The word Albino is it a derogatory word or just another label among the masses of labels we accumulate as human beings? The word is thought to come from the Latin, albus, meaning white. It also means blank, as in devoid of color or features. Bill Sherk author of the 500 Years of New Words, states the word Albino was thought to have been first used in English in 1777 in William Robertson’s book “The history of America”. Robertson refers to native Africans as Albino who had white skin instead of black.
Categorical labeling is a tool we humans have used for centuries to resolve the impossible complexities of the environment we have trouble understanding. Labeling can be good as it can tell us who is friend or foe, what is safe or dangerous. However, it can be harmful when applying these labels to other human beings especially when referring to race, color, intelligence and disability.
Sometimes I feel the world around us has become so politically correct and I am not sure whether that is a good or bad thing. We spend so much time wondering if we might offend it is hard to know what to say. Living in Scotland I found political correctness wasn’t so abundant compared to here in North America. Maybe the Scots are just more open and honest and unafraid to offend or maybe I have no idea what I am talking about (a very plausible possibility). I do know that now I have a child with a disability that I am more aware of these labels, though the word Albino does not bother me per say it may bother Nash one day. I also don’t want to categorise him as one thing, after all he is a human being like anyone else with all the possibilities of the world at his feet. If we label someone as Albino do we constantly reinforce the disability that surrounds this condition instead of accepting them as they are?
The National Organization for Albinism and Hypopigmentation also acknowledges that there isn’t a clear consensus on the use of the word Albino.
In the albinism community, opinions vary on the use of the word ‘albino.’ While some find it to be an extraordinarily offensive term, others feel the label carries neutral or even empowering connotations…Some people with albinism grew up in families or communities that used the word ‘albino’ often and learned at an early age that there was no shame or negativity in referring to themselves as such.
But the site goes on to say that when in doubt, it’s best to play it safe: “To most in the albinism community, the term ‘person with albinism’ will always be a kinder, gentler, less shocking term.”
It seems negative attitudes and uncomfortable behaviour towards disability comes from mainstream media, it does nothing to portray and prioritize accurate views of people with disabilities. Recently I saw a post about a radio station The Breakfast Club on 105.1 that posed the question “Where do Albinos go after school?”. I seriously had to go online and look this radio station up and listen to the segment, it was as ridiculous as it sounded. A perfect example of how the media does little to educate or inform the general public.
I will say if you don’t know how to interact with someone with a disability for fear of offending them below are a few tips that might help:
- emphasize the people, not the labels.
- don’t refer to people by a disease or disorder, this way you are not focusing on the particular functional limitation but on the individual themselves
- remember that having a disability does not equal suffering
- try not to be too paranoid about your language, a person or group of people will generally let you know if they are offended.
- never assume everyone within a group are the same, each person with a disability is themselves an individual just like you and I.
I don’t really know if I figured out the answer to my question but at the very least we can agree that it is better to play it safe.