Misplaced outrage over Madonna's African adoption

October 22, 2006|By Earl Ofari Hutchinson

The figures, or maybe misery is a better word, like so much else about black Africa, are almost beyond belief.

More than 12 million children have lost one parent or are orphans. And given the HIV-AIDS pandemic, warfare and poverty that plague many African nations, the number of orphans or near-orphans will soar to nearly 20 million by 2010. The worst part is that apart from a string of bulging, cramped, desperately underfunded and in many cases unsafe orphanages in Sub-Saharan Africa, many of these children are doomed to live out their youth in a caretaker existence.

The even more galling thing is that Africa's orphans are still mostly unwanted anywhere else in the world, and that includes the U.S.

Last year, nearly 21,000 immigrant visas were issued to Americans who adopted orphans from other nations. Ethiopia, with a paltry 441 orphans whom Americans took in, was the only African country that cracked the top 10. China, by contrast, had nearly 8,000, and Russia had more than 4,000.

With the need so great to find homes for African children, why would anyone who has a smidgen of concern about these very poor, needy and neglected orphans raise a peep of protest about Madonna's noble and courageous adoption of 1-year-old David Banda, a Malawian orphan?

There are two reasons. One is loudly 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 and twist Malawi's adoption law to fast-track the adoption, and that the adoption is another celebrity chic publicity stunt. Neither is true. She observed the rules, and the courts have upheld the adoption.

The unstated reason is the archaic notion that a white person, especially a wealthy white celebrity, is abysmally culturally clueless when it comes to raising a black child, or worse, that she'll whitewash the child's black identity and tout white values (whatever they may be).

Thirty years ago, the National Association of Black Social Workers gruffly branded the adoption of black children by whites as genocide. The group later dropped the inflammatory rhetoric, and talked about kinship, preserving cultural identity and strengthening family relations, to beg more black families to adopt black babies. The message is still pretty much the same, that a black home is the best, indeed the only place, that a black child should be.

What makes this notion even more wrongheaded is that the crisis is not just one in which African babies are shunned in America; African-American orphans are too. Nearly 40 percent of the more than a half million children in foster care homes in America are African-American, and they stay in foster care on average a year longer than white children.

A number of black church groups and social agencies have worked hard to break down the barriers to adopting African-American children and have had modest success in getting more blacks to adopt. While this is welcome, they have almost exclusively urged blacks to adopt black children. That subtly reinforces the notion that black homes are the only place that can provide the children a loving, nurturing and culturally correct upbringing.

Countless studies have shown that the race of the adopting parent has little to do with whether a child matures into a healthy, emotionally secure adult. There is also little evidence that black children raised by white parents suffer permanent racial or cultural identity amnesia.

Madonna deserves props, not jeers, for casting the ugly glare on Africa's orphan tragedy. The pity is that more haven't done the same.

Earl Ofari Hutchinson is a political analyst and social commentator, and the author of "The Emerging Black GOP Majority." His e-mail is hutchinsonreport@aol.com.

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