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—->


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…


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.


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.


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.


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


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…

Serena Pretty Much Headlined the 2009 French Open. But Let’s Be Honest They Don’t Like Her

So a couple of days ago I read something a guy named Couch wrote. The premise of his piece was that Serena Williams should “do more.” In his mind she’s not fit and not committed tennis. So I wrote a response that’s pretty much going to get buried amongst the barrage of livid racist who can’t stand somebody Black playing tennis anyway let alone somebody they can villianize because she has the unmitigated gall to be confident.

Pam Shriver is quoted in a piece for the LA times this week where she says the obvious. The French Open has been repeatedly miserable to Serena. And the speculation is that maybe it’s not racist since the French have Gael Monfils and maybe it’s not anit-American since they love Roddick. But A) Gael is a a FRENCH Black person and they’ll root for anybody that can put France on the map for tennis. B) Roddick is a (white) man. Case closed on that one. In fact the ONLY person being heckled with nasty comments and repeatedly having officials ignore blatant cheating is Serena.What I wrote in response is below…


Serena’s not fit? Compared to whom? Look, Couch, I don’t know you; I’ve never read anything you’ve written, but the story title caught my eye. So I don’t know if you’re a former tennis pro, a sports writer in general or just some dude who got a job at a website and assigned to this part of the site. But I’ve been watching women’s tennis since 1999, and even I feel I can make a better assessment of what’s going on than you.

Waaaaayyy back a year and a half ago I wrote a piece about the slump BOTH Williams were going through and either on my own blog or in a comment I made on somebody else’s blog I predicted they were probably on a downward spiral.

But NOT for the reasons you’ve indicated; fitness and commitment. That’s absurd. I mean have you really listened to what you’ve said? Serena’s strength is so apparent that she does not even LOOK like a tennis player. The irony is that I thought she looked about 10 pounds lighter than I’m used to seeing her for the French open. But the Williams in general are SO fit no American can even compete anymore. It took a flood of Eastern Europeans, people coming from poor parts of Europe, to be able to be able to match the physicality of the Williams. The French had to go back to the drawing board (Mauresmo) and the Belgian just dropped out (Clijsters) and one by one the other Americans have receding into obscurity.

My belief for the REAL reason for the Serena (and Venus) slump is not about commitment so much as it is about home life. When their parents got divorced and their sister got killed that broke their momentum, and they haven’t recovered. Richard (their father for those of you not up to speed) pretty much handed over coaching duties and their mother took over for a while. He wasn’t even at games as often. And I just think it’s a case of diminishing returns unless something drastic changes.

As for this issue of sponsorship money. Well let’s not kid ourselves. It’s a Black issue. Case closed. No need to harp on it. But the guy you interviewed, Bob Williams, ironically located here in FANTASTICALLY racist Chicago saying 50 percent of endorsement deals go to Black people should be corrected to “men athletes.” Yeah, Black GUYS make a lot of dough in “traditionally Black player dominated” sports. There is no Black man making a killing in hockey. So the Serena is fighting two uphill battles; women not making as much as men, and being the “wrong” race for her sport. The ad agencies are essentially not in a mood to sell Black Barbies to little white girls not when they’ve got an IDEAL candidate in Sharapova WHO ONLY WON A FEW slams compared to Serena. Because that was the other argument right? “Serena doesn’t win enough” Ha! In addition, sponsorship deals are not necessarily tied to winning as much as DRAW. The Williams have drawn more viewers to TV, more worldwide fans to the game and sold more tennis seats than anybody in the last 10 years. FACT.

I’m also noticing a lot of people talking about how “arrogant” Serena is. How she’s needs to “do it, not say it.” Well, all you fat ass people sitting at your computer’s look ridiculous. Have any of YOU ever won a Grand Slam? Even one? Come on, surely you MUST have done something to be so full of attitude. And man, how short people’s memories are. Does anybody remember Muhammad Ali most famous saying? Oh that’s right it was “I’m the Greatest!” Or let’s look at Jimmy Connors, or John McEnroe. NONE of these guys were shy and demur-whether they wore winning or LOSING about how they were the “best.” It’s unusual for a woman to do it and there are so few Black women tennis players that, YES, she pumps herself up. Who can fault her when she’s been repeatedly cheated at the French, called all kinds of names, AND had to deal with those “objective” people in the booth talking about her and her sister negatively whenever they get a chance. I mean, Mary Jo and the others were SO easy to make backhanded compliments for YEARS until the Williams winning streak could no longer be denied. So surprise, surprise Serena decides to be her OWN number one fan AND number one critic to get herself to the top. To NOT be a braggart is, frankly, kinda UNAmerican. Anybody remember a certain flight suited dude standing in front of a Mission Accomplished banner?

