Madonna and Child — the African Version


It was Uli Knopflmacher, at that magical NEH seminar I attended so long ago, who called this Garth William’s illustration from the first chapter of Charlotte’s Web, “Madonna and Pig.” When pointing this out to my fourth graders, I always need to say that it has nothing to do with the singer Madonna, celebrated children’s book author and Malawi Orphan Adopter.

But today’s post does.

What troubles me about Madonna’s adoption is what troubles me about so many of the wealthy and well-known do-gooders who drop in various parts of Africa with their media entourages in tow, start their own NGOs because they think they know and can do better, and offer sound bites of Africa that don’t do much to expand people’s understanding of the continent. Yes, they mean well. So many do.

I have this outlying point of view because I was a Peace Corps volunteer in Sierra Leone, a country on the opposite side of the African continent from Malawi, but one that is most likely perceived by many as very similar — a desperately poor country that needs all the help it can get.

For many years I stayed pretty quiet about my experience. People were not interested and had such simplistic responses that I learned to say nothing. Until the war. It went on for years without American media paying much attention to it. Only when they got wind of the atrocities, when the capital Freetown (where I had lived for two years) was invaded, when child soldiers became an issue, finally the media paid attention. Finally Americans noticed. Even my students noticed and so together we created the Edinger House Sierra Leone Project.

Atrocities drew the world’s attention to Sierra Leone, genocide to Dafur, and a celebrity’s adoption to Malawi. Which country will be next? Why? And will it result in a better understanding of Africa and its people? I wonder.

I’ll end with another Madonna, “The Holy Virgin Mary” by African- inspired artist Chris Ofili, which sparked quite a bit controversy here in NYC some years ago.





Filed under Africa

13 responses to “Madonna and Child — the African Version

  1. Hi Monica:

    I just left a similar comment over at Mitali’s blog, but I just have to share what I find so disturbing about this Madonna info. And, keep in mind…I was a huge Madonna fan! Lucky Star came out when I was 16. I thought she was the coolest thing ever.

    This is what bothers me. She lined up children to pick her third child. This child will grow up with tons and tons of money, but maybe nothing else. Her money could have “bought” two things: 1) a village’s stability. Money to provide care for all the children and all the adults in this one town or:; 2) money for 10 middle class families in the US and/or the UK to adopt said 10 children. Either act would have been more giving and would have taken care of all the children she placed in the “line up.” To adopt a child internationaly takes $30,000 and infinite patience for red tape.

    I have no problem with international adoption. I’ve seen amazing things happen in my “adopted” 10,000 person midwest town. A child from Sierra Leone, a child from China, a child from Russia–they’re all assimilated. Sure, they’ll have problems, but their families will help them through it all. Madonna’s act of chosing just one child from one town does not help anyone, least of all that child.

    Thanks for the post. I love that illustration so very much.


  2. What bugs me the most is the way she misused her celebrity status. Madonna is a publicity master and here she had a chance to focus the media on Africa in a significant and worthwhile way. In my opinion, she blew it.

    Another lost opportunity when it comes to helping Americans deepen their knowledge about Africa is an odd reality show I’ve been watching lately called Moms on the Road: Africa. In the last episode the moms spent some time in a Himba village where not a single resident was given a name.  They were presented as these exotic folks with weird and different ways of living.  I’ve been trying to see if the website provided any further information about the Himba, but if it is there I can’t find it.  (Most of the time they are doing adventure touring sort of stuff. I did a few adventure travel tours myself years ago, but stopped as I couldn’t take another moment of my fellow travelers’ lack of interest, compassion, and more about the local residents of the areas we traveled through.)

    One of the best recent shows I have seen that helps Americans become more informed about Africa is the PBS series African American Lives hosted and narrated by Henry Louis Gates, Jr.  One of the most moving episodes is when they are able to trace Chris Tucker’s heritage back to a part of Africa and go there for a visit.  Much more meaninful than Madonna’s visit or those moms.  Further, here is a description from the PBS website of how Chris Tucker uses HIS celebrity status to help Africa: “In 2001, Chris toured Uganda and Ethiopia with Treasury Secretary Paul O’Neill and U2 frontman Bono, in an effort to generate awareness of economic and social issues facing Africa and increase U.S. financial aid for the continent. In 2002, he traveled to South Africa with Secretary of State Colin Powell for a summit conference on sustainable development.”


  3. Pingback: this woman’s work - » Madonna again

  4. Multiple reliable news organizations over the last few days have had articles indicate she is. None of them quote her saying she isn’t. Rather, “The singer and husband Guy Ritchie have been granted an interim court order approving the adoption.”  (From the BBC website — more here.)


  5. My fear is that the backlash against her mishandling of this situation will cause people to clamp down on interracial adoptions in general.

    I’m the mother of two boys adopted from India. We “look like we belong together,” so the boys don’t get asked too many identity-related questions, and I can see other benefits of sharing the same ethnicity (which we don’t really, since we come from different parts of India).

    Nonetheless, I’m uncomfortable with trying to define who can and can’t be family according to ethnic identity, and I’ve seen this starting to happen in the discussion about Madonna’s adoption. That line of argument sounds a lot like the anti-miscegenation laws of the fifties and sixties, when people were again trying to use race to determine who can be in the same family.

    I understand the fear of cultural genocide, and that international adoptions and intermarriage can feel like weapons in a desperate battle to keep your language and culture from disappearing. I know the strength that a like-minded community and language and heritage can give a child. I see the power and wealth issues, and don’t believe for a second that a child will be happier in a home with more material possessions. But the great idol of racial and cultural identity has caused more grief than joy in human history, and the bottom line is that children need parents to nurture and love them, race, caste, and class no bar.


