My Shocking Story Albino Island on TLC is Sad, Sad, Sad

If PBS is the station of learning about other cultures. TLC has GOT to be the station of having other culture’s happenings disgust and freak us out. Or, if you consider Jon and Kate, it’s having our OWN culture disgust and freak us out. So tonight TLC hit us with My Shocking Story; Albino Island.

Albino Island

Turns out it’s primarily about Tanzania Africa, with cutaways to a summer camp here in America for albinos in Pennsylvania. Both groups are as far apart geographically as they are in terms of living conditions. You DO remember Tanzania right? Come on! Hemingway? Kilimanjaro? You know! This place—->

Tanzania

But first let me set the stage a little. Here on this blog I’ve written about a few of these TLC My Shocking Story episodes. The Woman with Giant Legs, Half Man Half Tree, The Man with No Face, and The Electric Humans. I swore off these shows, but I did see the tv guide listings for the Mermaid Girl and I think another one called the Spider People. So Why my return to expressing my thoughts on these shows? Well this little article is just a teeny tiny effort to get the word out about atrocities in Africa. There are literally an infinite number of unsolvable problems over there. And this little program’s focus on just one medical condition helps the human mind at least grasp one story that can help people see how misery ripple out. And by the program also doing a little comparin’ and contrastin’ with the same medical condition here in North America they do the classic “bringin’ it on home.” And yeah, it’s a little on the cliche side. But what else can be done? Everybody here is concerned with our new 10 percent unemployment rate, people can’t even begin to imagine decades of a 60 or 70 percent unemployment rate. So let’s take a look at the program…

Mary

We more or less begin with the story of two sisters (Shida and Semeni), a bunch of unnamed siblings and their mother Mary Mathias. The two girls are albinos in Tanzania, Africa.

albino sisters

The girls are teens and like most African girls living at a village level society need to do a good deal of manual labor. Obtaining water and firewood are a big part of that. Or course, it’s Africa, and that means INTENSE sunlight.

Shida Mathias Africa

Which is quite terrible for people with no pigmentation. After all, the reason “black people” are “black” is because it’s an evolutionary defense against tremendous sunlight. The darker you are the better you’re able to handle sunlight. Dark skin is still prone to things like sunburn and skin cancer just LESS prone. So these girls are up shit creek; they have the absolute worse kind of skin for that environment.

Mathias sister1Mathias sister2

Now speaking of genetic evolution, let’s get into that. The program introduces a professor whose name is Dr. Brilliant!

Doc Brilliant

So Doc Brilliant has this brilliant idea. That MAYBE albinism is connected to leprosy. Hmmmm? Now let me be a little upfront here. I’m not a professor. But I DO have a very expensive degree in Anthropology from Columbia and yeah, it was cultural anthro but I did my last year’s focus on physical anthro. And even before they said it on the program I knew that leprosy was a communicable/contagious disease not a genetic disorder like, say, Sickle Cell Anemia. And even though Sickle Cell is an awful disease it’s a development in African populations that, rightly so, been theorized as a natural combatant to Malaria. Malaria and things like Sleeping Sickness can be spread by the TseTse fly and populations with sickle shaped cells WILL have a shorter life expectancy, but they will survive Malaria.

So the brilliant Dr. Brilliant decides to do some investigation. He already knows that some 1 in 14,000 people in this part of Africa are albinos (God was it 1,400?). And albinism is a recessive trait, so he wants to compare the DNA of albinos to lepers. First he goes to visit Samuel Mluge who has a charity called Under The Same Sun.

Samuel

The charity is a where the kinda sad story gets REALLY sad. See, all the albinos have to live in the locked compound so they don’t get killed. That’s right. In this part of the world with one of the highest albino populations in the world they’re ostracized even more than normal society. AND the people have started to hunt them. AND CHOP THEIR LIMBS OFF for “witchcraft” ingredients.

Man, I love how for Native Americans (and pretty much EVERY village level culture) it’s “medicine man,” “healer” and “shaman” but for Africa…Not that I’m sticking up for the bad guys, but still; the show did itself a disservice by going that route. If it 1950, fine. But 2009? Really?

lockalbino kidsmore kidsprotected kids

Let’s talk a little about the physiological aspects

When I was younger I used to see albinos all the time. I rarely see them anymore. I’ve known black ones and white ones. The weird thing is how similar they look despite their ethnic background. In fact, it’s a great lesson in humanity to see people WITHOUT pigmentation-It’s a great reminder that we’re all humans and the skin tone is a ridiculous separation device. “Human” doesn’t mean some people are dogs and some people are rocks, and some people are trees. Human means 2 arms,  2 legs, a brain, some sex organs and upright walking.

