Evil Albino Trope is Evil – Nalini Haynes
Welcome back. I’m doubly grateful to Nalini Haynes for this essay, both for writing it, and because it’s a facet of discrimination and stereotyping that I haven’t thought as much about. Thank you, Nalini, for helping to remedy that.
Come back tomorrow for a post by Joie Young.
When I was in primary school, my classmates explained that I was evil because ‘all albinos are evil, look at albinos on TV and in the movies.’ I’ve been looking ever since.
Star Trek Deep Space Nine featured an albino Klingon who murdered defenceless wives and children.
The Da Vinci Code’s villain was an evil, masochistic albino. Every time he self-mutilated, I cringed and died a bit inside.
The pilot of Defiance had two albino-type alien villains, significantly paler than everyone else. Their son was Romeo to another character’s Juliet; ‘Romeo’ had a large tuft of blue hair to differentiate him from his evil albino-type parents.
The Heat’s albino was painted as the villain but [spoiler alert] he was ‘only’ a misogynistic bastard whose unprofessional conduct should have resulted in inter-departmental complaints.
The Hobbit: the Desecration Desolation of Hollywood Smaug features an albino orc. Orcs are so evil that, to make one orc stand out as being super-evil, Peter Jackson made him an albino. I loved the original book; IF ONLY PJ STUCK TO THE STORY.
The Silence of Medair received an honourable mention from the Aurealis Awards judges for its ‘playful’ dealing with racial tropes. I suffered its atrocious prose to discover the judges’ idea of playful dealing with racial tropes was making the villains a race of albino-types.
The evil albino trope is so prevalent that authors trying to be clever create evil (generically bad and/or inappropriately-behaving) albinos who are not the ultimate villain to mislead the audience as in The Heat (movie) and Wolves by Simon Ings. The evil albino trope affects popular perception of and treatment of real-life albinos.
Erin Carpenter said, “A minister’s son told our daughter she was the devil because she had red eyes and that she was going to go to hell.” Because evil albino is the devil.
In 2001 I overheard a conversation between the parents of an albino in grade three and the teacher. The teacher said the albino spent her class breaks in tears hiding in the bushes because her classmates were bullying her. The teacher said the albino had to take responsibility for being bullied, had to stop crying and hiding from the bullies. Because evil albino is always at fault.
In 2005 I landed a job at CNAHS, part of the Department of Health in South Australia. I was refused disability access repeatedly, including in email and in a staff meeting where I was publicly humiliated before walking out in tears. Because evil albino should be refused disability access.
A CNAHS colleague commented she couldn’t read the smallest print on a notice without her glasses. I replied that I couldn’t read anything beyond the largest print on that notice with my glasses. The senior social worker said, “That’s because you’re too vain to wear coke bottle glasses.” The senior social worker repeatedly asked me not to apply for work elsewhere because she needed me, requiring me to work the longest hours and take on the most difficult clients (clients she should have accepted). Then she participated in a selection committee that gave my job to a student she hadn’t allowed to counsel clients only three months earlier. After I lodged a complaint about managers refusing disability access and then replacing me, the senior social worker refused to be a referee, thus ensuring I could never work as a counsellor again. Because evil albino is vain.
CNAHS’s investigator initially committed to natural justice but later refused to include my evidence. After redacting others’ interviews, the investigator falsely claimed I did not have a disability, I had not asked for disability access and I did not need disability access. Because evil albino deserves neither justice nor a job.
The Equal Opportunities Commission investigated. The EOC found that CNAHS refused disability access repeatedly but that this was my fault because I hadn’t asked “enough times.” Because evil albino is always at fault.
I took the matter to court, representing myself (unemployed, remember?). The judge ruled crucial evidence inadmissible; this ‘inadmissible’ evidence included manager’s notes, employment forms and emails proving declaration of disability and refusals of access. When I asked why he was ruling my evidence inadmissible he laughed and said, “Because I can.” Because evil albino should not have evidence.
After losing my career I turned to further study. In 2007 the Human Rights Commission found the University of South Australia discriminated against me. The Human Rights representative presented an offer on behalf of UniSA: $4000 compensation, a gagging order and a permanent ban from further education. Because evil albino is not entitled to an education nor a job.
Once I was allowed to return to study (after threatening to expose UniSA on radio), they harassed and victimised me, forcing me to withdraw. In 2008 UniSA’s lawyer offered me over $3000 compensation with a gagging order and a permanent ban on further education. In the next few years I repeatedly applied to universities to retrain but was continually knocked back until 2012 when RMIT wanted to make me an offer but could not do so because UniSA refused to confirm my previous education. Because evil albino should not be allowed an education.
