A motherless child ...

Let's just dive right into the Madonna Malawian adoption scandal, shall we?

Published October 18, 2006 12:02PM (EDT)

Madonna visited Malawi on a humanitarian trip.

All right. Go on with your bad material self, Madonna!

She specifically visited orphanages to draw attention to the 1 million orphans living in poverty there. At some point she selected one poor, sort of orphaned young African boy. (The child's mother is dead, but his father is alive and apparently lacks the funds to raise his son.)

OK. Well, that's awfully quick. My knee is itching to jerk, but I don't want to rush to judgment. What does Madonna have to say about all this?

"After learning that there were over one million orphans in Malawi, it was my wish to open up our home and help one child escape an extreme life of hardship, poverty and in many cases death, as well as expand our family," she said in a statement Tuesday.


How very touching and soothing for her troubled material soul.

However, there are still over 1 million orphans in Malawi. Madonna's pledge of $3 million to a Malawian charity is one thing. Sweeping in to "rescue" one African child from a life of hardship, poverty and potential death because she was confronted with that hardship, poverty and potential death and it disturbed her oh-so-material self is quite another thing altogether.

Don't get me wrong; I can understand being moved and getting emotional in the face of overwhelming need and poverty. But this adoption is starting to look like the wealthy celebrity version of sending $20 after watching one of those television commercials detailing the plight of "Maria" and her life of abject poverty and want in Honduras.

In comes the cavalry to set things right, rescue those poor African children living in squalor and draw attention to the need for more people of wealth to do the same!

As a woman of color, I'm hearing the same tired-ass song of good intentions run amok and the power of money being wielded without caution or care that echoes through my history.

Well-intentioned white people "rescuing" children of color from the "misfortune" of their birth is not new. Removing those children from their homes and culture "for their own good" is also not new. From slavery to Native American orphanages to modern-day busing, children have been shuttled about "for their own good," and traditional culture has taken a back seat to ethnocentric public policy throughout history.

I read about this adoption and thought of the missed opportunities here. What if Madonna had held a press conference with David's father and explained their story and how it was the story of thousands of Malawian children? What if Madonna had then called attention to that charity she donated millions to and the work it does to change the lives of women and children in Malawi?

What if her visit had been utilized as a moment to educate and empower women in their communities rather than reinforce the notion that there is no hope left for those communities except that of an international adoption by a super-rich pop star and a one-way ticket to London?

Maybe we'd be discussing ways to address the plight of Malawian women and orphans instead of the drama resulting from another wealthy celebrity soothing her privileged conscience via third-world adoption.

By Pamela Merritt

Pamela Merritt is the Co-Founder of Reproaction, a leading abortion rights and reproductive justice organization. Pamela is an activist and writer committed to empowering individuals and communities through reproductive justice. A proud Midwesterner, Merritt is dedicated to protecting and expanding access to the full spectrum of reproductive healthcare.

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