An Open Letter to Dick Gregory

by Natalie Devora

Where do albinos go after high school? On Monday, March 28, 2016, this question showed up on my Facebook feed. It was linked to an interview with Dick Gregory hosted by The Breakfast Club, a syndicated radio show based in New York. Intrigued, I clicked, began listening and was horrified. This was not Hollywood gossip: instead, it was ignorance to the highest degree. Dick Gregory, comedian, author, Civil Rights activist, self-proclaimed feminist and health activist, had posed the query about what happens to people like me beyond high school.

An Open Letter to Dick Gregory and the hosts of The Breakfast Club Radio Show

Mr. Gregory, what an offensive and ridiculous question. How is it that you, a man bearing a wealth of experience and having contributed to several important movements, could be so myopic.

I listened to the 9-minute youtube clip several times to understand it. After overcoming my initial shock, I became angry. Angry, because yet again I, along with countless others with albinism, were the target of someone’s stupidity. After a few days, I still had lingering emotions, namely, hurt. What bothered me most was the complete lack of sensitivity.

I assign responsibility to you, Mr. Gregory, as well as the hosts of the Breakfast Club morning show. In a smattering of minutes and without regard, you managed to isolate, stereotype and disrespect people with albinism.

First and foremost, we are NOT albinos. We are people with albinism. We are affected with a rare genetic condition which renders us without pigment. We are visually impaired and must take precautions to protect our skin.  Albinism occurs in every culture  worldwide. 1 in 18,000 people are born with albinism in the United States while 1 in  3000 people are affected in other parts of the world. And most notably amongst the Kuna Indians in Panama 1 in as few as 150 are affected. I recognize most people have limited knowledge about albinism. The National Organization for Albinism and Hypopigmentation NOAH,  provides a wealth of information. 

One of the Breakfast Club hosts jokingly said Albino lives matter. Our lives do matter. Albino lives matter so much that the limbs of PWA are cut off and sold for thousands of dollars in many parts of East Africa, Tanzania in particular, by witch doctors because the belief is albino body parts guarantee wealth, success and good fortune.

I know this first hand, having met victims of such atrocities while journeying to Tanzania 5 months ago. I met children living in protectorate centers because often PWA are shunned by families and community. I met a mother whose son aged 2, was wrenched from her arms by attackers, I listened to their stories, knowing full well the challenges I  grapple with while significant, pale in comparison.

I am accustomed to being gawked at and talked about as though I cannot hear. On a good day the words of others slide off me like teflon. Yet on other days, I am pierced. Your callus use of language, sir, wounded me. When I was a child after returning home from school in tears one time too many, my mother taught me the phrase “sticks and stones may break your bones but names will never hurt you.” I clung to this mantra. But the truth is names and statements made out of ignorance did and do hurt me.

Where do albinos stand on Black Lives Matter? Another question posed by the hosts. I cannot speak to how everyone who is African American living with albinism views the BLM movement. I can only provide my personal stance.

Color and identity for me are complex. I am a white skinned Black woman.sometimes I am assumed Caucasian.  I’m not always accepted by some African American people. Skin color continues to be an issue in Black culture. Experience has taught me when one is at either end of the spectrum, it’s a problem.

While I may be perceived as other than who I am, my family fares differently.  I’m acutely aware of the discrimination they experience. Consequently, I question and challenge injustice directed at them. I know always that I am Black first and a PWA second.

To the hosts of the Breakfast Club, your show is syndicated and reaches listeners across the country. Rather than fuel the ignorance and stereotypes you could have chosen to focus your show to strive for greater good.  Understand that The Breakfast Club is not the first entity to objectify albinism and likely they will not be the last. Hollywood has a history of typecasting PWA in a negative light: as in films like Powder, The Di Vinci Code, The Matrix to name a few.

And so Mr Gregory I thank you for a valuable lesson. Rather than being silenced, I am inspired. I am charged with a renewed commitment to do my part alongside countless others to educate and advocate for greater awareness about albinism and an end to discrimination toward people with albinism.

I welcome the opportunity to engage in conversation as a means to educate you Mr. Gregory on issues pertaining to albinism and the experience of being a person of color living with this condition.  Additionally, I offer links below to blog posts I have written.

Natalie Devora lives and writes in the San Francisco Bay Area. She is currently working on a memoir about race, identity and albinism.



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