For Them, Being Pale Can Bring Scorn, Threats, and Worse

Fashion models with albinism are popular, but many people with the condition face exclusion, health problems, and savage attacks.

Beneath a white, indifferent sky, a pale boy in a blue-and-red uniform shyly bows his head as tears begin to slip down his cheeks. He is retelling his terrible story. His father, visiting for the first time in two years, pulls out a white handkerchief. In the shade of a lone tree in the center of a Tanzanian schoolyard, the man reaches over to cradle his son’s head and dab his eyes because the boy can no longer dry his own tears.

Emmanuel Festo, who is 15 years old, has spent much of his life learning to live with what he lost one night when he was six. Four men with machetes hacked off most of his left arm, most of the fingers on his right hand, part of his jaw, and four front teeth, intending to sell them. Emma, as he’s known, is now a top student at a private boarding school. Although he stutters, he’s healthy and strong, and he has friends. He’s also an artist, drawing soccer players and Spider-Man and, for me, a detailed map of his country, by heart, using his cheek, chin, and shoulder to steer his markers.

Emma was born with albinism, a recessive trait he inherited from his dark-skinned parents. His own skin is ivory white, his close-shaven hair pale orange, his eyesight weak. People like him have long been feared and scorned in sub-Saharan Africa, even by their families. Now they’re being attacked. Some witch doctors claim their body parts, made into potions, powders, or charms, can bring wealth and success.

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