It takes a village, not a European, to raise a child

“White people, through systematic oppression, actively create, profit from and maintain a market that institutionalises children throughout Africa.”

From Jacqueline Tizora

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Ethiopia announced earlier this year that it has decided to ban foreign adoption on its soil. This is a brazen move, especially because the country was the second most popular country, after China, for adoptions. This decision was prompted by a high-profile case of abuse in 2011 where an adoptee died of hypothermia after being left in the cold by their adoptive parents in Seattle. Ethiopia, following this incident, proceeded to make the adoption process more stringent, which has now ultimately culminated in the total ban we see today.

The government’s motivation for this bold decision is that it believes Ethiopians taking care care of their own as a valid possibility. Furthermore, policy makers are only now wary of the permanent psychological effects any trauma faced abroad could have on the children. Ethiopia’s stance on adoption shares parallels with Rwanda’s model on orphanages. African countries’ shift towards deinstitutionalising childcare is a welcome process as it is severs the parasitic colonial as well as neocolonial relationship Europe has with Africa. The process, however, is an intricate one that this article will be illuminating a small fraction of.

In 2012, Rwanda decided to close all its orphanages. After the 1994 genocide, the number of orphanages skyrocketed from four to well over thirty as more than 95 000 children were orphaned by the genocide. Foreign aid organisations in response to the devastation of the genocide, opened institutions across the country, institutionalising Rwandan childcare. However, Rwandan president Paul Kagame noticed that those orphaned by the genocide had ‘outgrown’ orphanages, yet they still existed. This is when Kagame initiated a rehoming process. This decision was based on the Swahili saying, ‘asiye funzwa na mamae hufunzwa na ulimwengu’- a deinstitutionalised approach to childcare, which equates to the infamous proverb ‘it takes a village to raise a child’.

Rwanda’s rehoming process is now in full swing and the government aims to close all orphanages by 2020. Rwanda’s National Commission for Children’s director reported earlier this year that 3,323 children were in orphanages when the initiative took off in 2012, and now only 235 have yet to be rehomed with family, adopted or placed in foster families (unremunerated).

Then there are countries like Mauritania, Djibouti and South Sudan where in order to qualify to be a legal guardian of a minor, the applicant has to be a blood relative that is either Muslim and or lives in a Muslim environment. Prioritising the child’s religion here results in some preservation of the child’s culture. In addition, Mauritanian law prohibits non-family members from leaving Mauritania with adopted children. Similarly, in Djibouti, children with Djibouti citizenship are ineligible for adoption. Implying that transnational adoption from these two countries is not a possibility, even if one meets the first two criteria.

From the above examples, it is clear that many African countries are in fact deinstitutionalising childcare, a previously heavily institutionalised system and reverting to more culturally appropriate alternatives to child rearing. This, however, prompts one to question what in fact has changed along with the implementation of these new regulations and, ultimately, how this is affecting orphans in their respective countries. Coming from a family where the ‘village’ approach is adopted vastly, and also understanding that for most households, taking on an extra mouth to feed is no easy task. It also prompts one to enquire which changes need to be made that would effectively allow orphaned children to continue on to lead a normal life after losing one’s biological parents.

The first enquiry that comes to mind is the process of conception right to birth. We live in a patriarchal society that polices women’s bodies and also places value in women’s fertility. Rape culture is also ever pervasive; the fact that only in 1993 did the UN declare rape a war crime, demonstrates how deeply politicised women’s bodies are. Additionally, access to contraception in Africa, according to WHO in 2015, is only 33.4%. So almost 70% of the continent cannot implement effective family planning. The intersections of institutional restrictions that meet systematic poverty introduced by colonialism and maintained by neo-colonialism has rendered African women voiceless on issues regarding their own bodies!

In essence, policies that currently police and politicise women’s bodies and subjects them to systematic oppression and trauma has created irreparable damage and play a key role in the current vicious cycle of systematically creating orphans. Orphaned children, of course, come from somewhere. The responsibility or blame does not fall on the woman, but society has socialised us to internalise gender roles that further subjugate us. By politicising our bodies, even the unborn children our bodies can host preside over our bodies. The fact that approximately 93% of women of reproductive age in Africa live in countries with laws that in some way restrict abortion shed illuminate another way orphans are produced systematically. Additionally, even in countries where abortions may take place under special circumstances, very few women have access to a safe procedure and often seek out more clandestine methods that can be life-threatening.