Anyway in fact in my early college years a friend and I got enjoyment every single day from calling an albino guy we worked with “Al” and having him correct us every single time and say “My name is Lou, how do you guys forget every day?!” Hey, I never said I was a great guy, and I’ve grown. A little. But one of the things we noticed was how BAD his vision was. He used to read everything just like these guys.

bad vision

And in the program they talk about how aside from the susceptibility to skin cancer one of the biggest problems with albinism is vision.

braille

By the way, if you need glasses-do go online.

Online Glasses link 1 and Online Glasses link 2

I don’t want to spoil the show for people who haven’t seen it yet, so I wont reveal all the details, but I will continue with Dr. Brilliant’s next move. Which is that he then continues his journey to the leper village to collect DNA samples. I mean wow, now you’ve got to try to take in an entire OTHER group of sickly, destitute and unhappy people in the SAME area of the SAME country.

Selina

Her hands

decayed hands

Another resident

lady with leprosy

MY Crazy Theories

Hey Dr. Brilliant had a theory and he was wrong so I’M proposing a theory too. Why not? Ladies and gentlemen of the jury I put it to you that there MIGHT be a connection between albinism and the disease Michael Jackson had. The dreaded vitiligo. Think about it; Michal Jackson had depigmentation through vitiligo. And check this out, leprosy goes for the hands and feet first JUST like Michael Jackson. Did you know THAT was why he started wearing the glove?

Michael vitiligo

Just in CASE you think it’s a made up disease I encourage you to do an image search on google. Here’s a sample

severeDesiree_Vitiligo

They don’t even know what causes is. Can’t confirm if it’s purely genetic or if environment plays a factor. I also believe that ultimately albinism will be explained by a case of genetic drift. I put a wiki link in there for you guys. But similar to Tay-Sachs.

But Back to the Show

So, the “b story” of the episode is about Lee-Anne Thompson who’s from Canada and goes to an all albino camp.

lee anne

Obviously it’s in start contrast to what’s happening in Africa BUT keep in mind all those young people essentially live in isolation and they’ve got to spend the rest of their lives like that too. So no picnic for them either.

campgood times

In conclusion

The show doesn’t really offer any kind of resolution or avenue to help. The give the sisters some sunglasses and Doc Brilliant is the closing shot as if its all about HIM. Nice guy, but it really isn’t.

The sad part is that TLC could easily have closed the show with a  screen that said “If you’d like to help out go to this website…” But, because I’ve been at this for a while, I know about the super secret, hard to find BRITISH version of the TLC website, that actually does have a section dedicated My Shocking Story section.

In the meantime I found a link to the organization. And the image below links to the charity site.

under the same sun

And a GREAT personal website (from a web designer who should be kicking it up a notch!) about the history of albinism and lifestyle of the artist who created the site is…

The Golden Child.

Guess what I learned over there? Not only is my personal theory that albinism might be connected to vitiligo not an original idea, but the theory is over a hundred years old!

Professor Holloway

Professor Holloway

And hey, not that it’s related to anything, but the man who taught me physical anthropology was on Nova Nov. 3 (with a rerun on Nov. 16 talking about early humans. The program is called Becoming Human; First Steps. The Doc pops up every so often on these “early man” shows on PBS, TLC or Discovery. So let’s give him a round of applause too because I PROBABLY wouldn’t be taking the time to write pieces like this (when I could be focusing on making money) without him…

23 thoughts on “My Shocking Story Albino Island on TLC is Sad, Sad, Sad

  1. So I got a couple of emails ALREADY tonight…

    Wondering if you know any contact info so I can send money to the two albino girls..shida mathias and her sister and mother
    -Mariah

    Is there a way to help send funds to the mother of these two beautiful kids in order to help with the oinments for them?
    Thanx
    Bless up!!
    -CJ

    And yeah, I’ve been in contact with TLC about these stories from My Shocking Story, in terms of the station making more of an effort to get the word out there and open the lines of communication from viewers to the people featured. I will contact them again IN THE MORNING, because in most of these cases it’s a story about 1 person or maybe a small group like the Tree Man and the traveling clan. But in this case it affects a huge segment of of that population-plus others worldwide…

  2. I can’t believe how horrible this is … It makes me ill. Please let me know how I can help these poor children. I feel so bad for the sister. They never said if their sister that was killed was older or younger. I wonder how old she was. For the children to have witnessed this is terrible and sick…

  3. Thank you for writing about this story. I was heartbroken and left bawling my eyes out after watching it tonight. I am a mother and the thought of losing one child to this horrible, horrible crime would send me over the edge. I cannot imagine the pain, stress and worry this mother has had to deal with, all while raising a family with out her husband.

