For a long time, Brandi M. Green, 28, looked in the mirror and thought she was a black woman of a lighter complexion, even biracial. But the reality is that she is a person with albinism. As she has come to love her unique beauty and more are becoming aware of the attacks on people with albinism in East Africa, she wants to share her difficult but fulfilling journey.
By Brandi M. Green as told to Victoria Uwumarogie
I don’t know if it was a specific age, but I did notice early on that I was different. Around 8 or so I questioned things and thought, “What’s going on here?” But the answers that were given to me were never satisfactory. My relatives would say “Oh you know, we have white people in our family. ” Answers like that never satisfied me so I was always searching in a sense.
My mother told me I was just light skinned. Maybe she didn’t want to believe I had albinism. Parents don’t want their kids to suffer and I think it was that. She didn’t want me to be held back in any kind of way. She never really associated albinism with me, and she never wanted anyone else to associate that with me either. I think that’s ultimately what led to my identity crisis.
I went to an all black Christian middle school and that first year was rough. I was “White Girl.” I was “Casper.” After people got used to me, school went a lot smoother, but those experiences made me uneasy. The other kids didn’t buy what I was saying. They told me I was an albino and I would say, “No, I’m light skinned,” because that’s all I had known and all I was taught.
In high school I went through a phase where I was trying to “act black.” I was trying to fit in with my black peers and with everyone else in high school. I went through a period where I was trying to be rebellious and act hard and act like something that really wasn’t me. But after high school, when I was at Grinnell College in Iowa, that’s when I feel I really came into my own. Coming from a black school, it was important to me to be in a more diverse setting. I wanted to be somewhere where I could just kind of blend in instead of being a target and that worked for me. College by far was the best time in terms of me coming to accept albinism.
I keep saying albinism instead of albino because the use of the word albino is tricky. I personally don’t mind, because I am what I am. But don’t just walk up to somebody and say, “you’re albino.” I hate to compare, but it’s kind of like the N-word. Some might say albino all day long, but won’t like other people to say it. The safest way of referring to us without offending us is to say “person with albinism.”
When I was younger I used to hear “Oh you’re ugly,” or “Why do you look like that?” from guys who didn’t understand albinism. But now as I’ve got older I can see it turning into much more of a sexual fetish. Someone actually told me one time, “Oh, you’re like the best of both worlds because you’re black and white at the same time!” But I’ve been able to maintain some relationships throughout all that. I do like my partner to have some interest in albinism because it is a big part of my life and this is a community I’m very closely tied to, but there’s a fine line where it begins to be too much. I can tell pretty early on who is in it for the interest of me and who is in it for fetish thrills.
People should know that there is another experience out there. I love being a black woman, but I equally love being a person with albinism. I can not separate them. My experiences are not going to be the same as your “typical black woman” and that’s fine. I understand that all black women have their experiences, but there’s just something very unique about being a black woman with albinism that is not seen in greater society. I want a voice. I don’t want to be swept under a rug. I’m black too! My version of black is just as beautiful as the brown sista, the redbone or any other shade. My black is beautiful, gold hair and all!