The second enquiry regards the fact that the implicit and explicit bans disallowing women to have autonomy over their bodies have not been lifted. What then of the children that are born as as result? The inescapable reality of women being treated as chattel on one hand, and the rise of the white saviour industrial complex on the rise on the other, only means that there will always be orphans and therefore a market for foreign adoption and orphanages. An estimated 21.6 million unintended pregnancies occur each year in Africa, and of these, only 38% end in abortion. To white liberals all these statistics mean is that there is a market to exploit and therefore ceaseless giving back for them to do in Africa. This is a crass mentality and approach that does not even scratch the surface of the issue that they created. If only they could put two and two together, they would realise it equals white supremacist capitalist patriarchy- that they introduced to the continent and that has now politicised and othered the bodies of black women, giving birth to the issues we are faced with today.

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Personally, I’m of the opinion that uprooting children from their home country, with the exception of abuse, is not in the child’s best interest as the grass is not actually greener in Europe. Uganda’s first lady, Janet Museveni, in a keynote address made her case regarding transnational adoption. Her stance is that transnational adoption, specifically the Africa to Europe pipeline, can be likened to the slave trade. To a large extent, I agree with this statement. Also interesting to note the countries from which most adoptions hail from have the biggest legacies of atrocities inflicted on African people. So, it would appear that white people employ the saviour complex and adopt African children to ease their white guilt. Not only do they rid themselves of dissonance permanently, adopted children ultimately serve as a trophy of their colourblindness and apparent non-racism. A buy-one-get-one-free coupon white people redeem when they engage in transnational adoption (read institutional abduction).

Realistically, if we are going to look after our own children, there is going to have to be reform. Expecting the burden to fall on family members or communities whose consumption increases exponentially the minute they agree to become a child’s guardian. Without assistance from government, this only translates itself into deeper poverty. Though orphanages and adoption organisations came into existence to alleviate the aftermath of centuries of dispossession, research has shown that growing up in orphanages can have lasting negative impact on children.

Through extensive research, risk patterns and vulnerabilities have been identified, now all that is lacking is their amelioration and this can be done through policy. Interventions need to happen on multiple levels, this includes and is not restricted to: the orphans, fostering households as well as their communities. Not all vulnerable children share the same history or even face the same issues despite sharing the same label: being orphan. These considerations all require differentiated policy responses. These then differ further, according to geography for example. Different regions are exposed to different forms of vulnerability. The AIDS pandemic in Southern Africa, Swaziland being the most hard-hit, requires a response that includes better access to ARVs and promotions aimed at deconstructing the stigma around the illness- another barrier that stops people from seeking treatment even when ARVs are made available. As a result of inadequate intervention, AIDS has become responsible for the swelling numbers of orphans in the region. The logical questions that then follow are the financing of such interventions as well as their rolling out: both of crucial importance.

A needs analysis needs to be conducted for all concerned parties: the orphan, the fostering household and communities, mapping out the levels on which the interventions need to take place within. Lastly, we need to consider how the intervention should play out and which funding channels are feasible. For example, whether a uniform/needs equivalent grant system needs to be introduced. Just by highlighting the first steps that need to be taken, one soon realises that differentiated policy responses required are dependent on so many factors that are, above all, culturally sensitive and appropriate.

White people, through systematic oppression, actively create, profit from and maintain a market that institutionalises children throughout Africa. They currently plunder Africa by opening NGOs, orphanages and, a personal favourite, voyeuristic volunteer agencies that we actually fund with photos they take of us for free to be used for their poverty porn PR strategies. Europe remains benefactors in this market with these photos, by reproducing the colonial narrative that any European can save this godforsaken continent. This is both short sighted and pompous. There is, however, a way Europe can acknowledge and settle their long outstanding debt to Africa and also upend their current and futile methods: reparations.

This is not even a foreign concept to Europeans, after all they paid slave owners out after the abolition of slavery. Slaves, like those in the Haitian Revolution, even had to pay for the inconvenience abolition caused.

Whilst no amount of financial compensation can ameliorate the impact of the violence inflicted on Africa. The institutionalisation abduction of children through transnational is a clear indication that Africans are still being removed from their country’s hundreds of years after the abolition of slavery, a symptom of neo-colonialism that continues to illicitly extract resources and abduct children for the enjoyment of the west. To sever this umbilical cord a fresh start is needed, which in this case would mean total economic freedom to enable Africa to restore its idiosyncratic deinstitutionalised approach to childcare.


Jacqueline Tizora

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Zimbabwean born and South African bred Black radical
feminist with a keen interest in African feminist thought and affairs.


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Cultural Appropriation, Nuance, and ‘Day of the Dead’

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The primary reason that white people, especially white Americans, appropriate from marginalized traditions is because they’ve been stripped of their own. And if we want white Americans to stop doing that, the best remedy is to encourage them to respectfully and carefully learn about and reclaim their own ancestral traditions.

