Tag Archives: Oprah

Madonna, Africa, adoption, and the white man’s burden

by Carmen Van Kerckhove

Before I get started with this post, a few clarifications. First, I don’t think that Madonna is the evil, attention-hungry, Angelina-copycat that others are making her out to be. I’m sure she was guided by the best of intentions when it came to this adoption. But that doesn’t mean she doesn’t buy into essentialist notions about blacks, whether she realizes it or not.

Second, we have no way of knowing exactly what transpired during this process. Was she really led to believe that David’s father’s whereabouts were unknown? Is it true that his father never visited David at the orphanage? Was David’s father misled into believing this was not a permanent adoption? We’ll just never know, and it’s best not to make assumptions about any of the facts.

Third, I do not oppose international adoption and no, I wouldn’t prefer to leave the orphans to die. But are those ever really the only two options?

Okay, with that out of the way…

I was struck by how many times Madonna used the phrases “I will give him a life” or “he didn’t have a life” when referring to her adopted Malawian child, David, during her interview with Oprah on Wednesday.

And I think this gets at one of the main problems I have with the way international adoption is discussed in this country. There’s always this unspoken, underlying assumption that:

  • keeping the child in the home country = no life or a bad life
  • bringing the child to “the West” = a good life

The situation in Malawi is dire, yes. But discussions about international adoption always make it seem as if every single child who doesn’t get adopted by an American family — no matter what country the child is in — is going to die. Like, right now. But that’s just not always the case.

Also, we really need to question the assumption that the benefits of international adoption will always outweigh the negative repercussions. I encourage you to read this post of Ji In’s at Twice the Rice, in which she writes that “there is irreparable pain and there are primal wounds inherent in adoption that no privileged upbringing can erase.”

Can a better standard of living, healthcare, education and loving adoptive parents ever make up for what is lost when a child is removed from his or her country and culture? Shouldn’t every effort be made to try and keep families together? Shouldn’t adoption be a final resort? I don’t pretend to have the answers to those questions, but I’m disappointed that the questions are rarely, if ever, even asked.

If a country is experiencing such extreme poverty that it cannot adequately care for its children or orphans, is international adoption the best solution? Or the only solution? If, like Madonna was, you are so moved by a country’s troubles that you feel compelled to do something to help, are there other things you can do? Things that could actually help solve some of the underlying, fundamental problems that have led to this dire situation in the first place? Those questions are never asked either.

I was surprised that Madonna so willingly and unquestioningly accepted the orphanage’s claim that no family member — not even the father — had ever visited David since his arrival at 2 weeks old. Not only did she fully believe it, but she immediately assumed that it meant that “no one was looking after David’s welfare.”And during the entire interview, she didn’t once acknowledge the fact that David’s father might have kept custody of his son, had he had the resources. Her focus was on his apparent gratitude to her: “Thank you for giving my son a life.”

This lack of acknowledgement of a father’s loss reminded me of the old slavery-era essentialist notions about blacks that were created to justify oppression. Black people were characterized as subhuman and bestial. That meant that the notions of democracy and freedom this country was founded on didn’t really apply to them. Black men were said to not love their wives and children the way white men did, therefore it was perfectly okay to split up families and sell them off to different plantations.

Could a similar essentialist/white supremacist notion be at play here? Does Madonna believe that David’s father couldn’t possibly love David the way she can? That the affection and parental relationship she can offer is inherently superior to his? Continue reading

Oprah forgets to ask Madonna the tough questions

by guest contributor Nina

madonna oprahTo call this an interview would be an insult to the very word. Oprah did not challenge Madonna on any of the complex issues associated with the adoption of David Banda, and let so much go unexplained. And then Madonna further exploited her newly adopted child by flashing his picture on the screen to the “aws” of the audience. “We applaud you” Oprah said. Sure the child is adorable. What 13 month old isn’t? But how can Madonna and Oprah not see that this is all so much more than Madonna trying to save the life of a child.

