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How being an albino feels different when you live in Nigeria vs UK

In this opinion piece, Teejay Ameen writes about his experiences living with albinism in Nigeria and the UK.

Teejay Ameen is now based in London [Instagram/TeejayAmeen]

Life had not been perfect but things were looking up. I was at a party with other Nigerians in London, chatting in Yoruba and pidgin. For a moment it felt like home and then it felt too much like home.

"Afin ni," a guy standing behind me said. He spat it out. He didn't mean to describe me in a crowd of people, he meant to other me, to show anyone who might have forgotten living in this European city that there was someone who was different here and who had been blending with the crowd just too much.

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I have spent most of my adult years in Nigeria working as a broadcaster, hosting red carpets primarily for the music station, Hip TV. There was a way people looked at me when I showed up as the interviewer. Sometimes it was mild shock, and other times something more overt.

There was that time when I was featured in a campaign and a commenter on Instagram implied I had only gotten the part because of my albinism. If only he knew of all my rejections.

I never considered that my albinism was an impediment to my growth, so when people ask me to share my experience, how living with albinism has limited me, I almost always have nothing to say, other than it would be nice to have recommended glasses that actually work best for my condition. Living with albinism means I am short-sighted and will need glasses to see for most of my life.

But when all we have known is to be excluded, at some point, we come to expect discrimination to be part of the experience. We become numb to it.

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Then in 2022, I moved to the UK.

I met people in the UK who gave me a puzzled look when I said I was from Nigeria. You can see the confusion on their face. I always go on to enlighten them anyway if I sense the sincerity from them to learn.

In the UK the stares were minimal, people welcomed me. When I showed up for a meeting my albinism didn't envelope the space. People were not surprised to see me.

This only came as a discovery to me but not a surprise as London is the melting pot of different cultures and ethnically diverse groups. I had to get used to hearing words like “'inclusion” and “diversity,” words that I have heard people on the internet talk down at.

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But to be very honest I wasn't mad about them. They made me feel seen, and the limitations that society set for persons living with albinism while I was in Nigeria became invisible.

In the UK, I became Black. It was not an identity I had been conscious of in Nigeria. It was not an identity I was permitted to have. In Nigeria, I was different. But now, I am embracing my Blackness every day and understanding that being Black is beyond having melanin. It is my identity, an identity I have always had to prove to ignorant people back home in Nigeria.

According to the WHO, more than two million people in Nigeria suffer from albinism. Yet if you look around the sectors; fashion, beauty, politics, Nollywood, it’s almost as if we don't exist. Why is this? I suspect it's because, like me, many of us just don't want to be called “afin.” Not because the word is derogatory, but because too many times we use it to malign. So we go into hiding.

I am not writing this to make any comparison between London and Lagos. But I write this to show what is possible.

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It is possible for us as Nigerians and Africans at large to embrace people with all types of special needs, not just albinism. It is possible to maintain the same energy we use as Black people to fight racial discrimination for every other form of discrimination. It is possible to embrace diversity, it is the real beauty in the world.

2024 marks 10 years since the launch of International Albinism Awareness Day and this year's theme is “10 Years of IAAD: A Decade of Collective Progress.” Living abroad is proof that progress is possible but there's more work to be done to shine the light on albinism.

To all persons living with albinism, you are seen and loved. There are no boundaries to the things you can achieve, go out there and shine.

Olatunji popularly known as Teejay Ameen works as a freelance photographer and music executive in the UK.

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