Words by Lebo Motswatswa

As we celebrate the magic that is inherent in our melanin, we have to pause and ask ourselves: where do black people with albinism and vitiligo fit into the narrative? This is a necessary moment of reflection, lest we practise that very same erasure and exclusion of identities and struggles that is such an innate part of oppression.

A great starting point for a conversation on albinism and identity would be to demystify albinism. There are many myths associated with albinism and, as researchers have found, “the myths associated with albinism in South…have a profound influence on the lives of people with the condition, from the moment of their birth until their death.” *

Albinism is, first and foremost, not contagious. Secondly, it is not a curse and people with albinism are not lesser mortals who lack intelligence. Albinism is a genetic condition that is caused by insufficient melanin, resulting in a lack of pigmentation in the skin, hair, and eyes. Albinism is hereditary as the gene is often passed down from both parents.

 

 

Blackness Is In The Struggle

Where do those who are black, but lack the melanin that is associated with magic belong? How do they negotiate their identity when they lack the very thing that forms such an integral part of blackness? Do these questions bring us to an impasse in our conversation about race, identity, and representation? Or do they reveal the overwhelming complexity embedded within the notions of blackness and whiteness, making one realise just how problematic racial categories are?

More than just a matter of skin colour, blackness is a lived experience. Academic Charisse L’Pree articulates it ever so lucidly, “Blackness is multifaceted; it is both local and global, lived and mediated, homogenous and heterogeneous.” Perhaps the magic is not in the melanin, but in the enduring spirit that comes with being black.

Individuals with Albinism — ‘the term albino’ is pejorative — are often left out of conversations about identity and even the black struggle. In fighting against oppressive schools of thought and structures, we often exclude those who actually bear the heaviest brunt of society’s ignorance and myopia.

 

The magic is not in the melanin, but in the enduring spirit that comes with being black.

 

Black people with albinism are often exoticised and othered in the name of aesthetic appeal; they are objectified in films, fashion, and art. But we seldom talk about their lived experiences as fellow people of colour. Did you know that in the last 10 years, more than 200 people with albinism have been murdered and more than 500 have been attacked in over 25 sub-Saharan countries? According to academic Charlotte Baker, “Tanzania has the highest number of recorded attacks globally at more than 170. There have also been reports of attacks in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Malawi, Mozambique and Burundi.”

The ruthless murders and commodification of those with albinism are predicated upon of misguided beliefs that those with albinism possess some kind of supernatural healing characteristics. Witch doctors in sub-Saharan Africa, East Africa and northern South Africa fuel these beliefs by insisting that rituals performed using the body parts of those with albinism will yield greater wealth, health and success. There exists an illegal trade for the body parts of those with albinism; they live their lives in fear. In Tanzania, this fear is at its highest during the elections, due to the belief that the body parts of those with albinism will bring luck to those contesting in the elections. “Every election period brings with it a new cycle of killings. In between we have smaller elections translating to more abductions, more killings,” says human rights activist Amir Manento.

 

 

More than just a matter of skin colour, blackness is a lived experience.

 

In South Africa, our brothers and sisters also face an immense amount of discrimination. There are pervasive fallacious beliefs that often result in lives being lost in heinous acts of violence. As noted by researcher Maureen Mswela, “South Africans living with albinism are among the most marginalised and vulnerable of the country’s citizens, yet very little attention is given to protecting them from human rights violations, threats and violent crime. Although the extent of violent crimes targeting South Africans with this condition has not reached the levels encountered in other African countries, new evidence indicates a surge in violent crimes against persons with albinism.”

 

All Black Lives Matter

In our fight for equality and justice, let us not leave out those with albinism. They are subject to discrimination that oftentimes leads to death. Their struggles have received little global attention, and they have been excluded from the Black Lives Matter movement. The 13th of June is International Albinism Awareness Day. Let’s play our part in breaking the stigma associated with albinism, and educate ourselves and those around us.

 

 

All black lives matter, with or without melanin. The magic is in our existence.


* Quote extracted from a paper titled The myths surrounding people with albinism in South Africa and Zimbabwe, authored by C. Baker et al. Available from: https://www.researchgate.net/publication/230852434_The_myths_surrounding_people_with_albinism_in_South_Africa_and_Zimbabwe.