(I wrote to UniSA threatening legal action then the difficulty was magically resolved although they denied responsibility. I’m now enrolled at RMIT, earning distinctions and high distinctions.)
The evil albino trope is lazy writing, creating a sense of ‘other’ by victimising a small minority group. The evil albino trope alienates albinos, punishing us for looking different and suffering bad eyesight. Reinforcing perceptions of incompetence and evil-ness in this people group is discrimination and victimisation.
Last year I spoke up against the evil albino trope in a cultural misappropriation panel at a convention. Afterwards several people told me that they weren’t misappropriating albinism, they were justified in writing their evil albino.
If you wouldn’t write an ‘evil [insert racial group, sexual orientation or disability group here]’ then do not write an evil albino.
- Where it’s dangerous to live with Albinism
- The biennial conference of the Albinism Fellowship of Australia
- TV tropes: the Evil Albino trope
- Wikipedia: albinism in popular culture
Nalini Haynes is a writer and also the editor of Dark Matter Zine. She can be found on Facebook, Twitter, Reddit, Pinterest, and Google Plus.
Photo by Kevin Mark.
February 25, 2014 @ 9:55 am
Thank you for this. What a horrible, pervasive and destructive attitude. I cannot conceive of why anyone, under any circumstances, would think a ban further education was a good idea. That would be my idea of Hell.
Michi Trota (@GeekMelange)
February 25, 2014 @ 10:20 am
Thank you for writing this. The “evil albino trope” is something that I’ve noticed in SF/F, but not ever really considered in terms of prevalence.
February 25, 2014 @ 10:24 am
Another thank you for writing this. I, too, didn’t realize how prevalent this awful trope was in fiction (and in real life). And Peter Jackson added it to The Hobbit?! So many levels of WRONG. I’m sorry you’ve had to go through so much.
February 25, 2014 @ 10:43 am
Don’t despair, it’s not all evil albinos… there are exceptions like Beowulf Shaeffer in Larry Niven’s “Known Space” series.
February 25, 2014 @ 10:52 am
Lord of the Rings being the franchise with the savage dark-skinned orcs against the lighter (almost, if not, entirely white) forces of good.
February 25, 2014 @ 10:57 am
I’ve never really thought about the trope like this, but I think I’m already more aware of it.
Two ideas of non-evil albino characters you might like to know about:
1. Commander Brynd in Mark Charan Newton’s Legends of the Red Sun. Mentioned him a few times in various representation posts now, but he’s a good commander and a kind-of hero (there aren’t really any heroes in that series, though), and he wrestles with both his closeted sexuality and his albinism affecting his work and how people see him.
2. Dancy in Caitlín R. Kiernan’s works (she’s in a few novels, but also has a short story collection recently re-released as Alabaster: Pale Horse, and two graphic novels, Alabaster: Wolves and Alabaster: Grimmer Tales. Not good, not evil. I think a way to describe her would be a sort of monster-hunting Joan of Arc without the army. She makes mistakes, she’s a skilled killer, etc., but she’s really quite cool.
There’s also a young black male in Random Acts of Senseless Violence who’s albino, but he doesn’t have much of a role at all.
February 25, 2014 @ 11:53 am
February 25, 2014 @ 12:03 pm
Thank you for writing this post.
In the past few years I’ve become increasingly aware of this trope in film media. I noticed it but for some reason hadn’t strung all these images together into a general theme. I wonder why this is.
I first noticed it in movies, most especially The Da Vinci Code, then started noticing it elsewhere. Then I heard a lot about the assaults, exile, harassment and killings of Albinos in Africa and that’s when this trope really hit home for me. Now I can’t NOT notice it.
February 25, 2014 @ 1:30 pm
I like Dancy. Great character. I like everything Caitlín R. Kiernan has done.
There is also Elric of Melnibone. Probably the first albino character I ever read in a novel. He is not evil, either.
February 25, 2014 @ 1:31 pm
Thank you for sharing these experiences. I had sort of noticed but hadn’t put the pieces together in my head.
Last night I just finished Dust by Elizabeth Bear. There is also a sequel called Chill. There is an albino character – Sir Tristan. He has chosen not to correct this particular mutation in a heavily bio-engineered society because he enjoys the effect that his appearance has on people he meets. He is a very honorable man, but a product of a very political/family backstabbing society and his appearance is one of the “tools” he uses to protect himself and his allies.
Jim C Hines series on Equity
February 25, 2014 @ 2:34 pm
February 25, 2014 @ 3:15 pm
I can’t help but wonder if some of the people writing the evil albino characters are doing so out of a misplaced desire to avoid racial profiling. Like, they think, “Oh, well, we can’t go with the black = evil thing, so let’s make it as white as possible! That’s such a clever inversion!”
