Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Lee Thomas: A Black Man Turning White




"Some people act like they don't even see it…Some people stop right in their tracks staring. But there was another time I walked into a room and saw a little girl, about two[years-old], and she looked at my face and screamed. I didn't leave the house for two weeks after that one...The look on her face, she was scared...And you know when a child's in danger or a child is fearful, you want to reach out and help them, right? But if reached out to help her, I was the one scaring her so I felt helpless. And because of that, I didn't know what to do. What do you do?"--Lee Thompson




At 25 years-old, the world has suddenly become your oyster. You are on the brink of getting that first big break in the broadcasting industry--a stint as an entertainment reporter on an ABC affiliate in New York City. Not bad at all...


...well...except for the fact that your barber has found some unusual white patches on your scalp. There's no need to become too alarmed, right? It doesn't seem like that big of a deal...but...you have also found some white spots on your hands...and now these damn spots just won't go away!


Vitiligo. This is the diagnosis Lee Thompson's doctor made upon observing this rapid loss in his skin's pigmentation. A progressive skin disorder in which pigment-producing cells begin to suddenly die, vitiligo sadly has no cure. So in essence, Thompson had just been told that he was an African American-man-turning-white and there was absolutely nothing he could do about it...


What was he going to do?!


He was a successful broadcaster on television, yes television, so his job depended on his appearance. But there was also the more significant implications of his impending whiteness. Previously concrete truths regarding race, identity, and in turn, his own sense of self were now horribly thrown out of whack. Was he still a Black man even though he was becoming white?


So Thompson did what most of us would do--he hid the vitiligo, both figuratively and literally, under a mask of creams and make-up. This was his reasoning:


I wear the make-up because it makes it easier…not just easier for me…but easier for other people to deal with me...News isn't about me, it's about the information.So I put the make-up on so they can hear me.
He kept his condition a secret for four whole years until the vitiligo became impossible to hide, spreading to his arms, hands, and even face. So Thompson knew he had to come clean.


Once he revealed the truth to his colleagues at Fox News Detroit, Thompson decided not just to stop there. He decided to speak about his experiences with vitiligo, ON-AIR, in which he appeared for the first time on camera without any make-up. This was a huge moment for him...


After receiving countless letters of support and encouragement regarding his story, Thompson was especially moved by the responses from children suffering from vitiligo. One little boy wrote a letter asking him to continue telling people about the disease so that the kids at school would stop making fun of him. From that moment on, Thompson became committed to the cause.


Not only has he started the first vitiligo support group in Michigan, Thompson wrote his memoir, Turning White, complete with several candid photos, in order to educate others on his disease. He is also using some of the proceeds from the book to fund his support group. And even though Thompson used to think that vitiligo threatened to take a part of him away, he now sees things very differently:


This thing is kind of like a superhero. If one thing is taken from you, then something else is given to you--some kind of strength. Since my pigment's losing, I must have some other something to make me strong…I didn't get super strength or speed or anything like that…but what I did get…is the power of speech.


What are your thoughts on Thompson's story?



Watch Turning White video documentary HERE.

Watch Lee Thomas interview on The Hour HERE.

11 comments:

SoupNumber5 said...

It's hard enough to be a minority. It's even harder when something like this happens. I appreciate the bravery in people. I don't know how I would react if this happened to me. I honestly wouldnt handle it as well as he.

BAMBOO BLITZ said...

So true, soup! This would be such an unbelievable mind-f*** because not only would you have to do deal with the obvious feeling of rejection since people wouldn't know how to deal with this, but it would stir up such an identity conflict...He's definitely an admirable guy!

Daisy said...

This is actually pretty common, although not usually so much on the face. I've seen it a lot on people's hands and arms.

It runs in families, and in the black community here in the south, is usually met with understanding--at least from what I have seen as an herbalist. (no herbal remedies for it, though, I hate to say)

BAMBOO BLITZ said...

That's interesting, Daisy. I didn't realize that vitiligo was so common. I'm guessing that Thompson must have a pretty severe case of it since his entire body seems dramatically affected by it.

webmaster pomona said...

that's a touching story. what could have been a drawback became assets by not succumbing to shame. hooray to the dude ;^J

BAMBOO BLITZ said...

Hey WP...yes, I think it would be so difficult to deal with the frightened reactions of children that he speaks about. Thanks for your insights!

Kerry said...

Our brains are trained from birth to compartmentalize and stigmatize and then rationalize based on ethnicity and skin color. It is a testament to how very little of the thoughts inside our minds are truly "ours".
Lee's transformation is a great lesson in "unlearning" the garbage that resides within us. Let's see one another as we truly are....brothers and sisters.
Namaste!

BAMBOO BLITZ said...

Hey Kerry, welcome! So true, we are conditioned from a very early age to "soak-up" the discriminatory attitudes around us like a sponge. Thompson's experiences really have "blurred" those color lines...

Awais said...

Vitiligo is now very common skin disorder on the globe. There immense material on the vitiligo found on the internet. in which a large contribute is to Jackson and Lee's Vitiligo.
There are large amout of info exist on the net regarding the cure of vitilgo.
But the important thing is thatn not all white patches are vitiligo.To confirm the vitiligo see the the vitiligo pics from the Vitiligo site

Ramesh said...

I suffer from the vitiligo condition. Does anyone know if there is a cure for it

Anonymous said...

I am an Asian Indian and have the same Vitiligo skin condition. I try not to think of it and ruin my life. Is there any cure for it.

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