THE COMPLEXITY OF IDENTITY
By Vivienne Garner August 2, 2020
Advocate for People With Albinism and Sophomore at Yale with a double major of Religious Studies and Political Science.
As a woman of color with albinism, do you think people perceive you and/or treat you differently, and how would you want that to change?
Yeah, definitely. I think the thing I get the most is the use of the word ‘Albino.’ It denotes a whole other race. Person with Albinism is the correct term but I think it’s instilled in people’s minds that Albino means different or other than. Something I’ve noticed is that word has really separated me from my own race. I’m less Black, or don’t have a right to claim my own heritage just because of this word that separates me from other people which is really frustrating. I think the other thing I get a lot is the
idea that I don’t know what white privilege is, or that I don’t understand it, which is totally false. I actually understand the privileges that come with the color of my skin. Because of that, I would never want to take up space in an area that I have no right to be in. For instance, I would never try to claim that I’m going to be harassed by the police because of the color of my skin because that’s most likely not going to happen. It’d be unfair for me to take up space in a conversation about people who may be directly affected by that, which I’m not. As far as this changing, I think people should stop using the word ‘Albino’ for sure. And the idea that people with albinism are other than, or that they’re something to make fun of, is something that needs to change as well.
"...the idea that people with albinism are other than, or that they’re something to make fun of, is something that needs to change..."
What does being a woman of color mean to you?
I think it means understanding where you come from and how that affects you in your day to day life. So for me, being a woman of color, I know that I’m Black and I know the disadvantages and the advantages that come with it. My dad is from Uganda so I try to stay really in touch with my African heritage. I think that’s a really important part of my life, so I definitely visit there every year, and in my room I have maps everywhere. Multiple maps of Africa just because the culture is so interesting to me. I think that being a woman of color means knowing your identity regardless of who you’re around. I think that’s really important. I think that there isn’t necessarily a habit, but this idea that we have to change who we are depending on what race of people we associate with, and I just don’t think that’s true.
"I think that there isn’t necessarily a habit, but this idea that we have to change who we are depending on what race of people we associate with, and I just don’t think that’s true."
How has your albinism shaped your life? What are some challenges you’ve faced that most people without albinism wouldn’t have to encounter in their lives?
Thinking through your identity very critically is something that a lot of people don’t have to think about. Of course everyone has their identity, everyone has race, ethnicity, and nationality that they think about, and they know how that affects their day to day life. However, having albinism is so specific and so rare as well that it’s not as though I have my gang of PWAs with me and we talk about it, no not at all. Especially because in the U.S. it’s only about 1 in 17,000 or 1 in 20,000. It’s very rare. So, I think
"I think my identity is very specific and very nuanced. Therefore, I have to think through everything critically. Just how I perceive myself, how I fit into the Black community, how do I relate to Caucasian people, in what ways do I experience that privilege, and what ways do I not."
my identity is very specific and very nuanced. Therefore, I have to think through everything critically. Just how I perceive myself, how I fit into the Black community, how do I relate to Caucasian people, in what ways do I experience that privilege, and what ways do I not. It’s not a one size fits all thing. Having to think through these power structures and privileges and that sort of thing. Being Black and identifying as Black but also looking like your average Jane Smith from the outside, you have to think about that very very critically.
You are currently enrolled at Yale so as a woman of color at a primarily white institution, what were you initially most worried about, and how have you dealt with that thus far?
"I feel as though I learn a lot about a lot of different places, people, and cultures just because I sought out that experience of making friends with POC..."
I think I was honestly worried about not having Black friends. I came from a very conservative, very white area, and that was something I wanted to change when I got there. In some ways, for instance joining the step team, I mean most people where I’m from don't even know what step is which is fine I guess, but joining the step team at Yale really opened me up to the Black Yale and the Black Yale Experience. I also have a lot of friends who are minorities but who aren’t Black which is very interesting. I feel as though I learn a lot about a lot of different places, people, and cultures just because I sought out that experience of making friends with POC, so that’s been very encouraging.
Identity is a major aspect of the lives of young people. People will spend their entire lives trying to figure out who they are as a person. Do you think you have found your identity or are close to gaining clarity?
I think I am close. I’d say I’m pretty confident but these days, especially through social media I’ve gotten different questions than from in the past which is interesting because it’s making me go back and rethink a lot of things. On the spectrum I feel decently close.
As a current double major of Religious Studies and Political Science with a minor in Spanish at Yale with tentative plans for law school in the future, what impact do you want to leave on the world?
I’m still unsure about this. As far as my majors and my plans for the future, I think I have two main goals through college in terms of those majors. I want to understand the relationship between the Old Testament and the New Testament in the Bible because I think that there are a lot of controversies that come with discrepancies between the Old Testament and the New Testament. So I feel as though if you understand the link, it’s so much easier to understand what the God of the Bible is trying to say to people today. That's something I want to do for myself. Also for myself, I want to understand the relationship between the church and politics because there are many areas actually in which the Bible influences my own liberal ideals, and influences the way I view policy. I think that there are some ways in which the church should not overstep into the government, and I think that through this intersection of majors I can understand where those places are. With Spanish, I took my requirement for foreign language at University and I loved it, so I’m continuing with that. Overall I know that I want to work to change the perception of Albinism in the media. I feel as though people with Albinism are never represented, which makes sense because we are very rare which I understand, but even when Albinism is represented, it’s always misrepresented, the butt of the joke, or it’s never positive representation. I know that that’s something I want to change.