I also suspect that people have an easier time discounting the value of any group when that group isn’t particularly visible. Most people may never know an albino, or meet more than one in their life, and it’s pretty easy for those idiots to think that they don’t *really* exist and thus can’t get hurt. Ugh, people are terrible.
Sorry you had to go through all of this.
February 25, 2014 @ 3:57 pm
Well, Elric is kind of evil. He does kill a lot of people and steal their souls.
February 25, 2014 @ 5:10 pm
Ugh. This is one time when it’s kind of a shame Oz doesn’t have the kind of legal system as the US, because here you could have sued them for MILLIONS and won. I don’t understand how they could refuse to further educate you, or accomedate your disability, but I guess that’s the law there?
You are strong, and brave, and determined, and I wish you better times and the highest possible SPF cream on Earth. The daystar is no one’s friend down under.
I have pale skin and very thick glasses, so I’ve always thought of the albinos I’ve met as just a little further along the continuum from me, with bad genetic luck. And they’ve all been very nice, smart people. So the Evil Albino Trope never works with me, at least — hopefully someday everyone will think it’s just as stupid as I do, and then maybe things will improve.
I hope your post here inspires averagely-pigmented people to speak out against this injustice. And someone really should smack Peter Jackson upside the head. Adding stuff is bad enough, but adding harmful stereotypes that are also trite is just beyond the pale. (No pun intended)
February 25, 2014 @ 6:47 pm
I don’t mind Jackson adding stuff to make a book work better as a movie, because the two media are different and Jackson knows his craft. I just would rather his additions be not hurtful to actual people or reinforcing tropes of the Scary Other.
February 25, 2014 @ 6:56 pm
I regret having created such a character in an early book. Would not do it again.
February 25, 2014 @ 7:03 pm
True. Though based on the thoughts and feelings you get through his point-of-view, I don’t see him as an evil character. Not necessarily a good guy. Tragic in some ways. But I think he wants to do right, by and large. The sword is definitely evil.
February 25, 2014 @ 7:09 pm
“If you wouldn’t write an ‘evil [insert racial group, sexual orientation or disability group here]’ then do not write an evil albino.”
Everyone belongs to some racial group, some sexual orientation, and so on. If you’re going to have villains at all, and they’re human, then they’re likely going to be drawn from some extant group of humanity.
The problem isn’t necessarily having an evil character from group X, it is when all (or almost all) of the characters you see in the literature from group X turn out to be evil. When it starts to look more like the characteristics of group X (albinism, sexual orientation, race, or what have you) are correlated with evil, you’ve got a problem in the genre as a whole, and that’s something to be cognizant of when creating an evil character. Having an evil character who happens to be from group X, where being from group X has no relation to the character’s evil nature, is separate from that.
February 25, 2014 @ 7:44 pm
Uggh. Any other words would be less polite.
I somehow managed to miss ALL of those movie and TV references (yes, yes, I live under a rock/pile of books) About the only albino I can recall is the one in Princess Bride, but he wasn’t evil, just a work-a-day comedy goon. I remember Elric, and there was another albino lead…
What I find unfathomable is the discrimination and bullying. If it was another pigmentation they would be more willing to help, and then add the eye issues. Coke-bottle glasses are not a vanity issue, but heavy. How can they think color and vision problems don’t qualify?
I’m sure they may say they’re overworked, but respect isn’t expensive at the start. It gets expensive when it must be addressed in the courts because of rear guard denial.
February 25, 2014 @ 11:18 pm
It’s frequently said that if you can’t avoid presenting an evil character from an often oppressed or stereotyped group (and there *Are* reasons other than laziness for it to happen on occasion, the wide variety of human experience being only one), the best cure within an individual book or narrative for making sure the relevant stereotyped trait is NOT taken as part of that character’s evil is to have other people with the same trait within the book.
If you have an evil lesbian, have a good one (Or someone else within the gay community). If there’s an evil albino, have them in some way connected to a community of albinos, some of whom take a stand against their behaviour.
If this sort of inclusion is not possible, then make sure that things balance out within one’s own oeuvre as a whole. If that is not possible… it might be time to wonder why that trait always “happens” to belong only to evil characters and no good characters can share it.
February 25, 2014 @ 11:29 pm
Something I have not said: Nalini Singh, I am very sorry that you’ve had to face all these challenges. Like many others, I am absolutely dumbstruck at the very suggestion that because someone raised a discrimination suit – especially one that the HRC found valid – then that person should or could be barred from any further education. That simply makes no sense from ANY reasonable institution.
And I hope your new studies continue well.
February 25, 2014 @ 11:38 pm
HAYNES. HAYNES. HAYNES.
