“Hey Albino.” Is a pretty strong statement. You’re not talking to a person but a condition. You wouldn’t say “Hey wheelchair,” “Hey diabetes,” “hey lupus.” When you call a person by their condition you’re limiting the scope of that person. But what can you call someone if all you’ve ever heard is albino? Start with a name, or a greeting, I find with anyone that’s a good introduction.
People first language can wile up a good debate even among the albinism community. Albino isn’t going anywhere as it’s a term society understands, but that doesn’t make it acceptable. This is a prime example of the need for awareness. As I discussed in my Stereotypes post Albino is used as a derogative in all forms of media. Imagine what it would be like to look different and be attacked for that everywhere you go.
I’ve also told you a little more about who my son is, he’s not just a child with albinism. No one is just what you see on their surface. My child doesn’t have the ability to hide his condition. When he goes out in public people stare. He cannot change the way people treat him, but we can try and change what people know about him. Awareness itself changes the language. If you understood how painful calling someone albino can be… If you knew that it’s not funny but hurtful every time you called someone a term; would you still do it?
Putting people first language as a priority does not take away your freedom of speech. It is asking you to consider the impact of your speech. Your words carry weight whether you understand the derogative or not. Does it really bother you to say person with albinism versus calling them albino?
When my son was an infant hearing him called albino would make me cringe in fear. I was terrified that he would never fit in, have any normalcy, and would always stand out. Strangers mistreated him, family avoided him, and all I could see was this beautiful innocent child. Albino carried the weight of his condition, the fear I had for him, in a world that couldn’t even treat an infant with decency.
Now if you call him that, I’m not likely to cringe. I try to explain and educate to spread awareness. But I know deep in my heart that he is more. I feel sorry for the people that can’t see that, they are limiting themselves by trying to limit him. He will live his life whether people call him names or not. He will be loved deeply regardless of how strangers treat him. He will know his worth everyday.
I hope that when the day comes that he understands what he is being called and why, he will be sure of himself. That the slight will carry as little fear as it carries for me. I hope that when people see him, they see Oliver and not Albino. I hope that when you look at someone you see them and not their disability. If you cannot look beyond the surface of something, I hope that you can look within yourself to ask why.
Under The Same Sun and Organization that saves lives, official position.