From Alley Valkyrie

I spend a lot of time reading right-wing critiques of leftist tendencies and behavior. I do this not so much because I’m a masochist, but for many practical reasons. Part of it is the old ‘keep your friends close and your enemies closer’ adage, especially in terms of what they’re discussing and thinking as it pertains to me and my kin. But more so, underneath the inevitable layers of distortion and exaggeration and hyperbole, there is almost always a kernel of truth in the critique. Very often that kernel of truth concerns a crucial point of error in the thinking or actions of those on the Left. And that error in thinking is so often related to points of nuance….or lack thereof.

The Left’s lack of attention to nuance only validates and strengthens the critiques of the Right.

Let me say that again for the kids in the back: it greatly strengthens their arguments, and as a result greatly strengthens their base. And in case you’ve been asleep for the past few years, their base is already quite strong, ever growing, and rather terrifying.

One of the best examples of this is the subject of cultural appropriation. Let me make the following clear at the onset: cultural appropriation is an actual problem, one incredibly damaging to marginalized peoples and cultures. That is not up for debate, nor would I ever try to debate it. And the general position of the right-wing (and sadly, far too many liberals as well) is that any and all complaints of cultural appropriation are nothing more than the overly-PC whining of “snowflakes”. Which is false. Absolutely false.

However, one of the things that has led the Right to such a conclusion is a very real, very specific, and very damaging behavioral tendency coming from the social justice-oriented Left. It comes more often than not from white people who aren’t actually part of the marginalized groups they are claiming to defend, acting from a sort of ‘purity politics’ as opposed to having an actual stake in the issue. These folks are quick to label pretty much anything as cultural appropriation, often without any historical understanding of what they are calling out and absolutely without any attention paid to detail or nuance.

I witnessed an epidemic of this behavior over the past month, in the form of online discussion going back and forth– almost solely by white people in the United States–regarding Day of the Dead and cultural appropriation. There was a dizzying number of personal posts, shared articles, and “community call-outs” warning all people of European descent to “stay in their lane” regarding “Day of the Dead,” lecturing them on how any attempts to celebrate such a holiday was an act of cultural appropriation that was harmful to Latin American people.

This is the perfect example of where the right-wing is actually quite accurate in their critiques. Such proclamations, especially without any real citations or historical backup, are nothing more than moral righteousness gone awry. They also double as erasure when it comes to the actual history of such celebrations.


When it comes to those of European descent, Americans in general are a people that lack ancestral or cultural ties. The loss of culture that comes with assimilation in the United States is not just a product of isolationism and exceptionalism, it’s also very much a product of our Protestant roots. Related to this is the fact that Catholicism was historically a minority religion in the United States that was often repressed, attacked, and subjected to widespread discrimination, especially prior to WWII.

Protestantism and Catholicism, while both acting in similarly hegemonic manners, with similar goals in terms of domination of thought, belief, and behavior, operate quite differently in their means towards that end. Catholicism has exerted and spread its power by adopting the crucial cultural elements of any given culture that it overtakes, rewriting and re-inscribing those elements into its own narrative. This accounts for why holidays like Christmas and Easter are chock full of pagan symbolism, for why the Romans built temples to Egyptian gods in Germany during the later years of the Roman Empire, and why practically any given ancient church or basilica in Europe was built right on top of a former Pagan sacred site. The Catholic strategy has predominantly been to annex indigenous traditions, and historically speaking it has been a very successful strategy.

Protestantism has often taken a different strategy, one most clearly seen in the birth, growth, and development of what we now call America. Instead of adopting the cultural elements of those they subjugated into their own narrative, Protestantism demanded an abandonment of those elements. It demanded that one forsake their own cultural traditions and assimilate into Protestant culture. This may not have been so painful for those Americans whose ancestors came from Protestant cultures, but for those whose ancestors came from Catholic cultures, it was a great loss. Countless celebrations, rituals, and folk traditions which are still practiced widely in Europe today are mostly lost to Americans whose ancestors came from those very countries and cultures where they are still practiced.

And of course, given how much Protestantism and Capitalism are and have always been close and convenient bedfellows in the United States, Capitalism has always been able to fill the void left by the abandonment of non-Protestant ancestral cultures. This is the primary reason why Halloween is not only considered by the rest of the world to be an American holiday, but within America it is arguably the most popular in terms of mass participation and cultural buy-in.

Despite a small but vocal group of fundamentalist Christians who argue otherwise, Halloween is the most part a secular holiday, one embraced by immigrants and American-born folks alike. It is for the most part focused on fun and consumerism, so much so that the majority of the population fails to recognize the way it acts as a substitute for what, in most cultures of Catholic origin, is a rather somber and reverent time of year, one in which remembrance and worship of the dead is the primary focus.