How did I manage that?
February 26, 2014 @ 12:37 am
I wasn’t aware of it either, Marie. I think I ran across a reference to the evil albino trope on TVTropes, and some comment on Whatever (probably by this same writer). But then, I don’t watch TV or movies generally, and besides the Princess Bride one you mention, the only mentions of albinos I recall in books were as exotic bits of color, so to speak, not specifically good or evil but part of a backdrop to connote foreignness. Not that that’s much of an improvement.
Part of this is because I tend to be a bit oblivious to description in books (I can think of at least two instances where my visualization of a major character was black even in the total absence of any description supporting this, and indeed one of them was described as having green eyes and bronze hair), and part is that when I was a kid and first heard of albinos, I wanted to be one. I was already notably pale and had been wearing glasses since I was six, and clung to these differences in defiance against kids trying to make me feel bad for being different, so being actually literally white and not just pasty would be even better. (In my defense for this, I was only about eight.) With the obliviousness of privilege, the downsides, most especially the social ones described in the post, never occurred to me. I probably still would’ve wanted to be one anyway.
So I’m stunned, not (sadly) because of how terrible people can be to “others”, but because it literally never occurred to me that prejudice against people with albinism was a thing. I’m so sorry.
February 26, 2014 @ 1:08 am
Being a long term scifi/ fantasy reader I was aware of these tropes, and they have always confused me, and yes, as my understanding of writing matured, they strike me as lazy. Have to be honest, I did not notice that Azog was an albino, I was too busy being horrified at the goblin king, displaying in abject glory the deformity is evil trope, next to my 6 year old son whose chin is almost the same shape as his. Now there’s a trope continually justified.
February 26, 2014 @ 1:56 am
I had never noticed the trend of “albinos = evil” in fiction until reading these posts on Hines’ blog. I am horrified to learn that albinos suffer discrimination, even in a “modern” nation like Australia.
:shakes head: Why do we always have to find someone to “other”? I am glad things are getting better for you, at least.
February 26, 2014 @ 12:57 pm
Actually your visualizations of characters as black, absent any such description, is not all that weird. Given the descripton of someone with bronze hair and green eyes, I think -black ,but then, I know black people who look like that.
February 26, 2014 @ 5:46 pm
Whenever you read someone who states that a employer/Manager wouldn’t let them go because they were to valuable to them(slave labor) but then they get fired and the person says it’s because of their(ETC) then that smacks of a scorned person who might have thought they were to valuable and got such an ego that they were fired.(happens all the time)
It’s also usual to hear certain people go thru great lengths to sue/persecute persons for said persecution. And when that doesn’t work out in the persons favor, you hear about how the Equal Opportunity groups are biased, and later, the Judges(same as you just read)
I know this will be censored as it’s a voice that is speaking the opposite side of the merry-go-round.(unless this itself strikes a chord in the Master Blaster)
And I’m not saying I don’t sympathize with her, I do as I know shes been thru a lot(and I myself understand that)
But so many writers now a days pretend that their isn’t another side to the story. Which is ironic as that is exactly the guise they will claim that proves they are defending justice.
It’s all a shell game.
Jim C. Hines
February 26, 2014 @ 6:33 pm
Sigh. I can’t imagine why anyone wouldn’t want to listen to unsubstantiated speculation from a pseudonymous person on the internet about someone they presumably know nothing about.
I’m sure you think you’re helping by trying to bring up the hypothetical “other side” to the story.
As it turns out, jumping into a conversation to randomly and baselessly question the integrity of a stranger? Not so helpful.
February 26, 2014 @ 6:49 pm
I’m not sure why he had to go with Evil Albino Orc. I mean, Orcs are already evil, it’s not like we need some old trope to indicate one of them is Very Bad Indeed.
Amanda Noel Blixt
April 28, 2014 @ 11:40 am
Has anyone ever read Ghost Boy by Iain Lawrance? The protagonist is an albino boy who’s tired of being teased and ostracized, so he runs away to join the circus. It seems to be a fairly accurate representation of the treatment of albinos (he’s teased and mocked and called The Ghost in his hometown), as well as other, less-known aspects of albinism (I never realized albinos often had vision problems). It’s wonderfully written and, if memory serves (it’s been a while since I read it), usually makes me cry.
I was at first bothered by the unsaid-suggestion in this book that someone with albinism is a “circus freak”, which is strengthened when the boy encounters another albino who’s already with the circus, but by the end the main character has grown and found his own strength. He leaves the circus and is confident enough to let teasing and insults roll off him, and you know he’ll be okay.
One book like this isn’t enough to counter-act the slew of evil-albino movies, TV shows, and books, but it’s encouraging that there’s at least one book like this out there.