    This story by TLC needs to be expanded and yes, the word must get out. These poor, truly innocent children do not deserve this. As you said, normally the show features a single person or a small group of people, but this is not the case. From what I recall from the show the stats were like 1 in 1,400 children were born with Albinoism in Tanzania. There were so many questions left in my mind after watching the show; What can I do to help, why are the stats so high there, why isn’t anything being done to protect these children/people, why aren’t any “big” charities (unicef?) doing anything to help (sunblock, hats, magnifiers, sunglasses etc)?????? WHY ARE THEY LEFT TO SUFFER?????

    This TLC “My Shocking Story” truly was a “shocking story”, but it shouldn’t be left at that….and here I go….the water-works…..this story truly affected me. I hope it has affected many other people and that something can be done to help them.

    I look forward to hearing any information you are able to get and appreciate your effort in helping bring awareness to this crisis.

    ~M~

  4. I watched this show last night and cried my eyes out like they were one of my family members. We complain everyday about what we don’t have and how we want to look and the people here are just trying to survive. I could barely watch it so I really just listened because they are humans just like us. Has anyone ever wondered why all albinos look just alike.I really want to help this family and also the lady with the baby who died her hair. I want to also help the charity that Samuel Muge has Charity under the same Sun.

  5. What a great and thorough review. I was going to write about this and the ABC 20/20 show but you have done it for me. I have been writing about this for a year but I could not have done a better job. If you don’t mind, I will send my friends with albinism to this post.

    I consider these African albinos my family. Whenever and wherever we meet anywhere in the world we seem to greet each other as kin.

    What the two TV shows did not say is that even if a man were to show interest in those two girls it could be to their detriment. Another belief in that part of the world is that if you have sex with an albino your AIDS will go into that person. Someone will pretend that they want to be your boyfriend to give you his AIDS. Albino girls are being gang raped all the time. That’s another reason they are being kept in walled camps. But that’s another story.

    Virginia

    • Hi Virginia

      I’m glad as an albino that my review was a positive thing and not a negative. Some of the people who get in touch are NOT happy. (I still don’t know why some people email and don’t use this giant comment section right here). Feel free to let others know about it. But I must confess I tend to update/reword/fix bad spelling all the time. So the article you see today might look a little different as time goes on…

      I also knew about the rape situation (mentioned below also) but I left a few details about the program out for people who haven’t seen the show yet. AND I left out some details about what’s REALLY going on in Africa that most people don’t know/care about. It gets to be too much for people to care about so they just do nothing. I think at least with this one isolated issue people can have a feeling, react, and then take a specific action with the link I put up above. You know what I’m saying?

      Now let’s take a look at one of the emails I got.

      Dear Mr. Anthropologist,

      Thanks for the posting of these pictures. I was searching for a video link on-line for my anthropologist friend to watch. I too watched TLC’s Albino Island. I was horrified. Thank you for posting the link to the “Under the Sun” NGO.

      I understand your cynicism regards our voyeurism into gross images etc…. but, I have been to Africa 4 times, including, S. Africa, Kenya & Rwanda.

      Locally, they are still referred to as “witch-doctors”. The rural people groups go to them as they can not afford nor do they have access to modern drugs.

      If you check South African news, witch-doctors are responsible for telling men that if they have sex with a virgin it will cure their HIV/AIDS, hence the very high prevalence rate of rape of very young girls and babies.

      I know that in some cultures so called witch-doctors formed the foundation for homeopathic medicine, but, witch-doctors (in the sense that they claim to have magical powers & exploit people) do exist in other cultures.

      Debra
      So let’s see if we can make some sense of this

      Hi Debra
      I THINK what you’re saying is that YOU take offense, that I take offense, that African healers don’t take offense. Is that right. I mean after first making fun of my eduction of course. Couldn’t start a conversation without a put down first.

      I’m saddened that of ALLLLL the things mentioned in that program and all the horrible things Virginia mentioned above what you take away from all this is how proud you are to have been to Africa and your desire to correct me on a naming convention. Really THAT’S what upset you?

