Vitiligo (pronounced vit-ill-EYE-go) is a skin pigmentation disorder where the cells that make pigment (called melanocytes) are destroyed, causing white patches in different parts of the body. Often white patches also appear on the mucous membranes of the nose and mouth, as well as the eyeball's retina. Sometimes hair that is growing on areas affected by vitiligo also turns white. There are several theories about the causes of vitiligo; including inherited genes, auto-immune disease, sunburn, or even severe emotional distress. In the United States, between 1 to 2 million people have vitiligo. About half the people contract the affliction before age 20, with the remaining before age forty. Although vitiligo affects both sexes and all races, it is of course much more noticeable in people with darker skin.
The most common form of vitiligo, called the "generalized pattern" spreads quickly and occurs on both sides of the body symmetrically. Although it is not a fatal disease, it often has debilitating psychological effects on those with the disorder. Self-confidence and self-esteem are diminished, people with vitiligo are ridiculed, and many go into self-induced seclusion. Despite his explosive and electrifying on-stage performances and award-winning mini-movie videos, it was known that Michael Jackson has always been extremely shy and sensitive; even as an adult.
Most people had not heard of vitiligo until Michael Jackson revealed he had the disease in the early 1990s. People watched with amazement as Michael's smooth caramel-colored complexion got lighter and lighter over a few years; many people accused him of "wanting to be white". Only a few people, such as Lee Thomas, a TV News anchor in Detroit, Michigan who suffers from the same affliction, understood what Michael was experiencing. Lee Thomas, a dark-skinned black man, found that his television career was being seriously affected since people were looking at his multi-toned face instead of listening to his words. Today, Thomas spends an hour or more applying special creams and dark make-up to his face before he goes on the air; he leaves his hands stark white. It has taken Thomas many years to come to grips with his disease; he has authored a book and is a national spokesman for the National Vitiligo Foundation. Thomas does not wear makeup when he is out in public away from his television job. In Michael Jackson's case, it seems that he decided to have his entire body bleached near-white and his hair and eyebrows dyed dark black. Anyone who has seen Michael's videos know that often a lot more of his body is exposed when he is singing and dancing; that is part of his persona and image.
R.I.P. Michael! We will miss you so very much!
Michael Joseph Jackson (August 29, 1958 - June 25, 2009)