Demystifying the myths associated with albinism
Around the world, the occurrence of albinism is as high as one out of three thousand. It is no news that people living with albinism are often times victims of societal ignorance and discrimination.
The general populaces are almost totally oblivious of the harsh encounters that people with albinism (PWA) confront daily.
The Onome Akinlolu Majaro (OAM) Foundation is seeking to change the narrative by promoting the well-being of persons with albinism and undoing the stigma surrounding the condition through enlightenment.
As part of Peer Icon Partner’s corporate social impact campaign, “Celebrate the Unknown” top Ambassadors at OAM Foundation were able to share insights on some myths associated with albinism in line with the International Albinism Awareness Day that was held on June 13.
Living with albinism means overcoming visual impairment, a tendency to burn and coping with being visually distinct. Otherwise that, people with albinism are absolutely normal. The biggest challenge that is faced by people with albinism is ignorance. A lot of people know very little about albinism and only shield themselves behind local knowledge that has been shared from age to age and sieved with lack of knowledge.
Sun not Salt
The phrase, “Sun not salt”, is one that is associated with The OAM Foundation as a mantra to enlighten the public. This simply means that there is nothing wrong with the consumption of salt by persons living with albinism. Salt is a very important dietary requirement and a person deficient of salt could end up with Iodine deficiency that can cause goitre or having hyponatremia; a condition characterized by low levels of sodium in the blood. People with albinism are encouraged to have a balanced diet with salt as an additive to cooked meals.
The idea that the consumption of salt by people with albinism is the cause of the burns they get on their skin is a myth. It is a myth associated with the Yoruba folks. Yorubas are known to say, “Afinkojẹiyo”, meaning, “Albinos do not eat salt”. The only reason why people living with albinism will have skin burns is because of exposure to the sun. Those with albinism will also need to take extra care in the sun.
Without melanin, ultraviolet (UV) rays in sunlight can easily damage their skin (sunburn) and increase their risk of developing skin cancer. So, it is very important that they are shielded from the sun.
Albinos do not see in the afternoon
It is interesting to know that people living with albinism see the same way in the afternoon as they see in the morning or in the evening. A lot of people believe that persons with albinism do not see during afternoons; this is also a myth. The simple reason for this myth is the lack of melanin in the skin.
Albinism is a genetic condition where people are born without the usual pigment (colour) in their bodies. Their bodies are not able to make a normal amount of melanin, the chemical that is responsible for eye, skin, and hair colour. People who have albinism have little to no pigmentation of the iris or on their eye lids which protect the eyes. So when the sun rays are hot in the afternoon, you will find people with albinism squinting. This makes people around them think they are closing their eyes.
Since pigment in the eye absorbs light and helps tolerate most kinds of bright light, the lack of pigment in these structures makes albinos very sensitive to light; this is called photosensitivity. People with Albinism should avoid going out when it is very hot and the sun is at its strongest (between 11am and 3pm) and if they must, should use sunglasses with UV filters and cover up with a hat and loose-fitting clothing, such as a long-sleeved top.
Albinos are less intelligent
Now, imagine a newly admitted student in a school being rejected by a school teacher because the student is a person living with albinism. This was the situation of one of The OAM Foundation ambassadors who through that experience made a personal determination that she was going to work hard to stand out and be top in everything that she does. Today, she is thriving as a model in Nigeria walking the runway at most top fashion shows.
It is true that a lot of individuals living with albinism are withdrawn because of the way they are dealt with in the society. They have had so much rebuffs and faced so much preconception that they tend to slide into a shell, lock the door and throw away the key. They are victims of rude comments and scorn. Most times they are not outspoken; they are shy, and this might give the perception that they are unintelligent. This also affects their ability to earn a living. Employers also are reluctant to hire PWA, judging first without even asserting if they have the right requirements or skills. The truth is that the average individual with albinism is an observer, very analytical and usually fit in as creative.
Albinos produce money
In some parts of Africa, especially in the Eastern Africa, the widespread killing of people with albinism for their body parts continues. There is a mistaken belief they bring good luck, wealth, and even political success. Some believe that an albino body parts can be used to harness powers to win elections, a sport competition, to enhance the physical strength of a human or even to cure HIV or AIDS.
Again, this is another myth. Albino body parts have no magical powers. The dreadful trade thrives because albino limbs and organs fetch a high price among people who believe in the power of black magic.
Attacks against albinos for their body parts and organs take place mainly in sub-Saharan African communities – in Tanzania, Malawi, and Burundi, among others. There is also a growing awareness that for this crime to be stopped and the culprits prosecuted and brought to justice.
Superstitious beliefs are hard to uproot and they travel far if not curbed. In Nigeria, people living with albinism walk by and you can still hear people say, “This is money”. This is very wrong!
Albinos are children birth through afternoon sex
Yes, this is actually another myth. Whoever thought of this is so hilarious but I was informed that this is seriously associated with the PWA community.
One of the OAM Foundation Ambassadors is a twin and his twin brother is a dark melanin popping person. Albinism is a defect in one of several genes that produce or distribute melanin. The defect may result in the absence of melanin production, or a reduced amount of melanin production. The defective gene passes down from both parents to the child. The emphasis here is that Albinism is a genetic condition. Albinism is definitely not the woman’s fault, it’s a genetic condition that occurs by the combined effort of both parents. It has no attachment to illicit sex, adultery, a one night stand that went wrong or even sex that occurred in the afternoon.
Albinos have body odour
Body odour is the perceived unpleasant smell that bodies can give off when bacteria that live on the skin break down sweat into acids. Body odour is not exclusive to people with Albinism. It is a myth to believe that all albinos have body odour.
However, if a person living with albinism does not practice personal hygiene, then he or she is bound to have body odour just like any non-PWA. Common causes of body odour are poor hygiene, hot and humid weather, recent exercise or eating certain foods such as onions and garlic. Using antiperspirant, deodorant and regular bathing with antibacterial soap are self-treatment to reduce body odour. This applies to anyone with body odour, both people living with albinism and those with melanin.
PWA are better at sex
Interestingly, albinos are usually sort after for sex because there is a myth that drives the notion that they are better at sex. We have got both male and female albinos being hounded for sex by non-PWAs who just want to satisfy their curiosity.
The truth, this is yet another myth. You do not have to be a person with albinism to transform sex to a passion incarnate. You do not even have to be a person living with albinism to be incredible at sex. You just have to understand the human experience and be empathetic. There are obvious things that make someone great in bed: Understanding of human anatomy, asking the right questions, a willingness to try new, kinky stuff and so on. But that is a topic for another day.
For lack of proper knowledge, some persons with albinism can even be raped and enticed into believing that the sexual assault was consensual. These persons will never be privileged to understanding that although vaginal or other forms of sexual penetration may be evident, rape is not sex!
In conclusion, people living with albinism will have to prove themselves beyond the myths. They must not indulge in self-pity or eliciting pity from other people. They need to work on themselves and develop their strengths to be able to stand out from the crowd. They need the first love that comes from the acceptance by their parents, immediate family members and even at their schools as they grow up.
The society also has to deal with albinos like people first rather than as people living with disabilities. Contact with others with albinism or who have albinism in their families or communities is most helpful.
Albinos need to also understand that they exude a charm that needs to be projected. They may have a very visible and distinct complexion, but they must begin to deliberately channel their distinct personalities which is also fiercely empowering. One person living with Albinism will cause a stare in a room but a group of Albinos will definitely illuminate the room. It is time to turn the psychological trauma to psychological triumph.
Emma-Iyamu is a principal strategist, Peer Icon Partners (PIP) Limited.