There were so many inconsistencies in Madonna’s comments. She claims that there are no “known laws” in Malawi but then goes on to explain the law that requires oral and written permission from the living relative of a child you intend to adopt. She also said that she could not abide by the customary law of remaining in Malawi for 18 months before leaving the country with the child. Oprah did not ask her why? No one asked Madonna to abandon her family. She certainly could have taken Lourdes, Rocco and the rest of the gang to Malawi, and with her wealth, lived quite a luxurious life, while following the laws of the country. What would be the harm in that? One less awful Guy Ritchie movie? One less overblown Madonna tour and sorry album?

Madonna stated that” nothing happens fast in Africa” yet she managed to adopt a child at lightning speed compared to the lengthy process one must go through in the U.S. and other parts of the world. And she truly believes her wealth and celebrity had nothing to do with that. Is she so removed from reality that she thinks that she is treated like a regular person? Oh that’s right, by her own admission, she doesn’t read newspapers or watch TV. So maybe, in her mind, she is just the girl next door…who goes on Oprah to “set the record straight.” Wish we all had that opportunity.

The most insulting thing to me though was when Madonna compared her child’s biological father to a woman on the verge of a nervous breakdown and then later called him a “simple man who comes from a village, who has nothing.” This is the respect and gratitude you show a man who has given you his child?

Madonna has long been a master manipulator of the media. And now she looks all wide-eyed and shocked as the media (and lets face it, a portion of the general public) turns on her. Her fake accent and constant glances downward at what may or may not have been a teleprompter made the interview seem even more like a performance. A performance that fell flat for this viewer.

Did anyone watch Madonna on Oprah?

by Carmen Van Kerckhove

Did any of you see yesterday’s episode of Oprah, where she interviewed Madonna about the recent adoption controversy? I only had time to watch half of it on the old Tivo, but I plan on posting my thoughts tomorrow after finishing the show tonight. In the meantime, here’s a very critical take on it from The New York Post.

If you saw it, what did you think?

Oprah: hip hop is hate speech set to a beat

by Carmen Van Kerckhove

Oprah delivered a speech at Bennett College’s fundraising event on Friday. She talked about the stuff you’d expect from her (personal development, spirituality, etc.) but interestingly enough, according to this DiversityInc article, she also spent about a third of the time discussing hip hop. And it wasn’t a positive take, to say the least:

Oprah also spent roughly one-third of her time discussing hip-hop music and her opinion of the debilitating effect of misogynistic and racist lyrics. She riveted the audience with historical anecdotes of slavery, Jim Crow and the civil-rights era and pointed out that the last word a lynched person heard was the N-word. She pointedly criticized blacks for taking hate speech, “setting it to a beat and dancing to it.”

She described her mainly unsatisfactory talks with hip-hop artists and her understanding that as a 52-year-old woman, she could be seen as “out of touch.” But she wasn’t out of touch when she told the audience that their generation “didn’t know who they were.”

Ouch. I agree that there are a lot of problematic aspects of hip hop, but I also think it gets an unfair share of criticism. You can find the exact same problems of misogyny, materialism, and general buffoonery in good old-fashioned rock ‘n roll too. And these criticisms of hip hop always overlook the fact that what you hear on Top 40 radio does not represent all of hip hop.

Rappers have been name-checking various black thought leaders for years now (everyone from Marcus Garvey to Huey Newton, from Maya Angelou to W.E.B. DuBois, just to name a few). I wouldn’t be surprised if many folks were first introduced to these figures through their favorite rapper and were encouraged to read their books because of hip hop. It’s pretty narrow-minded to assume that hip hop can only have a negative effect on its listeners.

I also have to say that as a member of the “hip hop generation” (defined by Bakari Kitwana as folks born between 1965 and 1984), I’m very put off by her claim that someone like me doesn’t know who I am.

Every movement is going to experience tensions between older and newer generations – that’s natural. But I definitely think that sweeping generalizations like this, that pretty much insult an entire generation, don’t do much good in bridging the oft-cited gap between the civil rights generation and the hip hop generation. People of our generation are probably much more conscious than she thinks.