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Could it be that some of us owe Michael Jackson an apology for his skin?

Most people can relate to what happened to Terrell Midgett on July 26.

It was his birthday, so he went to the DMV to get his license renewed. After three hours of waiting - see, I told you we all could relate - he got to the desk only to be told by the picture-takin' man that he couldn't have his picture taken.

Why not?

"He said he couldn't take my picture as long as I was wearing makeup," Midgett told me. "He said it was policy."

Why, you ask, was the 43-year-old married father of two wearing makeup to the DMV, you ask?

Because he has a skin condition called vitiligo. It's an auto-immune disease that causes the loss of skin color and affects less than one percent of the population worldwide.

What occurred that day after Midgett left the DMV without his license has probably happened to fewer than that: DMV Commissioner Torre Jessup called him and apologized and assured him he could have his picture taken for his license.

"He said he couldn't go home without apologizing," Midgett recalled.

Classy move, Commish.

Has there ever been a day, I asked Midgett, that he hasn't suffered some such indignity, when someone hasn't stared obnoxiously or said something insulting?

"No, but I used to be able to tune it out before the social media age," he said. "Now, everybody has a camera... People always have their phones out, they're always recording, trying to find news...

"I guess I've always felt like a fish in a fishbowl," he said, "but now it seems that the fish is always being recorded everywhere he goes."

He's not exaggerating. Take the heart-wrenching incident with the foolish woman in Food Lion on Poole Road in Raleigh who got out of the checkout line three rows over to try to surreptitiously snap his picture with her phone.

"I said 'Please don't do that' and she said 'OK.' But I knew she had already taken it," he said with not a trace of rancor.

Midgett also told the distressing tale of his encounter with a mother and her three teenage children while walking around Crabtree Valley Mall in Raleigh. As he walked past them, the daughter, who appeared to be about 15, said aloud "What th...?"

The whole family stopped and gawked unselfconsciously as he window-shopped.

He, however, was self-conscious and had had enough that particular day. "I turned around and asked if everything was okay. The mother said 'No everything is not okay.'"

"She asked 'Why are you in blackface?'" he recounted. "I explained that I have a skin condition called vitiligo.

"I said 'Ma'am, I'm a husband, a father, a son, and it's unfortunate that I can't come out in public without hearing comments like this.' I told her 'Imagine one of your kids had what I have and some adult came up and talked to them the way you're talking to me. You'd be ready to fight.'

"I asked," he said, "if she'd ever heard of Michael Jackson."

The late King of Pop tried to ascribe his dramatic change in appearance to vitiligo, but some people claimed that his discoloration and altered features were the result of a personal decision, not an auto-immune disease.

That mother and her three kids who accosted Midgett?

I'd like to tell you that, after being properly chastened and educated, they hugged him and apologized before waddling away to the Cheesecake Factory.

I'd like to tell you that, but I can't, because that's not what happened.

"They just walked away. They never apologized," he said.

Midgett said he has been assailed by bigots both black and white.

Politics has had an impact on Midgett's life and how people react to his appearance, he told me. "I usually don't go out on Halloween," he said, "because that kind of gives people a free shot to say ignorant things. But when Trump was running for president, I went out with some friends and people would say 'What did you come as - a Trump supporter?'"

Some people just looked at him and laughed.


Prior to that, he said, ill-mannered comments from blacks and whites "ratcheted up" when Barack Obama first ran for president. "People would just say anything. 'Are you ashamed of being black?' 'Are you trying to be white?'"

Politics may be able to ameliorate some of the agony experienced by people with vitiligo. Midgett recently attended the Congressional Black Caucus annual convention in Washington to promote legislation to, among other things, study the disease and proclaim a national vitiligo month. The bill was introduced by Congressman Hank Johnson of Atlanta, who has vitiligo.

"Right now we've got 13 co-sponsors, but we need 260 votes for it to even hit the floor. We went around and met with congressmen and women to get them to sign on... Presently, nobody in North Carolina has signed on yet, but we're going to change that real soon.

"We want to let people know what it is and how it affects us mentally and emotionally."

I don't know how 30 years of being stared and pointed at - the disease really became pronounced when he was in 6th grade, he said - affects someone emotionally and mentally, but it was without a hint of self-pity or anger that Midgett related the indignities he's suffered because of a mere skin condition.

Midgette said he stopped wearing Dermablend - a concealer - because he didn't want to miss out on his four-year-old daughter's life.

"I have a 24 year old son, and there were things I missed out on with him because of the vitiligo - going on field trips, eating lunch with him at school... I wouldn't go to his school because I didn't want anybody picking at him or saying anything about his father around him.

"I wasn't that visible around his school unless I had to be, for disciplinary reasons or something. I have a four-year-old now, though, and I don't want her to miss out on me being there because of vitiligo."

She shouldn't have to, she wouldn't have to, if people just acted like they had some sense and decency.

Really, it shouldn't be that hard.




Meet Barry Saunders

For over 20 years, Barry was a columnist for The News & Observer in Raleigh, NC. He also wrote for other publications, such as the Atlanta Constitution and the Richmond County Daily Journal. Often described as powerfully honest and illustratively funny, Barry's writing is both loved and hated by readers- sometimes simultaneously.  


Want more? Get your own copy of one of Barry's published books featuring reader favorites (and not so favorites) from his years writing columns for The News & Observer. Titled "Do Unto Others...And then Run" and "...And The Horse You Rode In On Saunders!", they're full of guaranteed entertainment. 


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