Being a Zerozero

I just read a book titled Golden Boy by Tara Sullivan. It’s about a 13 year old boy living in rural Africa. The family moves to the part of Africa where it is customary to hunt down people with albinism the same way they hunt down elephants for ivory.

All of Africa does not engage in this practice so neither the boy nor his family was aware that he could be someone’s prey. When he finds out that he is, he must run to a place where he will be safe.

Although he was not hunted in his part of the world he was still shunned and called a zerozero. The term zerozero and dundus are terms exclusive to people with albinism. Ghost boy/girl is another popular term. They all mean essentially the same thing: a soulless spirit inhabiting a human-like form: a void walking around in a colorless shape: less than nothing: not human. It is sometimes said that we don’t have souls and can’t feel pain. This is convenient for those who tell themselves that they are doing no harm when they murder- literally or emotionally- a person who is different from themselves.

I don’t identify with having to run for my life but I certainly identify with the treatment the boy receives from his neighbors, school, and family. I identify with being seen as a zerozero, even by my closest family members. I identify with being aware that all eyes fall on me the first time I walk into a room. I, like this boy in the book, have been discussed in the third person by people who had no idea that a human was right in the room with them.

As I read this book I realize that there is a parallel between the way the boy was treated and how we are seen and treated in the world. Even though most people have never heard the term zerozero, the treatment and sentiment is identical wherever we live.

It didn’t matter to those around me that I was gifted artistically: that I spoke well, that I read voraciously. To them I was “the albino:” the nothing: the strange girl who was too weird to be considered to be of any worth. The one who’s opinion didn’t matter.

In much of Africa people with albinism have become professors, government officials, and business owners. People are polite to them and do business with them. They even marry and raise families. Still, someone may introduce them as “my friend the zerozero” or secretly keep a Gris-Gris (pronounced gree-gree) bag, a mojo bag, or a talisman to ward off the potentially dangerous spells that a zerozero can cast.

When people openly stare at us: even walk over to us to get a closer look; when they point us out to their friends and children, when they point their camera phones at us without asking or even acknowledging us, we become a zerozero.

This of course is their point of view, not ours. Although I’ve met people who internalized that concept I have met many more who not only reject that notion outright, they are taking great strides to change the world view of who we are and what we can do. The truth is we can do anything. The world just has to catch up.

 


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