It’s Hard Out Here For Albinos

albino

Hey world! Stop being so freaking mean to albinos!

These pale souls can’t catch a break.

Here in the West, they’re most often thought of as a villainous archetype, ready to be deployed whenever a sinister thriller needs a bad guy or assassin.

This trend holds true from 20th century classics to modern fiction, from comic books to films. HG Wells’ Invisible Man was a thieving albino madman bent on spreading chaos throughout the land. Hack fictionalist extraordinaire Dan Brown brought us Silas, the Opus Dei assassin. Comic book pages feature the villainous albinos Tombstone (hired gun) and Tobias Whale (mob boss). Cormac McCarthy’s Blood Meridian features a scary-ass albino judge who is pretty much satanic.

The Busey family has built their careers playing evil albinos. Gary Busey played an albino killer in Lethal Weapon, and son Jake played the menacing albino terrorist in Contact. Shame, Buseys, shame!!

Let’s not forget the most infamous film albino of them all, the character simply named “The Albino” who guards the Pit of Despair in The Princess Bride. They didn’t even give him a name! Not only is this character as cruel as many other fictional albino villains, he also has a problem with mucus-clogged throat. Way to double down on harmful stereotypes, Rob Reiner!

albinoForging new stereotypes since 1987.

This might all seem like fun and games to YOU, casual albino-racist, but little do you know that albinism isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.

Despite what Western media has led you to believe — that being born without melanin turns you into a super-evil villain capable of turning invisible, torturing Westley without reservations and assassinating members of the Priory of Sion — people with albinism are just like you and me!

Unfortunately, African albinos have it the worst of all.

It seems that some crazy wackadoo witch doctors are going around spreading the rumor that albinos have magical powers, and encouraging believers to obtain albino body parts so they can get a little of that special sauce.

In some African lands, gangsters are exploiting this belief to make big bucks – and killing albinos to do it.

This information was passed along by the lovely and intelligent LA Nicholson, and it absolutely popped my dome.

A story from the Economist (via Textually.org) tells the horrifying tale.

Brace yourself, this is frightening stuff.

THE head of police in Tanzania’s capital, Dar es Salaam, this week handed out free mobile phones to several hundred locals with albinism. This is a melanin deficiency that renders African skin pink and vulnerable to cancer, turns hair wispy and leaves eyes pale and impaired. Each phone comes with a “hot line” to the police. Albinos text in their location if they suspect they are being tracked by gangsters determined to kill them and harvest their body parts.

According to the Tanzania Albino Society, at least 35 albinos were murdered in Tanzania last year to supply witch doctors with limbs, organs and hair for their potions. The violence of the attacks and the prejudices they reinforce, both about albinos and Africa, have prompted Tanzania’s government to act. It has appointed an albino woman as a member of parliament to champion the interests of some 200,000 albinos in the country. The albinos, for their part, have applauded the intervention as well as other measures, such as attempts to stamp out the use of the Swahili word “zeru” (meaning “ghost”) for albinos. Nonetheless, they say that efforts to convict albino-killers have been thwarted by a rotten judicial system, with witch doctors using bribery or threats of spells to escape trial.

Alas, the killing of albinos has spread outside Tanzania’s borders to Kenya, Uganda and particularly Burundi. On January 2nd an eight-year-old albino boy living in Burundi was hacked to death in front of his mother. The killers took his arms and legs. That attack followed another on a six-year-old albino girl in the same country. The killers tied up the parents, shot the girl in the head, and made off with her head and limbs.

Investigators say the body parts of a single murdered albino sell for over $1,000, with the skin and flesh dried out and set into amulets and the bones ground down into a powder. Artisanal miners in the gold and diamond fields directly south of Lake Victoria are the main buyers. Some sprinkle albino powder on the walls of their narrow pits, hoping for glitter. Uneducated and desperate to strike riches, they are taken in by witch doctor’s stories of the wealth-giving properties of the potions.

The Tanzanian government is attempting to battle these stereotypes and jail those who attempt to murderously profit off the witch doctors’ backwards beliefs.

As The Independent reports, however, it is an uphill struggle.

Three men have been found guilty by a court in Tanzania for murdering an albino boy, in a ruling that campaigners hope will help protect the minority group from being slaughtered for their body parts. The landmark verdict is the first time anyone has been convicted of killing an albino despite more than 50 murders in the past three years.

Albinos – who suffer from a genetic defect that alters their skin and hair pigmentation – have been targeted by modern day witch doctors in East Africa who believe their body parts add potency to black magic rituals.

A string of brutal attacks in which members of the minority group have been literally hacked to pieces, with children as young as five being killed, has provoked angry criticism of the government. Tanzania, while an extremely poor country, has long enjoyed relative stability and is renowned for its spectacular national parks and Indian Ocean coastline.

The President Jakaya Kikwete has spoken out against the killers and banned witch doctors earlier this year, while police have arrested scores of suspects but Tanzania’s justice system is notoriously slow and yesterday’s conviction was the first of its kind.

The court in the north-western Shinyanga district, close to the shore of Lake Victoria, sentenced the three men to death by hanging for the murder in December last year of 14-year- old Matatizo Dunia. One of the accused was found with both of the boy’s legs when he was arrested.

There are an estimated 17,000 albinos in Tanzania and some researchers believe the genetic defect may have originated in East Africa. Today many albinos in the region suffer intense prejudice and are routinely referred to as “zerus” or invisibles.

The skin, hair, eyes and limbs of albinos can command thousands of dollars on the black magic market in Tanzania. These sums – often paid by educated, ambitious city dwellers who travel to rural witch doctors for help with business, family or sexual problems – have been sufficient for freelance killers to hunt the pale-skinned minority.

At least 53 murders have been recorded since September 2007 with the most recent killing taking place last month. While most of the attacks have taken place in the Shinyanga and Mwanza areas in the north-west, albinos are at risk all over the country and body parts have turned up in neighbouring Burundi, the Democratic Republic of Congo and Kenya.

The Tanzanian Albino Society (TAS) had been warning for years of the growing threat to their community but found initially that there was little official interest in the killings. The UK-based agency, Action on Disability and Development (ADD), which supports TAS, said it “applauds the efforts of the Tanzanian authorities to bring the perpetrators to justice” but called on the courts to commute the death sentences to life imprisonment on appeal.

Since last year, authorities in Tanzania, stung by an international outcry, have launched a public awareness campaign to attack the superstitious beliefs and last year the President appointed the country’s first albino MP, the 48-year-old Al-Shymaa Kway-Geer.

There have been 90 arrests so far in the huge East African nation, including four police officers, which has confirmed fears in some quarters that there is official involvement in some of the killings. There are another 15 cases going through the courts in the country.

A local BBC journalist, Vicky Ntetema, was last year forced to flee Tanzania after receiving a string of death threats following an undercover investigation into the trade in body parts.

A Canadian businessman and campaigner, Peter Ash, himself albino, said authorities must pursue the killers in every case. “This is one conviction. There are 52 other families still awaiting justice,” he said.

So, Hollywood screenwriters, comic book artists and novelists…

Next time you think “Damn, I could write an awesome evil albino part in here, I think it would be perfect for a Busey,” — think twice, Friend.

Your bigotry is no joke across the Atlantic.

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