Gods or Devils - Albinism in Popular Culture
March 26, 2003 9:50 AM   Subscribe

Albinism in popular culture - the rarity of this inherited condition has fascinated people throughout the ages. People with albinism have been deified, vilified and treated as sideshow curiosities. The social burden of "being different" can be even greater for people of color than for caucasians. Online resources today afford better information and networking, and the opportunity for positive exposure.
posted by madamjujujive (9 comments total)
 
Jim Romanesko wrote an interesting article about albinism as well.
posted by Oriole Adams at 10:01 AM on March 26, 2003


"Exposure" is probably the wrong metaphor to use for folks with extreme sensitivity to light and UV radiation ...
posted by hairyeyeball at 10:06 AM on March 26, 2003


Rarer still are the blue skinned people of the Kentucky mountains...
posted by jonson at 10:20 AM on March 26, 2003


johnny and edgar, wherefore art thou?
posted by quonsar at 10:27 AM on March 26, 2003


hairyeyeball, I took the term "exposure" from the link which plays off the photographic nature of the exhibit. No doubt the irony of the metaphor was intentional.

Thanks, jonson, for the blue people link another interesting group. And oriole adams, those personal accounts are fascinating - being different certainly has its challenges, and it seems to build character.

...and q, here ya go.
posted by madamjujujive at 11:13 AM on March 26, 2003


From the third link:
Some people take it to mean an animal or plant, not a human being, and are offended by the word. A more acceptable term is "person with albinism".
Sigh...

Anyway. Albinism is especially fraught with significance in Africa; see this biography of the great Salif Keita:
On August 25th 1949, Salifou Keïta was born in Djoliba in Mali, a village on the banks of the Niger river. In this heartland of the Mandingan empire, inhabited by several tribes and where several languages are spoken (Bambara, Malinké, Soninké), the birth of an albino baby - ethnically black but with white skin - was considered scandalous. It was believed the baby possessed dangerous powers, especially as his family were direct descendants of the Empire's thirteenth century founder. So Salif's father sent him away with his mother. But the optimistic predictions of a religious chief caused him to go back on this decision.  

His childhood was a lonely one. Rejected by other children because of the colour of his skin, he was often the butt of jokes. Even his father never spoke to him for years. An excellent student, he shut himself up in his studies.... Salif wanted to become a school teacher, but was declared unfit because of poor eyesight caused by his albinism. So he decided to become a musician instead.
posted by languagehat at 12:11 PM on March 26, 2003


Interesting post, as ususal, Mjjj. I've searched in vain for Asia related links to albinism rates to little avail.

I have seen several albinos in Korea, and there doesn't seem to be any debilitating stigma, as it's seen as an odd and rare thing, but not *negatively* odd, at least I hope. I mean, it's like being an abnormally tall person, for example, according to reliable sources.

Twice I've seen obviously albino Korean guys with black-dyed hair, but they seem to be the exception rather than the rule.

Sorry I don't have more to add. Thanks again Mjjj.
posted by hama7 at 1:48 AM on March 27, 2003


Thanks for the observations, hama7 - when I found the third link in the post, I did a bit of googling to see if I could find any southeast Asian sites, but no luck.

languagehat, thanks for linking to Salif Keita. Reggae artist yellowman is another prominent musician with albinism. And as to your comment about the politically correct awkwardness of "person with albinism," the engaging Golden Child has this to say:

I am an African American who is an albino. I could make people really angry and say I am a black albino. Now that's an oxymoron for you. Many want me to be politically correct and say I am a person with albinism. The problem with that is, I am not a person with anything. To be a person with something is to imply having a condition. I do not consider myself as having a condition.
posted by madamjujujive at 6:28 AM on March 27, 2003


It's odd... I dated an albino a year ago and there didn't seem to be much negativity about it from others.... he was always paranoid that he "stuck out" too much and would be the one remembered if he were in a group of college kids doing generally obnoxious college kid stuff, but to be honest, with the ethnic makeup of West Michigan, I don't think he stood out at all. He looked like the stereotypical Dutch guy, though he wasn't.
posted by dagnyscott at 2:32 PM on March 27, 2003


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