The following is my open letter to Katie Hopkins. To any American readers who do not know who she is, please don’t take any time to Google her, as your life will be all the poorer for it. All that is necessary to know is that she openly claims to be “the biggest bitch in Britain“, and recently she decided to mock a nine-year-old girl with autism who appeared in a British documentary. This is the second time she has belittled autistic people, and twice too many.
That said, here’s what I, as an autistic person, would like to say back to her.
I think, somewhere, you got lost.
I remember following that series of The Apprentice, where the BBC cast you in the role of “nasty lady we love to hate”. That was ok, since it’s so easy to see reality TV stars as fictional characters.
And recently you’ve gone after autistic people again. Even before the first attack (“accusing” Ed Miliband of being on the spectrum), it was only a matter of time and we knew it: if you were ok with targeting 25% of the general population and their mental health troubles, targeting the 1% on the autism spectrum must have been a piece of cake.
The easiest coping mechanism humans have for hateful people is simply to hate them back. It’s much harder to feel sympathy for them, but it’s the stronger option.
So I promise I don’t mean this in a passive-aggressive manner, Katie. But, with all the honesty in my hopelessly honest autistic heart, I do feel sorry for you.
I know it may sound patronising, being offered sympathy from an autistic man- especially when you seem to have finally found your place in life. But allow me to explain.
My autistic brain and I have gone through some great adventures together. And actually, not all of it was negative.
I grew up knowing I was different to other people, but it didn’t lead to any misanthropy.
I wasn’t jealous of others because my own world was far more interesting than theirs.
I never bullied others because I knew how bad it felt to be on the receiving end.
When I was a primary school teacher (yes, someone with autism might teach your kids one day), I learned that I could inspire kids because of my brain, not despite my brain.
My unbridled enthusiasm and fixation on awesome things meant I could teach the kids to be enthusiastic by demonstrating it first-hand.
Because I never learned how to fake a false personality, the kids got to know a genuine adult.
And because I was genuine, the kids knew beyond doubt that I cared about them.
In my opinion, every child needs an autistic teacher at some point in their lives.
And don’t even get me started on the maths side of it. Not all of us have the maths thing, but when we have it, bloody hell do we have it.
Of course, whereas I’ve had plenty of support from plenty of good people over the years, you may read the above and just see autism, or whatever perception of autism you have. Doubtless it’s something you look down on- in fact, the Ed Miliband tweets demonstrated this perfectly.
And I know that once I start talking about my mental health history, you may roll your eyes and tell me to “own my problems” (which I did, by the way. ‘Own your problems’ is good advice in a general sense, but it should never be given trivially to people suffering from complicated mental illnesses.)
I know, as a man who’s spent his life building young people inside and outside of the classroom but also happens to be part of both the 25% and the 1%, I’m not worthy of your respect.
But, truth be told, that problem lies with you and not me.
If I had to sum up my position in three sentences, it would simply be this:
I have a brain that drives me ceaselessly towards the things I love. You have a brain that pathologically looks for things to hate. So, truly and honestly, I would rather have an autistic brain than yours.
I would love to tell people that there are some problems that, if ignored, will actually go away by themselves. I would love to tell people that if we all woke up one day and decided not to listen to people who hate others for a living, your fame would wither and die like it probably will in a few years anyway.
But of course, there are your 568,000 Twitter followers to consider.
I can’t bring myself to believe that 568,000 people agree that thousands of drowned men, women and children are nothing more than ‘cockroaches’, or that they think a quarter of the general population have “the ultimate ticket to self-obsession”. Or even (and I can’t believe the world missed this one) think that it’s acceptable to call non-right-wingers “leftards” because it’s as close to insulting people with the word “retard” as you dare to go. For now.
I don’t believe that 568,000 people watch you through any kind of empathy. I have more faith in people than that.
Maybe, secretly, you do as well. I read that open letter in the Huffington Post where you gave such beautiful advice to your children. The words “I want you to find the fun like we do; to dance in your kitchen, to wear pants on your head because leg holes make great eye holes and eat chips in the rain” was the best sentence I’d read all day (even though I’m not entirely sure the words “never trust a zebra crossing […] think Guardian, Daily Mail and the Independent. Left. Right. And no one even cares” were genuinely written for three young children).
People paint you as a woman who cannot feel anything other than hate- and it’s no secret that you thrive on the reputation- but your letter proves beyond doubt that you know how to love, and you are fine with making yourself weak in doing so.
So how do we reconcile this with your Twitter feed? Maybe fame and ambition did corrupt you- even Macbeth was a good man at the start of the play. Maybe you’ve simply worn a hateful mask for so long that your face has changed shape to fit it. Or maybe it’s something else- that you’re now so conscious of a whole nation watching you, you’re afraid to change your act.
Since it could be any one of those things and, unlike you, I’m in no position to judge those I don’t know, I won’t do what others have done and wish for bad things to happen to you.
I won’t catch the nastiness virus from you and sneeze your hatred right back. I won’t laugh at your epilepsy (which so many of us autistics suffer from too) or say horrible things like “I hope you go through depression just so you can understand us,” or even “I hope you have an autistic child yourself someday” [Edit- ironically, since this article was first written Katie Hopkins has told journalists that one of her daughters has “been diagnosed as on the spectrum”].
All I will do is offer my best advice, to someone who may be struggling upstairs more than she allows her followers- or herself- to realise.
Please, for the sake of yourselves and for the people you claim to value your opinion, pop along to a psychiatrist. See if they can help you to understand yourself and your need to hate other people. I’ve been to several over the years, as have a quarter of my friends and a quarter of their friends too. There’s no shame in it anymore, despite your efforts.
And with the NHS’s strict confidentiality guidelines, it’s even possible to do so in complete secrecy, so you wouldn’t need to worry about the opinions of your followers.
Or, of course, there are other ways to react. Open fire, if you like. I’m on the autism spectrum, I’ve sought therapy more than once, I voted Green and I’m a Jesus-loving Christian. There’s plenty of ammunition for you. Some people also describe me as “a nice guy who’s been through a hard time,” which, when you think about it, fits most people on your target list.
But even if your response is as simple as a Twitter block, please think about what I’ve said.
This world is full of awesome things, and I have better things to do with life than waste precious moments seeking out people to hate.
I hope, in time, you reach the same conclusion.
Chris, an autistic man who actually likes being autistic.
Underdogs, a near-future dystopia series where the heroes are teenagers with special needs, is a character-driven war story which pitches twelve people against an army of millions, balancing intense action with a deeply developed neurodiverse cast.
Chris Bonnello is a national and international autism speaker, available to lead talks and training sessions from the perspective of an autistic former teacher. For further information please click here (opens in new window). Autistic Not Weird on Facebook