Wednesday, 13 June 2018

Journey to NOAH CON 2016 :: Albinism in the Black Community

It's Albinism Awareness Day again and today I want to talk about a topic I've been thinking about for a very long time; having albinism in the black community. This is a topic that for me never seems to grow easier to write about. It is without a doubt that we live in a time that is incredibly racially charged.  So, what does it feel like to look like one race and be another? I think this a plane of existence most people can understand, especially if you are mixed raced.

Both my parents are black. I am a black girl with white skin living on an island where a white person is the exception not the norm. More often than not, a white person is a tourist, that has descended upon our land by ship or plane in hopes of having a tropical experience.

Now, growing up it was not particularly hard for me when it came to race. I never considered myself white. I was however called 'whitey' at every turn and I DID look like most of the people on my television screen at the time.

Can you imagine the annoyance of a child to a name like that, whitey, reds, yellow girl, white girl, pinky, during a time when developing identity is paramount? Still, I knew and understood who I was and I think that was made easier by the fact that I lived on an island with a vastly black populous.

Now, here is when it got interesting.

Consider this dear reader, running around in blonde pigtails and big puffy princess dresses in oversized glasses (that didn't work but we'll get to that part) at the age of oh lets to five. Everyone considering thee the belle of the ball. The notion of a little white child is new, it is accepted then, it is considered the standard of beauty to be pale, blonde, blue grey eyed and twirling. It is so rare to have a child who 'came out that prettily pale'
It is the image, then, presented on television screens. It is what the population says is " so pretty, so pretty!! " aren't her parents so lucky?!

7 years old now, let us imagine it:
Off to school in the city. Different, suddenly different isn't as cute to your pairs. Different is scary to many many children. Different is tourist isn't it? Different is the reaction it pulls from little eyes and from little boys and girls you hope will be your friend but who are scared of you because you are different and you don't belong here. How could you possible? You belong where the people on TV are surely.

Maybe this can start making a seven year old wonder if there is something to be afraid of after all. It can make a seven year old little girl start to notice that when she looks at family photos, she doesn't look like her parents or her siblings in a way that she never noticed before. It can make a seven year old girl have questions nobody is prepared to answer because no adult around her yet knows the answers to them.

Enter Puberty!
Enter curves and rebellious spirits and thick lips that can now be a sexual focus without people thinking to very much of it. Suddenly, we are beautiful again. We are African hips under milk white skin, we are eyes like the ocean and hair like sand on the beaches of our island. We are hip hop rhythm and drum beats pulsating through almost every model and lead actress on television screams then and we are beautiful beautiful oh so beautiful because we are just...sooooo....white and isn't that something to be excited about?

Consider this hurricane thrown at a child who is every standard of beauty personified then but is also the same girl who is whispered at and yelled at and followed and mocked in the streets and called names that define her o
nly by the attributes that where THE MOST beautiful thing about her a few years ago.

Consider black people making the mistake of calling her, demanding of her that she admit she is a white girl because she has white skin after all.

Having albinism in the black community is a strange thing. Having albinism in the black community in the Caribbean may be even stranger. Consider having to wonder if the affection shown, the want and longing for a body is due to the fact that she is the befits of the black race without the harsh reality of looking it. Consider the moment she realises that the slogan for pride in ones blackness, hashtag melanin, excepts her too.

Consider the rationally charged world, as she sits amongst justifiably angry friends who discuss their anger of the injustice dealt the black rage white racial slurs of their own. Who bite back at an entire race of people by pointing out what they look like and speaking in loud tones of aggression. Those moments, after a police killing of an unarmed black man, those moments after watching 12 Years A Slave and Driving Mrs. Daisy where she is angry and her friends are angry and everyone is okay with being vocal about it and she wants to be too because she is not white but she looks down and her hands still are.

Now, I will be honest with you. I have felt all of those things and so much more in varying degrees. I have not written this post to grasp at pity. My intention is to warn of the dangers of colourism to any person's identity. To warn that the way we speak, to tell a person that they are beautiful because of or as a result of the colour of their skin, regardless of race, ultimately does more harm than good for our goal of acceptance. I was very blessed too you see...I got to be that girl who grew up to find the answers to give to the teachers who didn't have them when she was little.

I am the girl who grew up the woman to understand and tell the world with the full force of her words that beauty isn't even skin deep. Beauty is subject to the beholder and what we ascribe to social class.

I am that girl who grew up to be the woman who was financed in part by her entire nation to go to a conference and stand in a ball room with nine hundred and minty nine (maybe more I don't have the exact number but it was the first year after they pushed past one thousand ) who finally looked like the girl she was in the mirror. The girl who turned woman and stood there with who were black and white and had questions and answers.

I am not that girl anymore with confused notions of how beauty can appear and disappear even though skin colour says the same. I am that woman who will spend her life making sure that that girl, the one who is led to feel those things ? Does not have to exist if I can help it.

I am that woman who explains now the dangers of colourism in the black community. How we speak about the shade of our skin to ourselves and to each other is very important. I was very blessed. My parents taught me that I was beautiful not because of the colour of my skin but because of the strength of my will. My friends taught me that I was beautiful because of my kindness and willingness to give and be generous, Time taught me that beauty comes wrapped up in all skin tones and is not the property of one group or the other.

The NOAH Conference helped me to experience that in real time. While I was there I took the chance to ask a new friend with a type of albinism you are probably not used to seeing, a few questions that might shed some light for you. He and I spoke about being and having children that don't look as you do, the impact of others with the same and or similar conditions and much more. Check out my interview with Torey bellow!

 Thank You so much for the interview Torey!

For more on my experience growing up with albinism in my country check out my barnacle interview here.

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