Madonna in Malawi with her daughter, Lourdes, and adopted son, David, in 2007.
Madonna in Malawi with her daughter, Lourdes, and adopted son, David, in 2007.

Hell hath no fake fury like a blogosphere confronted with Madonna trying to adopt an orphan from the Motherland. It’s as if the Material Mama were some winged she-devil sweeping down on Malawi, armed with moneybags and hell-bent on stealing cute, little black babies. The horror!


And so it is with glee that bloggers are reacting to the news that a Malawian judge denied Madonna’s request to adopt Chifundo “Mercy” James, a preschool-aged girl whose mother died in childbirth. (Madonna is appealing the verdict.) “LET’S GET THIS PARTY STARTED,” blared the “breaking news” headline on TMZ, “Madonna Denied—Buy Your Babies Elsewhere!!” Then there was this little missive from Nique on Bossip, “Good. This heffa needs to worry about getting her life together. Tired of these white folks using these african (sic) kids like accessories!”

Even Saturday Night Live got into the act, depicting Madonna as a frozen-faced, baby-snatching zombie: “I love babies. But I especially love getting babies in crazy places … and Malawi is pretty much the most exotic place to get a baby, a fancy, spicy exotic brown baby. … I’m saving the world, one tiny exotic baby at a time.”


No doubt about it, Madonna’s out-sized, on-display life—from the Kabbalah and yoga to the messy divorce to the baby-faced boy toys—makes her a lightning rod for both our fantasies and hostilities. She is; therefore, we mock.

But can we cut a rock star a little slack? There’s perhaps nothing more personal than the decision to start or expand, a family—however you choose to do it. Adoption is a long, complicated, exhausting process. You don’t do it unless you’re extremely motivated. And there’s something unsettling about the charges that any white celebrity adopting from Africa is just doing it to be hip, as if black babies are somehow lacking in the lovability quotient. Heaven forbid that someone would want to adopt an African baby because they love him or her and want to provide a child with a loving home.

The intense scrutiny around Madonna’s adoption woes is but the latest example of the paparazzi and blogosphere gone wild. When Natasha Richardson was dying in a Manhattan hospital, paparazzi stalked her glamorous grieving family’s every move. It’s a wonder Liam Neeson didn’t haul off and hit someone when he found all those photogs camped outside his apartment, just minutes after he’d found out that his wife of 15 years had died. Bossip posted an “exclusive” about the Rihanna/Chris Brown saga, declaring that allegations of STDs triggered the beating.

And pity poor Zac Efron. The day after a gossip site posted a close-up of his earwax fans pelted the High School Musical star with Q-tips. Then there was the picture that zoomed in on Sean “Diddy” Combs’ fuzz-free legs, accompanied by a tsk-tsk headline: “P. Diddy Got No Hair Down There…

Rome—in this case, the world economy—is burning, and we’re fiddling with our computer mouses, pointing, clicking and clucking over things that are frankly, none of our damn business.

Granted, Angelina Jolie didn’t help Madonna on the white-celebrity-adopts-African-baby circuit when she recently enthused about celebrating Kwanzaa with her Ethiopian-born child. (Surely she’s got to know that Ethiopia’s got its own, ancient civilization that has absolutely, positively nothing to do with the holiday that Ron Karenga invented back in ’66?) But we can’t know her or Madonna’s motivations in creating their own little rainbow tribes a la Josephine Baker. Nor should we. Some things we’re just not supposed to know, notwithstanding the never-ending gaze of the paparazzo’s lens or TMZ’s relentlessly breathless updates.

Even Madonna isn’t impervious to the drama that life throws at you—witness the pictures of her returning from Malawi over the weekend, looking drawn and distraught. And she’s had a lot of drama to contend with, from the judge’s ruling to Mercy’s “father” coming forward to claim the girl is his. It’s time to butt out and back off.

Maybe she’ll catch a break this week; Chris Brown just pled "not guilty" to abusing Rihanna.

Teresa Wiltz is The Root’s senior culture writer.

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