The comparisons between these two worlds may seem incomprehensible, apart from their distance, both physically and historically. It’s the amount of cruelty exerted then and today that draws in their similarities, and also their two contrasting realities.
Nonini’s song “Color kwa Face” refocuses our attention back to the Albino Killings that continue to happen in East Africa, whereas AZ’s song, “Runaway Slave”, talks about the ordeals that Black people faced, during slavery. What makes these two stories uniquely similar is the cruelty of lynching. Slaves were hanged from trees, while Albino’s bodies are mutilated for their body parts. The state-of-mind of the people, who carry out such gruesome acts of violence towards albinos, is no different from that of the Ku Klux Klan lynch mobs back then.
Witchdoctors are prescribing albino body parts for economic prosperity, because apparently albino body parts possess some mystical powers, as Nonini reiterates this, “waganga wana-believe udosi comes from my body parts”. He goes further to call this mentality “ignorance”, which is actually parallel to the belief then, that blacks are sub-humans, providing the justification for the inhuman treatments. And just like slavery, the business of albino body parts has almost become like an “economic institution”, although not quiet among those involved in it, the witchdoctors, the ‘lynch men’ and those searching for the promised economic success.
The witchdoctors are the masterminds behind this cruel business. They have become masters of exploiting people’s greed, which seems to be the catalyst to this psychopathic behaviour. Willie Lynch letter is no different, him being the witchdoctor with the formula outlined on his letter, on how to control slaves, to help slave masters to effectively exploit the slaves, for their economic gain. But the psychopathic mentality in slavery could probably begin to be explained by another mental disease called racism. But how do we explain the business of body parts? Is greed and superstitious beliefs enough, or is it simply our fear of poverty that drives some of us to act out of character?
Race-ism factors into this trade of body parts, and not racism, because it’s not whites against blacks, but blacks against blacks with albinism. This sense of dissimilarity, feeds into the human behaviour that finds comfort in discriminating anything or anyone that appears different from the ‘rest’. For example, Black people have been looked upon as inferior beings, compared to monkeys because of the colour of the skin, and even called derogatory names, to legitimize this notion that blacks are sub-humans. Today, can we argue that, the word “zeruzeru” sometimes is used in a derogatory way like the word “nigger“? Nonini goes on to ask, “Uko na ngozi nyeusi, but are you better than me?” Nonini highlighting the irony.
Although it’s true, albinism is a recessive gene, but it is not a curse, like some ignorant minds believe. This subject of “cursed au nimelaaniwa” reminds me of the topic about mixed race people, and how they were once labeled as half-cursed. The similarity here is, both albinos and people who are biracial finds themselves as outcasts, for one, too light to be black, or not light enough to be white; therefore, finding themselves caught in between “wananibaguaga mazee” both races. This creates confusion, both in the social context, and in an individual. For people who don’t understand albinism is a skin condition, albinos may look a bit confusing to them, because they are neither black (dark skin) nor are they white/Caucasian. This confusion provides a safe heaven for such superstitious believes to prevail, as it was easy planting the seed of hatred, between the field Negroes (dark skinned slaves) against the house Negroes (mixed race slaves), and ever since, that seed has somewhat grow deep roots and blossom on its own.
Geneticist Aarathi Prasad explores the idea of “Is It Better To Be Mixed Race”, arguing that mixed race people have genetic advantage. Now, if witchdoctor’s theory about albino body parts linking them to wealth may be described as primitive, is Prasad’s theory about mixed raced people a modern day “scientific racism?” I feel the message may be easily misunderstood, and therefore interpreted as, mixed race people are superior to all other races, the same may with albinism, may cause others to view albinos as inferiors.
Nevertheless, some progress has been made; in some cases so much that it’s even hard to tell the difference between now and back then. For example, it’s a trend for dark skin girls to bleach their skins to become light, so they can “standout” from the crowd, just to end up with skin cancer, the same problem that albinos use “sunscreen lotion” to avoid, as they shy away from the sun and the crowd.
But not all changes have been bad. Barack Obama was elected in 2008 to become the first mixed race, African America President in the United States. Tanzania where cases of albino killings have been rampant, in the last general election, Salum Khalfani Bar’wani, who is an albino himself, was elected as MP for Lindi Urban.
To conclude, I hope the images of lynched slaves, and lynched albino bodies will haunt us, until those perpetuating racism, and this evilness, stop to “persecute the innocent” and “see we all men”. But like what Martin Luther King once said, “In the End, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends.”