Saturday, October 21, 2006

Celebrity Adoptions: Not a Black-and-White Issue

Following up on the row over Madonna's adoption of a kid from Malawi, it now appears that Brintey Spears "is now looking into the possibility of welcoming a disadvantaged child into her own family." Over at Mad Kenyan Woman's blog, I have been strenuosly arguing that there was nothing wrong with Madonna's adoption of David Banda. Though I am not overjoyed at the prospect of African kids being treated as the latest must-have celebrity accessory, I still think that, at a personal level, if one qualifies and follows the rules, then we should not be placing barriers in the way of their helping out kids whose societies are unable to take care of them. Of course, if the celebrities are unsuitable as parents, then they shouldn't have the children. But let's put that aside for now. For me, the furore raises many questions which are neither easy nor pleasant. Here are just a few:

Is there a danger in allowing hordes of presumably well-meaning, able and loving white celebrities to adopt black children who have been abandoned in orphanages in the third world? Could I be inadvertently supporting a policy which would result in the diminution of human dignity? It is obvious that our sense of self-worth is assaulted by the prospect of our kids reduced to fashion items. But perhaps there are greater injuries. What about the unnecessary deaths of millions of kids from easily preventable causes? Now, I have previously argued that the burden for solving such problems falls squarely on African governments and societies. Adoptions could not even begin to address the issues. That said, what right do we have to impose this suffering on even the tiny number of kids who would benefit from adoption? Does that not similarly assault our consciences?

MKW argues that the kids did not chose the "atmosphere of glamour and superficiality and strangely-earned wealth and notoriety associated with the celebrity life" and that such a life is not in their best interests. Well, they surely didn't chose poverty either and, it's safe to say, penury is definitely not in their interests. In any case, African families routinely send their kids to live with wealthier relatives or abroad to live and study in wealthier societies. Is there something innately wrong with this? Aspiring for a better life for oneself and one's kids is after all universal. Over the centuries, many Europeans have similarly abandoned their ancestral homelands to seek richer lives in the New World. And with thousands of African adults daily risking liberty, life and limb to escape the poverty on the continent, is it not hypocritical for us to be denying our infants the opportunity to do the same?

What of the preservation and perpetuation of "African culture" (whatever that means)? Do kids need to be taught the language, values, beliefs and customs of their forefathers? And do the same African societies that prostitute themselves by, for example, installing politicians and white do-gooders as "elders" retain any moral authority to prevent the subsumption of their cultures through the adoption of their kids by the celebrities of the West? Anyhow, isn't culture supposed to be dynamic? Why stick to customs and traditions that were formulated to deal with the challenges of a bygone age but now seem only to consign us to a debilitating and never ending poverty?

More later.


WM said...

Is everyone asleep? Why isn't anyone commenting on this rather intriguing point of view?

Gathara, I like your thinking very much--I disagree, but I like it excessively well. Although I don't really disagree on some fundamental level. I think we just choose to stress different aspects of the same sorry situation.

I hope lots of people get over here and begin to discuss some of these issues. If not, well, you'll have to do with me, poor thing, you.

Gathara said...

Thanks for your kind words. The questions I posted here (along with my post on what I consider to be the illusion of poverty in Africa) illustrate my struggle with the issues raised by Madonna's adoption saga.

I would appreciate your thoughts on the subject. Specifically what you disagree (or don't disagree) with.

And even if you are the only one who comments, I would still consider it an honour.