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Summer Reading Selection Reveals How Stereotypes Assail People With Albinism

By Nuala Stanghellini

Incoming freshmen from the district of White Plains were having a brilliant summer. No school, no bothersome due dates, and no homework. Or so they thought. Each was student was assigned a summer reading list along with other preparations for the upcoming school year. What they didn’t know was that one book on this list was unusual.

While most of the books were amazing stories, there was one in particular that got my attention. Akata Witch by Nnedi Okorafor tells the story of a girl with albinism, like me, who has magical abilities. She finds her way around the world of magic, making new friends along the way. The story is great. The plot was unique, there were some cliffhangers, the imagery was enriching. I liked the idea of the magic. But she is the only character with albinism we know, and she’s magical. It may seem harmless, but people with albinism’s lives are endangered by these kinds of stereotypes. People who call themselves witches will hunt down people with albinism because we are believed to be magical. This is not true, and buying into this in any way hurts our community. The book seems to agree about these stereotypes, making the only character we get to know with albinism someone magical. The portrayal of life with albinism isn’t accurate either.

Now let’s talk about what Albinism IS. Albinism is a genetic condition passed down through two recessive genes targeting enzymes that help with the creation of melanin. Melanin is what gives our skin, hair, and eyes their color, and makes people’s skin and hair color different. In some individuals with albinism, it only effects their eyes. This is called ocular albinism. Those with ocular albinism have slightly more pigment. The kind I have is, get ready, big word—oculocutaneous albinism (OCA1). This means that the albinism effects my hair, skin, and eyes. My hair is white, and my skin is superbly pale. The effect that both forms have on the eyes is that we are visually impaired, often legally blind. Blindness is on a spectrum and people with albinism can fall closer to the sighted side, but that doesn’t count us out of the spectrum any less. In the book Akata Witch, there is absolutely no vision loss.

So, the book is somewhat accurate, but still not quite there. People with albinism often get these questions and comments: Wait, you’re blind? How many fingers am I holding up? Did you dye your hair? Your eyes look red! Instead, be polite. We see uniquely, and we are just like you! Despite the stereotypes and challenges, people with albinism are still able to do so much!

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