Following Madonna, The White Gays Take Malawi

I think Madonna has now made Malawi the place to be. She adopted (or at least is trying to) a child from Malawi, and since the white gays follow her every move, they’re making their way, too!

I just saw this on The Advocate. Gay screenwriter John August and straight actor Ryan Reynolds took a trip to Malawi to help build an orphanage for the many children who have lost their parents, largely due to the HIV/AIDS epidemic. There are lots of photos from this trip that you’ll have to click on the link to see—I won’t post them for fear of being sued. Here’s how August sums up his trip:

It’s tempting to try to equate what’s happening in Africa with the American experience, but it’s a mistake. Our poor people don’t forage for roots in a famine. The African AIDS crisis is of a completely different scale and time line. After a church service, the orphans—my orphans—got pamphlets in Chichewa with a red AIDS ribbon on the front. I was excited until I realized there were only Bible verses printed inside. Cultures move at their own speed, and my frustration can’t change that.

If there’s a commonality I saw, it was the way the orphans of Malawi have banded together. Lacking parents and traditional families, they take care of each other. That’s long been part of the queer experience. For generations, gays and lesbians were virtual orphans, disowned by their families. That’s changing, quickly. My hope for Malawi, for Africa, is that this upcoming generation can be the last of its kind. If this generation of orphans begets another generation of orphans, we’ll have all failed.

Ugh. This is so goddam annoying (my orphans? Do they really belong to you?). I am sick to death of celebrities who don’t know anything, but get press and accolades for pretending to (cultures “move at their own speed?” Was that a nice way of saying “backwards?).

First of all, it is simply not true that people in the United States don’t forage for food. Been to a major city lately? In NYC, one can see homeless people by the hundreds on a daily basis picking thru the trash cans for food, or for aluminum and plastic bottles to recycle for cash. It may not be foraging for roots, but it’s equally as outrageous. And the African AIDS epidemic is really not of a different scale and timeline when you compare it to African Americans, quite frankly (see your local epidemiologist).

On the one hand August is saying that we can’t compare poverty or AIDS in Africa with the US. So making a comparison about poverty and AIDS (read: N*gg***, stop complaining!) is impossible, but making a link between being gay and being an orphan in Africa is somehow on equal footing? Chile, please! What happened to Oscar Wilde was fucked up, but at the end of the day, he was a white man (an aristocrat!) from the society that colonized Malawi, and helped create or profited from the condition that you went there to help “solve.” Do those things add up to you?

I have not been to Africa yet—before the nay-sayers come for me—for one reason. I cannot afford to. But when I go, I don’t want to provide “aid.” Plain and simple. I think there are Africans doing hot shit and I wanna know what they’re doing, how they’re doing it, and what Black folks can globally create to do for each other.

I wanna know about the LGBT Ugandans who are organizing to decriminalize “homosexuality.” I wanna know about the women in Kenya who formed their own community, free of men! …And a bunch of other shit I don’t know.

Enough of white do-gooders. I want to support African innovation for a healthy and sustainable continent. What are Africans doing to that end? They’re there. And they are here and in Europe and in Latin America. I don’t want Africans to merely serve as the vehicle to prop up notions of white charity—in the face of so much destruction. To that end, The Christian Science Monitor has a story about the whether celebrity photo ops and volunteering does Africa any good.

2 thoughts on “Following Madonna, The White Gays Take Malawi

  1. >> I have not been to Africa yet—before the nay-sayers come for me—for one reason. I cannot afford to.

    You can. If you want to visit FOMO (where I went), I’ll pay for your ticket.

    Just promise me that when you write about it, you won’t be as lazy as you were with this post. The Advocate piece was in direct response to their question, “What would you tell our readership (gays and lesbians) about your experience in Malawi?”

    In pieces I’ve written for my own site and others, I’ve stressed that what’s working in Mulange is self-directed. It’s not “white charity.”

    The quickest Google search would have shown this. Hell, even clicking through the links in the Advocate piece would have shown it: I have all our photos from the trip up at Flickr, with extensive captions.

    If you want to question peoples’ motivations, fine. Be smug. If you want everything to be disguised racism, fine. Be angry.

    If you want to see it with your own eyes, the plane ticket offer is genuine.

  2. I have been to Africa. I was sent by an advocacy group connecting AIDS treatment access in Black communities to a regional movement of activists in sub-Saharan Africa doing similar work. I bet if you think for a moment, you probably met some people in Malawi doing something similar. But it’s interesting that you thought the people in the Advocate needed to know that people were digging for roots. Not organizing against the legacy of colonialism.

    In fact, the connections between Africa and Black Americans in the U.S. are many. Yet, because you decided to personalize Kenyon’s critique, you didn’t take time to even address his point. What you said was wrong, as in incorrect, and by making the comparison to white gays, you moved from irresponsible mistake to actual offense. More notably, had a white person said it, you’d just have done a fact check and kept it moving…

    It’s nearly impossible for Black writers to hold white celebrities accountable for their visions of Africa. Why? Instead of taking seriously the idea that you ARE accountable for the narrative of Africa you popularize, you take it as a personal insult that your pure intentions (which you made clear you’ve thoroughly documented) deserve questioning.

    But at any rate, Kenyon, I think you should take the ticket. I’d love to hear what reality you found in Malawi…

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