  6. As I wrote at your blog, Mitali, I think each adoption is unique and different. My issue in the specific case of Madonna’s is that she used it as a publicity stunt, in a (to give her the benefit of the doubt) very misguided way to draw attention to issues in Africa. With all the celebrity clout she has, this was a major missed opportunity.


  7. Current news reports have the baby flown out of the country accompanied by Madonna’s “body guards and personal assistant”. I’m furious about this. My closest friends are the adoptive parents of two children from Colombia, so I am not opposed to international adoption by any means, but it is fraught with complications, which is why there are supposed to be lengthy procedures in place.

    It’s bad enough that Malawi officials have apparently been blinded by celebrity (and money, no doubt about it) in overturning their own policy on adoption, but the question has to be asked–what process has Madonna gone through in either the UK or the USA in order to adopt this child? Does either country just allow people to adopt internationally willy nilly, with no approval processes, such as the ones Australians have to undergo? (Up to 18 months from first expression of interest to final approval, and then a minimum of a year’s wait to be allocated a child, depending on the country you’re adopting from—it’s usually closer to three years.)

    I also feel sick to my stomach when I hear the likes of Angelina Jolie talk about “rainbow families” and adopting a children from every continent. It just demonstrates the complete lack of understanding of the child’s needs, of the cultural issues surrounding international adoption, and says more about the celebrity’s ego than it does about the child’s best interest.That and giving them stupid Hollywood names, denying them their birth name. You can see how this issue really gets me riled up!

    And as you say, Monica, what a shockingly wasted opportunity. Think what someone with the profile and money Madonna has could have done for this nation. Instead, she’s got herself some handy publicity for her next “children’s book” (I use the phrase with reservation!).

    Oh, and apprently Angelina and Brad haven’t actually ponied up the money they pledged to the clinic in Namibia where their baby was born. Nice.


  8. When Angelia Jolie adopted two children, one from Ethiopia, where was the hue and cry?Where were the screams of horror? I am not a fan of Madonna, but this whole obsession with her adoption of an African child beggars belief. Is it because the child was actually living as an ORPHAN in Malawi that there’s all this self-righteousness? Is it becaus all the naysayers have all adopted children themselves or maybe a couple of kids themselves from the continent? Or they are planning to. So, of course they can pontificate about the rights and wrongs of a celebrity adopting a child to give them a better chance at life than he has right now. Has the press nothing better to do with their time than to shit-stir (pardon my French)? They should be ashamed of themselves. Is anyone even glad that a child could be taken out of miserable poverty and given opportunities he could only dream of?

    Oh, maybe it’s because Angelia was an Ambassador to the United Nations? What about Madonna’s well known contribution to buiding orphanages in Malawi or her Aids campaigning on the continent? That’s not enough?

    Oh, wait, some have said that Madonna, rather than adopting a child, should support the whole village financially…right.Tell her how she should spend her money.

    But maybe.. just maybe – it’s just because it’s Madonna.After all, she’s fair game for the critics.A nonenity wouldn’t merit a second glance. So it can’t possibly be fodder for the latest celebrity rag and the airwaves now, can it?


  9. ela

    I do not think Madonna or Jolie should be the spoke persons for international adoptions. I also take issue with Jolie stating not enough is done (monetarily – mostly) for refugees. Americans do not even take care of our own. I have nothing against international adoption, but what of all the American kids needing a mother/father – parents.

    I know Rosie O’Donnell is putting forth 1 million dollars (along with Ivana – *former trump*) to clean up the foster care program in the US. THAT is a very positive thing. An amazing thing, as we should NOT depend on the government to fix that disaster…

    I do not think it has anything to do with Madonna being fair game – she has after all put herself into the publicity cog. I think the way she has gone about this all is full of her big fat ego.

    People COULD do any of these things anonymously – “For the children” – my arse, for them self is more like it….


  10. A lot of strange things have been happening to me over the past 6 months. First I am on a flight next to Barbados, my first return trip in about 30 years. Next I see a woman reading a book by an author whose name matches someone I met in Barbados years ago. Next I begin to blog and here is a post called Madonna and Child–African version. Coincidence because this book takes all the acient tribes of Israel and traces their wherabouts. Using D.N.A. prophecy, and confirmed history, he traces some even to the Caribbean. Your title depiction might not be so far fetched because as this Caribbean researcher points out, most of Joseph’s children were born in Africa. Before they went into Egypt, they resembled the Egyptians, and after 400 years in the hot sun they could not have bleached. I particularly remember Amos 9:7 where Amos likened the Ethiopians to the ancient Jews.

    I actually got my book from a Ms Horne in Barbados. Since I returned home I have been recommending it to everyone. Here is the name and web address. You can also get it in Barbados from booksourceonline through Ms. Horne.
    Here goes: The Golden Fleece Found by Basil Hill

    Here is something I have been thinking about since reading your post. Remember Madonna went out with that charismatic basketball player for a while? We do not know how deep thaat relationship was. Maybe she wanted to marry him? Maybe she wanted to have his child? How do we know that adopting this child is not to fulfill a deep void when she and the blond-haired black guy broke up?



  11. Forgive me: I meant I was on a flight to Barbados.


  12. there is no explination for what madonna did but love.she has an abundance of love and is willing to share that a crime?i was taught that love is betweeen two people and no one else.leave the goddess alone.let her show mere mortals how it is done.leave our goddesss alone a fill their voids in your lives by imitating devine madonna. i am an african and am proud by what she is doing, let other african celebrities and jetsetteres follow suit.they shoud put up or shut up.u go girl,thumbs up!!!your devine highness.!!!!


  13. babagie

    i think this is a disgusting picture .


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