Hi there! My name is Stephen Grey and I want to tell you a bit about myself.
I created Positive Whiteness for several different reasons. Some philosophical. Some ethical. And some, personal.
I’m the Founder of Positive Identity, where we create media that shows people of all races in a positive light to create positive perception and thus positive action. I’ve worked in racial-focused media for over 10 years, producing media for people of all racial identities.
You can see Positive Identity here.
I’ve been a part of the American Association for Access, Equity, and Diversity, The Alliance for Media Arts and Culture, Color of Change, and have been a dinner moderator for Los Angeles’s EmbRACELA project. I’m a professor of film producing and my vocation is a producer of feature films, commercials, and new media content.
Now… onto my story, ethical work and how I got here.
I was born with Autism, which was termed Asperger’s Syndrome which is a condition on the Autism Spectrum. While I’m generally “normal” now, this was my defining identity for most of my life and in many ways it still is. My parents first started to get the idea that I was different when I was very young. While most kids were trying to figure out each other’s names and talk about their favorite shows or other kid stuff, I was talking about cosmic redshift, quasars, and quantum mechanics. How the world worked fascinated me and I wanted to know all of it. While most people might be delighted with me taking to a greater understanding of existence at an early age, they soon came to realize that basic social skills and instincts barely existed in me. Eventually, the doctors told my parents that I had a permanent case of Asperger’s Syndrome. The kid who was filled with excitement for the world now realized that I didn’t have the tools to live in it. This is who I would be for the rest of my life. My parents didn’t really know what this was in the 90s/2000s, most doctors and psychiatrists didn’t know either. They tried a lot of stuff. Some of it definitely helped but they weren’t getting me to where I needed to go. It’s not an easy condition to classify, but it affects a few million people in America and around the world.
But it became a foundational experience for me.
The Autism Spectrum is still an inexact science, so here is a list of Asperger’s Syndrome/High-Functioning Autism indicators that have all applied to me at some point.
A. Significant difficulties with social interaction and non-verbal communication.
B. Physical Clumsiness.
C. Unusual use of Language
D. A curiosity and interest in many different things
F. Becoming obsessive over something for long stretches of time.
G. High IQ.
J. One-sided verbosity
In my experience, everyone has some version of this, but the doctors felt my situation was special enough that not only was I put into a medical category, but I also had to take special classes in high school and college for it.
This “condition” became a defining element of my humanity. In addition to the excitement of discovering how the world worked, I was born with a passion for a great human ethos of what we as a society could become.
For that and I was rewarded with a fist to the face. I was bullied as a kid and it was brutal. No one knew what Autism was in the 90s and 2000s, anti-bullying education was in its infancy, and schools still operated with the mentality that its “survival of the fittest.” Kids saw immediately that I was different and to display their “survival of the fittest” mentality, they took every opportunity to slam me down. I was called every unrepeatable name in the book.
But sadly they weren’t wrong. I was different. Not in a good way. I really did not fit in. It killed me inside to realize that. I often walked home from school looking over my shoulder, terrified of people coming at me. I constantly tried to break out of how people perceived me. Yet, as much as I was trapped in the machine of an ignorant and ruthless society, I was trapped in my own mind as well. My battle wasn’t just external, it was internal too.
As you would guess I soon grew to develop a keen sense of empathy for those that have suffered or faced discrimination themselves. In my own small way, I understand. Yet it wasn’t the suffering that defined my life. The real killer for me wasn’t the societal ostracizing itself, it was how society was now a barrier between me and cultivating greater humanity. There was a wall between me and the things I was passionate about doing.
I was born with two things, my Autism and a belief in this world. An excitement to understand it, to want to improve it and have it be something greater. Some people are born without any passion, but I was FILLED with it. It was hard, very hard but I refused to accept the world as is. For me personally and societally. The world could throw every punch it had at me, and even though I had the social understanding of a town drunk, I was going to find a way.
