Celebrity Colonialism: the Other Side of the Coin

By Svetlana Fenichel

One of the aspects of colonial practices employed by celebrities that is largely left unmentioned is their effect on the children  that are being adopted. Glossy Hollywood parents see a startling contrast between the posh lifestyles they are accustomed to and the exposed poverty of a developing country they intend to save. This explains the intention of Jolie and the like to rescue an unfortunate child from the impending hunger, poverty, and possible death.

Unfortunately, the possibility of potential trauma that an adopted child is likely to experience is generally undervalued.  Adam Elkus in his article questions the assumption that adopted children might have better lives in the West. He asserts that “growing up in an alien culture separated from one’s own ethnic traditions is a recipe for psychological problems.” Elkus points that celebrity adoptions resonate colonial practice of kidnapping aboriginal children, which was motivated by the same dual missionary assumption. It was believed that by transforming aboriginal children from native societal institutions to the civilized Western societies, the children were rescued from spiritual and literal poverty and concurrently were given a chance to be raised with “white Christian values” (Elkus).


Olivier Tchouaffe employs the concept of the “exceptional negro,” perpetuated by these highly selective adoptions. In comparison to the fortunate few who are arbitrarily selected to be given a chance in life, the remaining behind African youth is by default deprived of a chance for salvation. Tchouaffe declares that “these cultural antagonisms play out within the colonial imagery of the ‘white man’s burden’; or, in this case, the ‘white women’s burden’”. The selected “exceptional negroes” will never have to experience the atrocities and miseries of their former lives, while the remaining African children will have no escape from that.  Importantly, Tchouaffe also stresses that “these adoptions do not suggest that these humane extractions will galvanize a social movement that might result in a better life for those left behind.”




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