Mitchell Column: Madonna's adoption plays shamefully clear in black, white
October 26, 2006
BY MARY MITCHELL Sun-Times Columnist
I want to be happy about Madonna. I really do. But the truth is, I can't be happy about Madonna's decision to adopt a 13-month-old Malawian boy because it shames me, and I suspect that deep down inside, it shames the people who are making the most fuss about the adoption.
After all, how many of us knew a country called Malawi existed before this?
But Madonna's Raising Malawi charity funds six orphanages there and is setting up an orphanage that will care for 4,000 children near the country's capital.
I've traveled to Africa three times, and I haven't spent the amount of time with AIDS orphans that Madonna has spent.
Nor did I feel compelled to rescue a David Banda -- the birth name of the Malawian boy the singer intends to adopt -- from the harsh reality he was born into.
So I can't criticize someone else for wanting to take that child away from the disease and suffering that continues to claim so many of Africa's children.
Still, in turning to Africa to adopt a child, Madonna has opened the old wounds of slavery and colonialism.
That's what the fallout is really all about.
AIDS stigma still powerful
The allegation by human rights groups that the Malawian government allowed Madonna to flout that country's strict regulations governing adoption because of her celebrity status and wealth is merely a smoke screen.
Not even the well-to-do can afford to drop out of their lives for 18 months so they can adopt a child.
The groups might as well say it -- they don't want white foreigners to adopt African children.
Does anyone really believe that had Oprah Winfrey, an African American, gone to Malawi and wanted to adopt a child, she would have been required to live in the country for a year and a half?
Or that the media and human rights groups would have hounded her all the way back to America with ridiculous questions about her motives?
Madonna told Oprah via satellite TV that she was "stunned" by the negative publicity that greeted her when she returned home.
"I'm disappointed because, more than anything, it discourages other people from doing the same thing," she said. "I feel the media is doing a great disservice to all the orphans of Africa, period, not just the orphans of Malawi," she told Oprah.
The show's mostly white audience applauded.
And why wouldn't they?
To their way of thinking, before Madonna showed up, David was languishing under a slow death sentence.
The child has already survived tuberculosis and pneumonia. His 28-year-old mother, Marita Banda, died a week after his birth, and two siblings died in infancy from malaria -- according to published reports out of Malawi.
Although the reports claim the mother and children died of AIDS, the disease isn't mentioned in most reports prepared in Malawi, which goes to show that the stigma surrounding AIDS deaths in Africa is as strong as ever.
After his wife's death, David's father, Yohane Banda, left his son in an orphanage and went back to living out his hard life as a farmer. He was quoted initially in the media as wanting the adoption and blasting the human rights groups that were critical.
"I was alone with a baby. I had no money. I couldn't buy him milk. That's why I surrendered him to the orphanage," he said.
"Where were these people when David was struggling in the orphanage? These so-called human rights groups should leave my baby alone. As father, I have OK'd this. I have no problem. The village has no problem."
Now, however, Banda says he did not understand the adoption meant he would give up custody of his son for good, although he has not demanded that Madonna return the baby to the Malawian orphanage.
Need to save African children
It isn't surprising that Banda is trying to cover his shame.
In a perfect world, Madonna would indeed be applauded for adopting a child from AIDS-ravaged Africa -- as Oprah did at the end of her interview.
But this is not a perfect world. Many of us are still uncomfortable with the reality that rich white people can go to Africa -- or to the ghetto, for that matter -- and pluck up a poor child, even when that person is well-meaning.
Despite their hardships, the people who live in such environments still have a sense of community. It is how so many of them have managed to survive.
If adoption becomes the only way to save an African child -- what, then, will become of Africa?
The fear of creating a new Black Diaspora is driving the Madonna furor.
So, while her adoption of a baby from Malawi should be a gift of joy, for Africa, these adoptions also bring tears of shame.