Concurrently, because of my Autism and the resulting societal isolation from it, I grew to gain a very active imagination. The passion for world-building from what we can imagine gave form and understanding to the things I was excited about. Also, my imagination allowed me to learn without the punishing reaction of real people. Thinking things through in a visual way taught me a lot about how people can perceive the world.
Figuring out a way forward made me deeply focused on the ethical and moral nature of society. How did the world work? What was right? These questions became recurring themes in the ideas I have. TV, books, and movies were the adrenaline shot for my dream building, seeing how deeply they engaged in morality and perception. They did what my imagination did. It was at some point around age 7 that I understood where I needed to go. I was going to make movies in Hollywood. I was going to tell stories of people who society thought were bad but were actually good.
That charge, how we can be exposed to ethics and perception change because of the people and media around us became a driving force. Growing up in Massachusetts, my public school education emphasized the Black and Jewish experiences in America and the world. I read everything about it and became heavily influenced by their experiences. I thought deeply about how they had to work to change how society perceived them and the universal moral code they were working towards. The relationship between Identity and perception formed there for me.
In my special education classes, one of the things they taught was about all these successful people who were “on the spectrum” with Autism like me. For many of them, they got “better”. Or they found a way to exist in normal society. That belief that I could be like them started to guide me, and help me focus on what I needed to do to succeed. Don’t get me wrong, I was skeptical of my abilities and pessimistic often. But it was huge for me. Further, reading my history books, I saw how Jewish people suffered so much and yet rose to such remarkable heights. Black people had overcome inhumane obstacles and achieved greatness. They went from systematic disenfranchisement to success in so many different ways. I was permanently drawn to their experience. But it was one piece of the puzzle for me.
Sports became a big deal for me growing up. Regarding race, sports are as diverse as they come. But it doesn’t matter what your identity is. If you can do the job better you eventually get the job. Sports particularly became a passion of mine because of this. In a world where people didn’t make sense, sports did. The person that scores the most points wins. There is a metric system to evaluate talent and objective success that decides winners and losers. Right or wrong. Good or bad. It doesn’t matter what society “thinks”. No matter who you are, you can become a winner. Most importantly, sports showed me that I could be a winner. Even when people say you can’t.
In my mind, I knew I could be a winner. But in my heart I was a loser, my failures and society had proved my heart right. That changed in 2001. I remember back when Drew Bledsoe went down and everyone said the Patriots were the worst team in the league. Some no-nothing bench warmer 6th-round QB named Tom Brady was going to take over. We were done. Every expert and pundit in the world constantly went on that the Patriots were going nowhere. As fate would have it, my Mom took me to the game where Brady went against Doug Flutie and won an incredible come-from-behind game. Something felt different. Every week the experts said the run was over, and yet The Patriots kept winning. Washed-up players like Antoine Smith and overlooked players like Troy Brown were performing miracles. What was happening was impossible. These guys are the experts and all the experts agreed that The Patriots suck. They have to be right! But they weren’t and the Patriots were proving it. By the end when our team of no names, backups, rejects and bench warmers took down the Greatest Show on Turf in the Super Bowl was like gear slamming into place in my brain. The world was different now. The entire system, all the smartest people in the world, can be wrong. We could be winners. I didn’t sleep the entire night. When the Patriots Championship DVD came out I watched it over 60 times that summer. Everyone was wrong about them, I checked the DVD all 60 times to see it. It dawned on me that the very nature of reality, of what we believe in, only exists because enough people and the right people believe it to be true. But those people can be entirely wrong. Then I realized everyone could be wrong about me.
Seeing the entire system be wrong became a regular occurrence for me. Following sports, the Moneyball sabermetrics revolution swept through the Oakland As before culminating in Theo Epstein using numbers to help the Red Sox break the impossible Curse of the Bambino and win it all in 2004. The whole baseball world thought Billy Beane was lucky and Epstein was nuts but they proved the system wrong. A little while later all the experts said Iraq would be won in a few days. Then Obama was some long shot, then the 2008 Financial Crash wasn’t going to happen then Trump would never be president. Or going back to the history books society thought George Washington was going to become a tyrant, democracy would never work and Hitler would never start a war. Jesus Christ himself showed up because the system was wrong and the experts were wrong. Society was even wrong about me because I actually became something and am now producing my 5th feature film as we speak.