      Anyway I didn’t say say I’m cheering for and support the witchdoctors-please show me where you read that part of my article? I DID say I’m not happy about the naming convention. And YES, I DO think they call themselves witchdoctors, as well as the people around them. NOW.

      Let me explain what I mean by that. A whole LOT of black people refer to themselves and others as “niggers.” By any stretch of the imagination do you think that’s a native African word that all the diverse Africans who make up today’s African American brought to America with them? No. It’s a nasty label some current African Americans have adopted and made less hurtful. Lemons into lemonade.

      But that doesn’t mean it wasn’t wrong to begin with.

  6. Hi, Dave:

    I hear ya’

    I have also gotten personal e-mails from people, even though I was posting on a public forum. Don’t they know that if they e-mail us we can still post it? Duh!

    It seems Debra is taking offence at the words “witch doctor”. Let me warn you that people will also take offence at the word “albino”. You will notice I use it anyway. I also use blond Ashanti, ivory African, Golden Child, white chocolate mama…any and all will do. 😀

    I hope you had some time to visit my Golden Child site. I try to give our history and a bit more insight as to who we are. I also have a resources page listing places where people can send money to the albinos in Africa.

    Where did you get that Michael Jackson pic? I thought I had every MJJ pic there was.

    Peace

    Virginia
    TGC

  7. I forgot to say that I usually watch the TLC programs like “My Shocking Story” because I am fascinated by the incredible human diversity we have on this planet.

    Virginia

    • Hi Virginia
      Thanks for the return! I WILL get by your site ASAP. I run about 30 sites, and you might not be able to tell, but this article was me “coming out of retirement” for this site. I hadn’t written anything over here since the TV season ended way back in June :). And you might notice I’m no stranger to watching/writing about My Shocking Story also, but this one was just too important not to say a few words. And I kinda cover the first half of the show so people are still motivated to watch and can be surprised by details that come out in the second half.

      But yeah people visit, and they say all kinds of stuff. But my feeling is if you come to MY blog to put me down (even in some kind of passive aggressive back-handed way), I’ll post it, but guess who gets the last word!

      As for MJ pics, well I don’t use the word “infinite” too often but there just might be a (nearly) infinite number of shots of him out there. It’s ALL about using google/bing/yahoo image search in a specific way…

      One question: I did NOT know some people didn’t like the word “albino.” I knew “midget” had been replaced by things like “little person.” So what’s the correct phrasing? Melanin-Deficient-American?

  8. A melanin deficient American? I will e-mail you privately on that one.

    The politically correct phrase is person with albinism. It’s called People First Language. It doesn’t matter much to me and some of my friends but it really ticks off some others.

    I have my own philosophy on why I don’t really like “person with albinism”. It implies I have a disease or condition that needs to be cured. But that’s just me.

    For the sake of your readers who may not know, here are a few more People First phrases.
    Don’t say wheelchair bound or confined to a wheelchair. Say wheelchair user, or person who uses a wheelchair, or person in a wheelchair….
    Don’t say the blind or the deaf. And whatever you do, don’t say deaf and dumb.
    Blind people or person who is deaf is correct.
    Midget and dwarf are out. Please use little person or person of short stature. You can even say person with dwarfism.

    I worked with the disability community (not the disabled) for many years so I go into lecture mode with this. Sorry.

    Virginia
    White Chocolate Negress 🙂

    • Yeah I figured you weren’t going to go for MDA, even though I like because it makes you sound like a rapper…

  9. I enjoyed reading through the exchange of thoughts. I wrote about the “My Shocking Story – Albino Island” on my own blog and I believe I too was contacted by Virginia. I also linked back to your site for my readers since you were able to summarize the show quite well.

    After writing my story and posting it, it occurred to me – “I sure hope I did not offend anyone with the terms I used or the fact that I don’t know very much ‘factual’ information on albinism.”. I just had to write about it after watching the show. It was so hard to see. I just wanted to bring light this horrible crisis to my few readers. I am still interested in the “proper” usages of the terms Albino, Albinism, and other. I will try contacting Virginia privately for a possible “education” on the issue.

    I am planning on doing reading/research to see what I can do to help. I also will be posting any useful information I find on my blog for my readers (however few readers there are).

    I just figured out that you “rework” your posts. You’ve added some interesting new bits too. Thanks for sharing what you have found regarding the “Under The Same Sun” organization as well as “The Golden Child”. I checked out the “Under The Same Sun” website and it is very educational. I still have to check out “The Golden Child”, but will be sure to do so.

    Thanks again for writing!

