Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Celebrating Albinism Week - Day 5 thoughts on 20/20's show on Albinism

I was asked about the recent show regarding Albinism on 20/20 last Friday. Here is my summation of thoughts in true social science approach. LOL. To get a bigger scope on my views, check out my “Celebrating Albinism Week” tag at the right side of this blog.

There are a few conditions I carried with me before watching the show.
  1. This was being presented on Friday evening, shaping the delivery of this report to baby boomers and older folk.
  2. This was 20/20, a news magazine notorious for smothering the pathos all over the place, which it did quite effectively for the albinism report.
  3. The report was not going to be directed to me, but to the rest of ya’ll who do not have Albinism.
  4. I have my own defense mechanisms at play… but don’t we all when we see our own on screen.
The next set of conditions we should look at are ‘outcomes’ of what this report is supposed to do. Here are some particular outcomes I devised...
  1. How educated was the audience about albinism after the show was over?
  2. How useful could this information be after the show was over? (i.e. can the audience leave with any tools of wisdom and techniques to be applied in their day to day?)
  3. How representative was the show in depicting people with Albinism?
  4. How much of our own voice, in our own terms, was delivered to the audience?
  1. Yet again, within the first five minutes of the show, the whole association of us with other creatures was made clear as alligators, birds, snakes, were shown alongside us. Huh? I wonder where this concept of animalizing the ‘other’ first began? The only other piece of information was a brief disclosure of our susceptibility to skin cancer and sunlight. A more complex definition of Albinism that includes a description of the VARIETIES of conditions with Albinism can be found here. Yes family, there is more than one type of albinism.
  2. If you saw the show, you can answer for yourself… as for me… zero
  3. In a positive note, I dug the variety of individuals (the model, the young baby, the little man, etc). I also dug that we had folks embracing it in different ways. I was actually quite surprised about the young lady who chose to pass. Studying African American literature so long, I couldn’t help but associate passing with the African American experience, I was hurt by that one, especially coming from a White girl (the irony is ridiculous).
  4. I would give this a “C”. There were a variety of views, but not enough variety of views or opinions that broke away from the pathos lens being applied to each person. A lack of complicating the matter.
A side-note on the whole section about Tanzania….
Alright WTF was that!?!? Unfortunately, I felt that piece became an indictment on Tanzania rather than about Albinism, who were used as catalysts to highlight certain conditions taking place. The United States STILL has problems understanding Africa and the image this country has on the continent needs some serious reform. I don’t think this piece helped in that in any way, shape, or form. If the intention was to depict Albinism globally, then we can look at a survey of cultures that includes the Caribbean, American Indian nations, and Latin America… who each have different takes on the subject. I was VERY hurt on this one.

In the end, watching this program reminded me of many ‘first presentations’ of so many other groups in the media. Initial depictions of Africans, Mayans, folks in the LGBTQ community, and folks with disabilities, used lenses full of soot, inaccuracy and extreme pathos to ‘translate’ and make us palatable to mainstream audiences. I remember taking an African American history class that showed early pics of Africans before the onslaught of chattel-slavery and how Africans were viewed using Greek and Roman motifs. I remember learning about how folks in the LGBT community were first studied as medical misfits and ‘sick’. I remember seeing “Different Strokes” where the episode was about Willis not wanting to go out with a girl because she used a wheelchair. While the level of ‘hurt’ or pain applied in these examples differs, each of them share the common problem that its not the Albino who is inaccurate, but the lenses used to portray us are so misguiding and limited that the bridge of true relationship building across groups is completely useless. Why would you even want to cross a bridge if its made of straw and rope, when you can work a bit harder to create a bridge of wood and metal for a safer crossing?

There was a bit of discussion on my Facebook about the validity of this show as a good tool to ‘educate’ people about Albinism, between two African American females with Albinism and myself. Argument 1 was that we needed this show to educate folks as a starting point. Argument 2 was that sometimes we shouldn’t feel so obligated to ‘teach’ all the time as we are also human beings and deserve a break sometimes.

In the end, “Argument 2” became a moot point as the show did not utilize folks with Albinism to present themselves from any position of power (I don’t know if any Albinos produced the show, wrote the script, created the questions, chose the shots for the camera, etc.). We were the targets of the lens in a both literal and abstract definition of the term. As for “Argument 1”, is it really Education if the tools and techniques to teach are embedded historically in promoting inaccuracy and limited profiles of the subject? It is Education at the most basic level of presenting data, but not Education as the outcomes did not truly ‘educate’ anyone of their postionality to folks with Albinism. We are left felt sorry for, slightly happy that some of us had a sense of determination… and that pretty much is all you were left with… too bad.

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