Beauty Comes in All Colours – And Even No Colour at All

One of the most eye-opening aspects of my experience in South Africa has been observing and analyzing racial relations and interactions. Coming from multicultural Canada, where racial integration is a proud element of our national identity (even though racial prejudice persists), it was difficult to accept the racialized neighbourhoods that make up Johannesburg’s urban landscape. Racial integration remains an aspiration, as most neighbourhoods are predominantly “white” or “black” – class, linguistic, cultural and systemic barriers have halted Mandela’s vision of racial equality.

This racialized reality is a glaring feature of South African culture and society – and so I’ve spent months discussing its features and analyzing the way forward at my work. But there is another eye-opening aspect of my experience that involves colour of skin but that has received much less of my attention and focus – the predominance of albinism.

Since my first week of arriving I’ve noticed a great number of albinos – people with an absence of pigment in the skin, hair and eyes due to absence or defect of an enzyme involved in the production of melanin. Although I’ve met albinos in Canada and abroad, I’ve been surprised by the sheer numbers I’ve met in South Africa. Although I initially wondered if albinos were simply more noticeable in Africa due to the contrast in colour, I later came to find out that there is a ten-times higher rate of albinism in Africa than North America (one in every 2000 people are albino in Africa).

Like other historically oppressed minorities, albinos have been the victims of great prejudice. Even today there are many reports of witchcraft-related killings of albino people. Their body parts are used in potions sold by witchdoctors. There is another false belief that having sex with an albinistic woman will cure a man of HIV – which has lead to dire consequences for albinos in Africa.

Since concluding my experience in Johannesburg, and saying my goodbyes to my friends and colleagues, I’ve been traveling northwards. Over the course of the next month I’ll be traveling to Mozambique, Malawi, Zambia and Zimbabwe before returning home to Canada. During my time in Maputo, the capital of Mozambique, I was privileged to see a photo exhibit that is aimed at raising awareness of albinism, exhibiting the beauty of albinos and dispelling the false myths.

In furtherance of their objective of raising awareness, I’d like to share the photos from that exhibit below. Africa is not alone when it comes to prejudice towards albinos – and Canada is not an exception. Reflecting on the beauty of albinos is therefore beneficial for all societies – reminding us that there is beauty in all shades and in all people.