Did We Really Need Stacy Peralta’s Look at the Bloods and the Crips?

I’m torn. I mean, I’m really on the fence about this PBS special. It aired May 12th on the station’s Independent Lens series and I watched the whole thing. From Terrence Howards’ intro right on through to the credits. And as a Black man I’m torn. On the one hand I guess I feel like “the message” can’t be gotten out there enough. But as a person who has seen a LOT of movies (including many, many documentaries like this) and who has seen a lot of PBS in general, this film had an eerily “familiar” look and feel to it. So much so that it ALMOST seemed like a parody. I almost expected to hear a raspy voiced narrator saying “It was the best of times, it was the worst of time…” with Bob Seger’s “Night Moves” playing in the background.


Bloods and Crips: Made in America. Whew, I mean, that’s like a conversation from 15 years ago right? Or twenty-FIVE years ago if you wanna talk crack in it’s hey day. So what compelled Stacy to drag all this out like it’s something new? For those of you (probably most) who don’t know Peralta is a a film director, but really he’s a skateboard guy. I’m a 41 year old guy and I first heard his name from precisely 26 years ago as I ventured outside of Chicago’s version of Los Angeles’ South Central (called the South Side) and made my way into the “white part of town” and discovered punk rock and skateboarding. And for those of you who don’t know Chicago is the home of the 2 other largest waring Black gangs; the Disciples and the El Rukins.


Peralta is “old school” having been a part of that original crew of Dogtown skaters in the 70’s (for this history lesson we’re gonna skip over the 60’s “sidewalk surfin’” era). Eventually he began to skate a little less and video tape younger skaters more and more. And voila; film director. So he’s no stranger to documenting LA based, sub cultures. And by him being an LA native who has lived so adjacent to one of the most largest Black communities in the America (a community that has affected so much of the PLANET via violence, style, music and attitude) I can understand him being compelled to FINALLY saying to himself, “Man, I really ought to see what’s going on in my own back yard. I’ve already got the cameras…” But isn’t everybody who watches PBS gonna be up to speed on this issue? I mean I don’t think any FOX News viewers will ever see/care about this film.


But with this film I see a lot of “hack” standards (from a film making point of view) and in terms of ground covered I see a lot of stereotypical elements re-hased (as a guy with a degree in Anthropology, point of view). All the favorites are there.

The soundtrack ripped straight from about 3 shows on KCRW’s night time line up

The look back at the 60’s Civil Rights movement as the “start” part of cycle

Dragging out 60’s Lefty Tom Hayden

The footage of Black kids with gang paraphernalia and guns

The photos of dead bodies

The footage of (primarily White) cops abusing Black people of all ages and sexes

The former gang members talking about “giving back” and “changing things”

The interviews of young current gangsters talking about “no way out” “it’s all I know”

Rodney of course, can’t talk about angry Black people without Rodney King

The montage of sad/crying Black parents

And the warehousing of people (Black men) by the prison complex

So, the phrase “Black on Black Crime” isn’t actually verbalized, but the…look and feel is tried and true “Black people as surrounded by/causing violence and being victims of a culture that created a quicksand of despair that we can’t seem to break away from.” Again, I guess the word needs to be put out there…but as an educated Black man it’s also a little tiring. Really? This is still new knowledge to white people? Really? This is still something you think would make an insightful thing to put all that money and time into? Really? I’ve seen this done so many times. In fact I’ve seen it done better several times (hey, I like the morphing photo effect a lot too but I’m not sure if it really reaches my heart in this context). I’ve seen where they give the kids cameras and let them film their lives for a few months and we see what’s important to THEM. What story they think should be told. But a project like this where you can’t personally follow individual just seems like it’s glossing over Standard Black Problem. It just affirms that violence/victim model.


But I’m torn. People think we have “overcome” because they see Obama; and he is close to being a Martian than he is to most Black people, so it’s good to get this reminder of what’s truly a part of OUR daily existence. But maybe there are different problems that need to be addressed or maybe this film could have tackled why so many efforts to change things have been ineffective. I’m not sure, but I DO know that if I had had access to Peralta before this project was done it would not have looked like this when the finished product was done.