Monday, March 30, 2009
Madonna Deserves Cheers Not Jeers for Casting Light on Africa’s Orphan Misery
Earl Ofari Hutchinson
First an outfit called Save the Children UK butted in and denounced Madonna for adopting Malawi orphan David Banda in 2006. Now another bunch has jumped into the adoption fray and branded her a”bully” for her plans to adopt another Malawi orphan. The Human Rights Consultative Committee pretty much rehashed the same tired complaint as Save the Children UK did three years back and that’s that Madonna is using her wealth and star power to end around Malawi’s adoption procedures.
Madonna ignored Save the Children UK in 2006 with their silly bellyache and she’ll likely do the same with the Consultative Committee. The figures tell the grim tale of why she should. According to UN estimates half of the 1 million Malwaian children with one or no parents are orphaned by AIDS. More than 13 percent of Malawi’s 13 million are poor, dirt poor, and not surprisingly the majority of them are women.
Malawi is hardly an aberration. More than 12 million children have lost one parent or are orphans in African nations. And given the still rampant disease, warfare and poverty that plague many of these countries, the number of orphans or near-orphans will soar to nearly 20 million next year. Apart from a string of cramped, desperately under-funded and in many cases unsafe orphanages in sub-Saharan Africa, many of these children are doomed to live out their childhood years in a caretaker existence.
That’s only the start of Africa’s orphan misery. Africa's orphans are still mostly unwanted anywhere else in the world, and that includes the United States. In 2005, more than 20,000 immigrant visas were issued to orphan children whom Americans adopted from other nations. Ethiopia, with a paltry 441 orphans taken in by Americans, was the only African country that cracked the top-10 list. Liberia and Nigeria were the only other African nations among the top-20 nations, with 182 and 82orphans taken in by Americans.
Madonna has raised millions through her Raise Malawi Organization to fight poverty and disease in the country. She’s made plans to build a school for young women there, and done more than any other celebrity too raise attention to the plight of Malawian orphans and women. Madonna could easily have been like the legion of air head stars whose idea of helping the poor is an annual photo-op mug shoot at a high profile, star studded, red carpet gala. Instead she put her money and name behind tackling one of the world’s toughest problems and that’s providing a better life for Africa’s dispossessed children. For that she’s piteously ragged on, sniped at, and backbitten, by every media chasing hound, and a handful of sanctimonious orphan relief groups. Why?
One reason for that is loudly and publicly stated. The other is unstated, and more contemptible.
Human rights and child protection groups claim that Madonna tossed her money and celebrity weight around to bend Malawi's adoption laws and fast-track the adoption, and that the adoption is another celebrity publicity stunt. Both are falsehoods. She observed the rules in 2006 with the adoption of Banda, and Malawi's courts have granted her an interim adoption order. She also kicked in a lot of dollars to boost orphanage services in the country. As one of the world's best-known superstars, with legions of paparazzi jumping at the chance to record her every cough, Madonna hardly needs to snatch an African child to grab some camera action.
The unstated, and more contemptible, reason that certain groups and individuals are upset about the adoption is the archaic notion that a white person, especially a wealthy white celebrity, is culturally clueless when it comes to raising a black child. Or worse, that they'll whitewash the child's black identity and tout white values (whatever they are).
What makes this notion even more dumb is that the crisis is not just one in which African babies are shunned in America -- African-American orphans are too. There are more than a half-million children in foster care homes in America. Nearly 40 percent of them are African-Americans. They stay in foster care homes on average a year longer than white children.
There is absolutely no hard evidence that the race of the adopting parent has much to do with whether an adopted child matures into a healthy, emotionally secure adult. The key is that the home must be loving, nurturing and financially stable. There is also little evidence that black children raised by white parents suffer permanent racial or cultural identity amnesia. Race and racism are still alive enough and in enough places in American society to insure that black children can't and won't forget that they're black. We need look no further than the man who sits behind the desk in the Oval office for proof of that.
Madonna did a huge service by using her star power not to exploit but to cast light on Malawi and Africa's orphan misery. You go Madonna.
Earl Ofari Hutchinson is an author and political analyst. His weekly radio show, “The Hutchinson Report” can be heard in Los Angeles on KTYM Radio 1460 AM and streamed nationally on blogtalkradio.com