We’re all still learning as a human race and we all still have a lot to learn. What I do know is that I don’t know either and life is a constant learning experience. I’m no expert and no one truly is either.
The most important reason for that is that we’re still struggling to figure out what is good or bad. Right or wrong. Just hop online, we’re as divided as ever. We have a lot of disagreements on our moral nature. What I picked up from sports though was that there could be a metric, a framework, that defines what is positive or negative. Thinking about the world around me, I started to wonder if there could be universal elements that we all can agree on which decide the success of a person. Ways that we can all agree on which are right or wrong. Good or bad. It was then that I started to think deeply about the Meaning of Life. Why am I here? Why do I put up with these two-bit assholes who call me retard? Why do we as a human race go on? If I can figure out how the world works, I can know how to move forward from there.
My first instinct was to turn to the scientists and the experts who studied how the world works. They didn’t know. The Theory of Everything was still unsolved and Einstein’s Special Relativity and Quantum Mechanics still couldn’t exist together. Yet we built this whole world of understanding around them. But that is how science works. You work with what you have, you try it out, and eventually, you will come to understand. That’s anything.
I had drifted back and forth between Christianity, Agnosticism, and Atheism at various points in life thinking about how the world works. Ironically enough what ultimately made me Christian wasn’t the system approach or meaning of life, but finding love for myself and others. People are driven by emotion and what makes them feel it, it’s a very real thing. It allowed me to release from the self-hate of who I was, the obvious anger I had for the world that was stifling my belief in it. Most importantly, I like anyone else am very much not a perfect person morally and it created a pathway for me to rise above my state. Science gave my understanding, God gave me a pathway to where I needed to go.
Where we need to go is that humanity can be bonded in all-encompassing love. That that anyone, no matter how bad you are, can be saved. People, while they may do bad things, are fundamentally good. That they can reject their damaged condition and in turn do great things. That we’re not defined by what we used to be, but instead that we’re defined by what we do now.
The emotion brought me there, but it was the defined purpose and the systems approach to people that locked me in. Many of these ethical systems are used even by people who aren’t religious. I saw an opportunity for universal moral systems to occur.
We all ideally want to love each other, love ourselves and create peace through positive unity and action. People say religion is irrational, but in today’s world of monstrous division where we often see people at their worst, we need to irrationally believe in ourselves!
The work that I aim to do heavily follows the path of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in how his Christian being inspired incredible progress and healing in race relations. While Christianity, like any belief, can succumb to the destructive force of tribalism, what counterbalances it is this ethical system law where you must “Love Your Neighbor as Yourself.” This is the guide to the way we think, talk, and act.
Right now for race and identity in America and around the world, the tribalism that comes from a sports team mentality, an unhealthy relationship with experts of any side, and the lack of universal moral philosophy is tearing apart a great human society. It threatens all the progress we’ve ever made. A lot of people agree and the vast majority of Americans feel like we’re going in the wrong direction and pessimism is truly setting in.
Yet with all that, I still believe in people. I believe that true change comes from within and from there we can change how we see and act toward each other. I know this is true because it happened to me. Those stories about Autistic people like me finding their place in the world inspired me and showed me the way. The stories also changes the world around me and allowed people to know how to work with me and be my better self. With all the odds against me, I achieved what I dreamed of doing.
But the greatest mistake we’re taught is to follow your dreams. No, it’s not your dreams you should follow, but the dream of a greater society for all. I realized this a while back when I saw what is happening to America and the world and that played the groundwork for me to change course and do what I’m doing now.
I believe in this world. I’ve believed in it since I was born, and even though society gave me every reason not to. But that belief has always been proven right. I know many of you believe in this world too. So I’ll say this. When you step out onto that basketball court or football field, you have to believe in the greatness you can achieve and what your team can achieve if you want to win. If you don’t, you’ll lose. I want everyone to believe again. But the world I want everyone to believe in is a world where everyone can win.