    ~M~

    • Hey ~M~
      Thanks for coming back and checking in!

      And YEAH, to say I re-work my writing would be an understatement, but I’m glad you liked the additions. I’m more or less done-but I have been known to add news as it develops. But like you, I was motivated to write quickly, even if it meant just going with the little information I had. And then adding elements as I researched or came up with other ideas.

      At any rate, my feeling is we all do our little part and maybe a few things change, even if it’s just people’s awareness (and in our case, hearing about terminology issues). This is also a good time to point out that people can visit what you wrote by clicking the blog link in your name right above this comment. And now by having all 4 sites linked it helps our individual sites/blogs and also helps people find different insights into the topic.

  10. My son has albinism, and there are many kinds but essentially they’re the same. Some are called oculocutaneous and that involves skin, and ocular is just the eyes. There are certain genes that cause it. The mother and father both must be carriers of the same tye of albinism for the child to get it. There is a great organization we are affiliated with called NOAH. it’s the main organization in America. There is a lot of info there, and you’ll find all the facts you need. Albinism is not a death sentence or even a horrible condition.They live totally normal productive lives.

    • Hi Amy
      Thank you for the information. And it’s nice to hear about the support and love you’ve given to your son.

      Maybe you’re writing from here in the states, or maybe you haven’t had a chance to see the program-but in some parts of the world many people who have the condition don’t get a chance to live normal lives, in fact, it actually is kind of a death sentence.

  11. You don’t think the Blond Ashanti sounds kind of rapper-ish? 😀

    You are right, Dave. It can be a death sentence, or one can go about one’s life in almost a normal manner: depending on what part of the world one lives in.

    IMHO, the stigma is worse in darker skinned countries. It’s harder having albinism in India, Korea, and South America than in Europe or Sweden. There have been many people who have disputed that. None of them were of darker races. I stand by my convictions.

    I know a beautiful Asian woman whose mother gave her away because she would have been a street beggar in her native country. Here in America she has gone to law school.

    As for my Golden Child site, I am working hard to get the new one up and running soon. There is a lot to do and it is getting a COMPLETE overhaul, so bear with me.

    Virginia

    • Hi Virginia
      OF COURSE it’s harder on people who come from ethnic backgrounds that are non-white. I just took it easy on the lady in case she came back the next day 😉

      I’m assuming she also didn’t see the program so was working with less information (also why I didn’t say something flippant, for example, “you’re just ignorant (of the facts).” hahaha.

      But good luck with the site. As I mentioned I have about 30 sites to manage, so don’t spend enough time over here. But I DID write another piece for this one a few days ago and might do one more this week about Patty Hearst…

  12. iv not seen the progream yet its on tomorrow but iv heard how thse kids are treated its shocking my friend has a little albino girl and shes the cutiest child ever why these pepole are singled out i dont know but in my town and in the wetern world and modern Ashia their treated normaly like how it should be

    • Hi Anne

      Thanks for visiting. Well, I hope you AND your friend are able to watch or record the program. I think it’s a good lesson. Actually there are probably a FEW lessons to be learned. But as you said good treatment doesn’t happen in certain places for unique individuals. So this program is a very good reminder that even though it’s nearly 2010 there is still a lot of grief and misery in the world.

      We should probably also ask what are the CONDITIONS that lead people to do such desperate things. I think it’s safe to say under the best of conditions people don’t turn to desperate and violent solutions. But people who feel backed into a corner and viola; modern day pirates in East Africa, dismembering people for the limbs in Tanzania, or mass demonstrations in Iran when those people KNOW they’re gonna get locked up/beat/raped in an Iranian prison. So all this stuff is sad; but it doesn’t happen without a reason. Not to mention letting things go unchecked; you let people do crazy shit and they’ll KEEP doing crazy shit. So putting a spotlight on a problem is a very good start to stopping it.

    • Thank you kindly Katherine.

      And you might be able to take in the show in small doses. I think somebody put it into 10 minute clips on youtube. My stats show traffic coming from there.

  13. Hi

    I;m looking for a copy of the @My Shocking Story, about some girls with albinism in Tanzania. I have tried a few places, Are you able to confirm where I can obtain a copy from

    regards

    Hema

    • Hello Hema
      I have gotten in touch with TL many many times and asked them to make DVD’s available. I will forward your email to them.

      In the meantime I think somebody (me?) said it here in the comments, but the program can be seen on youtube in 10 minute clips. But I’m getting the impression you didn’t really read anything here…

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