Sunday, March 3, 2024

Discrimination against albinos an insult to society

Franklin Thomas once said, “One day our descendants will think it incredible that we paid so much attention to things like the amount of melanin in our skin or the shape of our eyes, our gender instead of the unique identities of each of us as complex human beings.”

It’s surprising that heads still turn to look at people with albinism.

In spite of having had educational campaigns over that issue, people still hold on to unfounded beliefs and fail to accommodate such people.

I had not really considered the enormity of the issue of skin until a week ago when I was fortunate enough to meet a man and whose acquaintance opened my eyes to a world which had been unknown to me. It is a world where rejection, ostracism and exclusion are the order of the day, a world in which the colour of your skin determines who you are in society.

From the moment he was born the silence that greeted him has been the precursor to similar silences that would mark his arrival or appearance wherever he went.

Tapelo Khumo has lived with those moments of deafening and awkward silences all his life.
He was born in a world where skin means everything and what is within a person meaning nothing. He was born with one seemingly unforgivable ‘flaw’ – his body does not contain any melanin- the natural substance that gives skin its colour and the back of the eye known as retina.

People with this pigmentation situation, albinos, have pale skin, pale hair and even the colour of their eyes is different from others.

However it’s nothing extraordinary, albinism is just a common condition and it can affect anybody depending on the genes in the family tree.

No one can tell Khumo about rejection, he has suffered it all; he has endured it from birth and answered to every name given to people like him.

“When I was born, both parents rejected me, with my mother refusing to breast feed me and dumping me at a children’s nursing home. I grew up in a nursing home and have been tormented by other children at school. They referred to me as a white ghost, a place where my skin defined me,” he said.

Sharing his ordeal, Khumo continued, “Why is it most of us are indirectly denied our rights as humans? Few people are willing to give us jobs, befriend us or carry the burden of being our parents.”

Khumo also revealed that he failed to acquire a job, which he was well qualified for, because the manager doubted if he had the confidence to stand before huge crowds making a presentation, an attitude one would assume had been erased through the process of modernisation.

It is not easy to be on the receiving end of society, with continuous snubs, and being treated as though you are invisible.

Khumo confessed that, “We are at a loss as to what it will take for people to change their attitudes towards us; it’s like we are fighting a losing battle.”

On my part, it never occurred to me that there are some parents who actually have the nerve to dump their child because of a disability or health condition until I met one woman who has raised her 2-year-old son alone after her husband ignorantly refused to be father to the child, claiming that he was not an albino and there was no way he could have an albino for a child.

“My husband refused to be burdened with the responsibility of a baby that had not turned out right,” she said.

Frankly speaking, does skin colour mean anything?

It’s time we agreed that skin does not mean everything. Persons with albinism need respect and dignity, not sympathy.

Granted, some sections of society are trying to accommodate albinos into their communities but it is not enough.

Like with any other misconception, a public nationwide campaign of educating and speaking openly about albinism should be undertaken regularly because we cannot afford to have some ignorant section of our society subjecting some of us to this kind of treatment.

All over the African continent the situation hasn’t improved much; we constantly hear reports from the international media about Kenyans trading albinos not goods.

In East Africa, so-called albinos have become prey of their fellow human beings because of a difference in skin pigmentation. Their body parts are sought for witchcraft purposes.

It’s time we agreed that skin is nothing; we can create world that is safe for all its citizens.
It does not help much when people shy away from openly discussing albinism; it is a terrible attitude that promotes the kind of discrimination we are trying to overcome.


Read this week's paper