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Colorism - Vitiligo(vit-i-LIE-go)-Albinism [al-buh-niz-uhm]

Being different in some countries is a course especially in Ghana

By IwriteMywrongsPublished 2 months ago 6 min read
Top Story - December 2023
Author's Photo for an interview about vitiligo in Ghana

Wednesday, 13 December 2023

By: TB Obwoge

Walking down the unpaved road, I watch as my pink polished toes become covered in the rust colored soil. There is a couple walking by me, the woman uses her elbow to nudge the man beside her then points in my direction, they both stare without shame.

Living with lighter skin or the exact opposite being dark in Ghana you gains you such harrasment and bullying. No ones talking about this, it also happens widely accross the African continent, where Black Africans are hyper focused on skin shade, color, tone, everything about a person is ripped apart by some Africans.

Black Africans will often claim that there is no racism in their countries, tons Black Americans also make these claims as well. Most of them have never just walked down random streets in Ghana. All over Ghana, walked and had people call them names from vehicles, on the road because of the complexion of their skin.

Colorism [kuhl-uh-riz-uhm] noun

differential treatment based on skin color, especially favoritism toward those with a lighter skin tone and mistreatment or exclusion of those with a darker skin tone, typically among those of the same racial group or ethnicity.

The pointing, the staring is a regular happening here in Ghana (Accra) when you look different. Yet I have not seen it so much towards whites, Chinese or Lebanese but being a light skin Black American.

I’m covered in tattoos it happens everyday more than I can count. Though most don’t even look down at my body to see the tattoos.

Just a few years earlier I sought out a dermatologist (dəːməˈtɒlədʒɪst- noun medical practitioner qualified to diagnose and treat skin disorders). I went to the University of Pennsylvania to see a Doctor Alaina J. James who specialized in Vitiligo, I was losing my pigment, along with having itchy & irritated skin.

My first visit Dr. James decided she wanted to biopsy a sample of my skin leaving me with two stitches covering a small area on my thigh. After a few weeks the results were yet to be confirmed when I called I was told that it was in the hands of students at the university for advanced study.

Dr. James assured me that I didn’t have vitiligo as I was able to tan on the portions of my skin that had not yet lost its pigmentation. That I still don’t understand. After a second biopsy I was diagnosed with skin Lupus an autoimmune disease that tells the skin to no longer produce melanin.

In some countries there is an accordance of pointing, staring and ridiculing those who look different, especially those overweight.

This includes darker in skin color, lighter in skin color, those with vitiligo & albinism. I learned in Kenya that many with albinism are “sent away”, I had to seek a deeper understanding of that term.

I spoke with a 26 year old Ghanian student named Fuseini Abdul Hakeem who was diagnosed within the last year with vitiligo. I asked him about what he was told about the skin condition, how he feels about having it, how others react to his loss of pigment on his face.

Author's Photo

Here are a few things he shared with me about living in Africa with the skin disorder. Currently Abdul is treating the small patch situated on his face near his right eye covering portions of his nose & cheek with herbal medicine.

He said he takes a stone made of clay grounds it down in a bowl, he adds ginger to it as well as plant many use for malaria treatment, he rubs it on the area at night. Abdul says he sees a lessoning of the area with some return of his coloring. He says he hasn’t seen a lot of pointing or staring and that friends whom haven’t seen him since developing the patch often ask him what has happened to him.

Many think that the area is discolored as the result of an injury. He’s hopeful that with the herbal treatments it will go away & not spread to any other areas of his body. He seems relatively fine with having it as it is only in a small area & he believes it will go away and not spread.

Abdul’s perspective is different of that than the sixty plus year old Ghanian mother & grandmother who is living with full body loss of pigment due to vitiligo. I arrived at her home with a my former boyfriend who quickly whipped out the Panasonic Lumix long shot camera to photograph his mother.

She instantly put her head down in embarrassment. She asked him not to take any photos, he joked to make her smile & laugh snapping several quick pictures of her.

I was directed to sit & join her for some photos. I felt her discomfort & took her hand in mine, smiled for a few photos, being as I had been used to the treatment of pointing & staring which some days feels so overwhelming & discouraging that I rather stay inside most days.

She is a some what tall, dark complected, strong women that birthed five children four boys & one girl.

Now she was facing something that made her feel like she was losing her dignity, she sat silently talking with three out of five of her children. Her one hand rubbing her arm constantly as to remove the white patches from her skin, she had one of the most amazing smiles I had ever seen.

Speaking to her daughter Sandra on one of the visits she told me about going places with her mother & how she’d scream at people for staring at her.

Sandra said her mother experienced the same pointing & staring at her whenever she went out, she told me it causes her mother to cry. I shared with Sandra that staring was not so common and blatant in many of the countries I have visited or lived in before.

Vitiligo can happen to people of any skin complexion of course its more remarkable & noticeable on darker skin, having it in a country where people aren’t respectful of differences or educated on a variety of issues is even more stressful.

The children often say to their mother with vitiligo that she, “thinks too much”, instead of understanding that she is experiencing anxiety about being ridiculed, pointed at or stared at in public.

Or that she is having depression for losing her pigment something that she sees as a part of whom she is, something that people don’t expect to ever lose in their lives.

Thank you for reading 🙏🏽 Please consider buying a coffee for Lacey’s House efforts in Gender Equality & Children’s Rights.

©️TB Obwoge 2021 All Rights Reserved


About the Creator


I'm the president of a nonprofit. I've lived in 3 countries, I love to travel, take photos and help children and women around the world! One day I pray an end to Child Marriages, Rape and a start to equal Education for ALL children 🙏🏽

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Comments (3)

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  • Andrea Corwin 2 months ago

    You are brave to write this story. It is something people need to know about and understand - not stare or shame or push you away. Your passion is honorable and I agree with it! Great story.

  • Phil Flannery2 months ago

    Thank you for sharing this

  • JBaz2 months ago

    Your opening line is beautiful "Walking down the unpaved road, I watch as my pink polished toes become covered in the rust colored soil." After that I had to read and I learned so much. Congratulations

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