Madonna merits only our praise

October 30, 2006|By Cynthia Tucker

ATLANTA -- Thank heaven for Oprah. Last week, the queen of TV talk had the common sense to applaud Madonna's charitable works in the desperately poor African nation of Malawi. Interviewing the beleaguered pop culture icon via satellite, Oprah Winfrey made clear that she and her studio audience supported Madonna's efforts, including her provisional adoption of a small boy.

It's about time that an influential voice stepped forward to state the obvious: No matter what Madonna's motives are, she is doing the right thing. Malawi, a small nation in the southeast corner of the continent, is struggling with drought, beset by malaria and ravaged by AIDS. An estimated 14 percent of adults have been infected with HIV, and approximately 1 million children have lost at least one parent to the disease.

Working with developing-world specialist Jeffrey Sachs, an economist, Madonna has pledged to raise $3 million for anti-poverty efforts in Malawi. So orphanages will receive money for food and medicine; villages may get clean water and provisions for fighting malaria; and, if the adoption goes through, a toddler born into unfathomable poverty will be reared in immeasurable affluence. That's a bad thing?

In the month or so since Madonna visited Malawi and news leaked of her planned adoption, she has been swamped by a tide of cynicism, opprobrium and controversy. Pop culture critics have derided her adoption as an effort to burnish her image by joining the ranks of celebrities such as Angelina Jolie, a U.N. goodwill ambassador who has adopted two children from the developing world.

Human rights groups in Malawi announced they would challenge the legality of the adoption, claiming Madonna's money and fame allowed her to short-circuit traditional procedures. Worse still, there were reports last week that Yohane Banda, father of 1-year-old David, had claimed government officials tricked him into signing papers forfeiting his parental rights. He has since told reporters that he has no intention of reneging on the adoption.

It may well be that those human rights groups simply oppose foreign adoptions. Their narrow-mindedness is reminiscent of outspoken black American social workers, many of whom worked for years to prevent interracial adoptions, preferring to see black children languish in orphanages or foster homes rather than be adopted by whites.

As for the claims of some critics that celebrity adoptions are simply the latest "fashion," so what? If celebrities have taken to adopting poverty-stricken children, that's a trend that holds more promise than the purchase of overpriced handbags or cosmetic surgery. If it's a publicity gimmick, it will do more for needy children than inviting millions of strangers to observe their personal lives on "reality" TV.

After the fall of the Soviet Union, the U.S. virtually abandoned Africa because it no longer held strategic value. Since then, the continent's most effective advocate has been Bono, the Irish rock star, who has spent years campaigning for debt relief and anti-poverty programs. If he has persuaded other celebrities to join the cause, God bless him.

If you think Madonna should have given Mr. Banda money to keep his own child, then perhaps you should consider an organization that helps parents support their kids. For $50 a month, my mother helps to support a 10-year-old Senegalese child, Binta, sending a check to World Vision religiously. There are numerous other agencies, including the United Nations Children's Fund - one of my favorite charities - doing good work in the developing world.

And if you believe there are a host of children right here in the United States waiting for a good home, you're right. Foster parents, especially, are always in short supply.

Rather than a wave of criticism, Madonna's gutsy move should have provoked a tide of donations to charities for needy children.

Cynthia Tucker is editorial page editor for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Her column appears Mondays in The Sun. Her e-mail is cynthia@ajc.com.

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