imply a feminine, upper-class athleticism; a nondescript white tank top cropped with a knot and bare feet for full-fledged carefree white girl authenticity.
She ends her description of Obregon with one signifier: “Black.” At this point, Bella’s hand is on her hip. She shakes her head in apparent surprise that a black woman, of all people, would decide to stand near her home.
Bella insists that it was not racism that made her call the cops on Obregon. Instead, she claims her bias sprang from autism. She immediately attempted to frame herself as the victim, adding that she was “triggered” by someone standing in front of her home.
What’s disturbing is that many white autistics, some of them fairly prominent in autism activism, sprung to her defense. Certainly, some of the rhetoric used by those speaking out against Bella’s actions was ableist. Slurs against disabled people harm all disabled people—but so do claims that autism makes you racist.
Unsurprisingly, many white autistics were more concerned with the former than the latter. The ridiculousness of her claim was brushed off by those who chose to attack anyone who pointed out the obvious: That multicultural Brooklyn might not be the right place to live for someone whose version of autism made them fear black people. Rather than focus on the obvious racism, these autistics preferred to back a woman who aligns herself with white supremacy, leaving the safety of black people, literally, out in the rain.
If we can accept that racism is never a symptom of autism, then what were these activists defending — other than her right to be a white supremacist in any city she chooses, regardless of the fact that she is a person with the means to relocate judging by her claims that she owns a building in Brooklyn, where the price of apartment ownership hovers around a 800k?
#BrooklynBecky is the pinnacle of “wokewashed” culture. Instead of owning up to the racism inherent in siccing the cops on a black woman who wasn’t endangering her, Bella attempted to guard herself against criticism by clinging to her marginalized (in this case, autistic) identity. Other wokewashed white people followed suit, and employed a gentrified definition of Kimberlé Crenshaw’s term intersectionality to make the case for their anti-black racism. Wokewashing uses social justice terms to excuse the inexcusable and allows bigots to hide behind irrelevant marginalizations while causing real harm to multiple-marginalized people.
At the time of this writing, Bella’s YouTube channel is subscribed to white supremacists and apologists such as Leon Lush, Austen Fletcher and Mark Dice. As recently as April 2018, her Twitter bio included the phrase “Conservative It Girl.” She is connected to red pill, far-right Twitter, sending shoutouts to users with handles like @PartyGoy and @HighFascion. Imagine being an autistic member of Generation Z and having virtual parties with fascist sympathizers. The hypocrisy boggles the mind.
After following and socializing with racist accounts on Twitter, and following far-right bigots on YouTube, Bella’s more recent social media usage took a sharp left turn. She’s posted feminist and anti-ICE memes, even asking Twitter to drag someone who had committed a micro-aggression against her.
According to cached versions of her (now private) Twitter profile and Twitter’s advanced search feature, Bella scrubbed her account, robbing us of her appreciation post for @PartyGoy, whose profile boasts memes praising Elliot Rodger, who killed seven people in what came to be called the Isla Vista massacre, and appears in pictures throwing up white supremacist-coded hand signs.
Despite all this evidence, it seems well-meaning white autistics would rather cape for Bella, ignoring that her actions could have easily added to the ever-growing list of black and brown people killed by police. And they, like Bella herself, used wokewashing to defend white supremacy.
Where is the concern for black autistics who are more likely to be targeted by police, more likely to be arrested, and more likely to be victims of violence than privileged white autistics like #BrooklynBecky? Is it really more important to defend someone who uses autism as a shield from legitimate criticism rather than defend and operate in solidarity with black autistics and black people in general?
To these “woke” white supremacist sympathizers, it was. Autistics of color didn’t matter. All that was important was making a point about ableism, ignoring Bella’s claim that “racism” was a symptom of her disability, when the very notion of such is vile.
Wokewashed white supremacy thrives when the people most affected by it are ignored. White autism activists should have ceded the floor to black and brown autistics, but instead they used their white privilege as a microphone. For white activists, this meant amplifying their opinion of what should be prioritized in Brooklyn Becky/Bella’s story. To them, this was about the ableism of commenters rather than the safety of black and indigenous people of color. For Brooklyn Becky herself, it was relying on the anti-black NYPD to fight a battle that was better for her to ignore altogether.
In other news, Bella seems to be excited about the attention she’s getting from this coverage of her call to the police. Perhaps that’s an anti-ableist win for wokewashed white autistics, too.
Cyree Jarelle Johnson is a writer and editor from Piscataway, NJ. His first book of poetry, SLINGSHOT, will be published by Nightboat Books in 2019. Find his portfolio at cyreejarellejohnson.com and catch him on social media at @cyreejarelle.