This takes me back to my point regarding the misguided claims of cultural appropriation. “Dìa de los Muertos” and the much larger concept of “Day of the Dead” are not the same thing. The former is specifically the form that the latter takes in Latin American countries. The latter is a tradition that both historically and currently is recognized across the Catholic world, both amongst colonized people as well as those who have historically been colonizers.

And yes, there are many problematic aspects when it comes to white Americans celebrating the former, especially the way it has been fetishized and commodified. Absolutely no argument there from me: as I said above, I would never argue that cultural appropriation is not a real issue that results in tangible harm. But extending that to referencing “Day of the Dead” as being something that white Americans should not touch is extremely misguided, especially because a significant amount of white Americans come from ancestral backgrounds in which Day of the Dead was and still is widely celebrated.

November 1 in France is what is known as “Toussaint”, or All Saints’ Day. Most businesses are closed. Most people have the day off. Church services on this day are as detailed as they are on Christmas or Easter. Florists work double-time all week to satisfy the number of orders of flowers that people take to the graveyard that day. Beyond the specific aesthetics and traditions that define Dìa de los Muertos, what’s going on in France here today looks rather similar to the former in terms of tradition and ritual.

Why, you ask? Because they have the same origin.

And the same can be seen over the course of the same week in Italy, in Spain, in Ireland, in Portugal, as well as other countries with strong ties to Catholicism. Because Day of the Dead as a whole is a Catholic tradition, one that was mostly lost to the descendants of Catholic immigrants to the United States due to the US being a country and culture conceived in Protestantism, a country which demanded assimilation into a Protestant aesthetic in exchange for the benefits of the ‘American Dream’.

Mind you, it’s important to recognize that the true origins of traditions such as Day of the Dead pre-date Catholicism and have pagan origins. That’s another reason why they are so insistently eschewed and suppressed by Protestants: because the Protestants recognize those origins full well and consider them (as well as so many other aspects of Catholicism) to be evil and “Satanic”.

And while in terms of pre-Christian traditions regarding the dead, “Samhain” is by far the most well-known (and therefore adopted into the majority of modern Pagan traditions), the traditions that currently take place in the aforementioned European countries not only are linked by Catholicism, they are similarly linked in regards to their pre-Christian origins.


When I read and hear this constant righteous lecturing on how and why white people have no business participating in Day of the Dead rituals, I also can’t help but to think back to the three weeks I spent in Mexico in 2010. I was there from mid-October to early November, over the course of the Dìa de los Muertos celebrations. And being a culturally-aware, social justice-oriented type who was always very careful to not engage in cultural appropriation and who wanted to “stay in my lane,” I decided at the onset to adopt the position of an observer throughout the various celebrations and rituals that were taking place.

But every single time that I stood back and chose to watch rather than participate, I was met with looks and gestures that ranged from confusion to hurt feelings. And every single time one of the locals encouraged me to step up and participate and would explain in detail what was occurring and why, as they were always under the impression that I was standing back due to lack of knowledge, as opposed to the fear and/or belief that to do so was inappropriate for a white person. Every single time, it was made very clear to me that not only was I welcome to engage in the ongoings, but that they actively wanted me to do so, that they considered it a matter of hospitality to make sure that I was actively engaged. Not only that, but a few people confided in me that in general, although they knew it was not my intention, it was considered rude not to participate.

And while I’m very aware that there’s a difference between being invited to participate in cultural rituals that are not your own and commodifying and fetishizing said rituals, whenever I see the most extreme versions of “white people cannot do this no matter what,” all I can think of were the reactions of my hosts when I chose to step back.

The bottom line is this: aside from the capitalist influence, which obviously is huge, the primary reason that white people, especially white Americans, appropriate from marginalized traditions is because they’ve been stripped of their own. And if we want white Americans to stop doing that, the best remedy is to encourage them to respectfully and carefully learn about and reclaim their own ancestral traditions. We can’t have it both ways. American identity is in part defined by a cultural hole, one which the shallow creations of capitalism simply cannot adequately fill. And so those who recognize that loss will try to fill it.

And they will likely try to fill it with what is easiest for them to access, which is why erasing the history behind celebrations like Day of the Dead and framing it as though it is solely a Latin American tradition that white people should not touch is a disservice to everyone affected. It does very little to stem the tide of cultural appropriation, it erases the history of Day of the Dead as it pertains to European ethnic groups, and the lack of nuance in such arguments only feeds and adds to the legitimacy of right-wing criticisms.

And so I repeat, once more: specificity and nuance are so fucking important when we criticize and/or judge and/or discuss issues such as cultural appropriation. If you’re going to call something or someone out, do your homework. Know your history. And for the love of the gods, stop sharing un-cited, prescriptive social justice articles that lecture people on what they should and should not do.


Alley Valkyrie

Alley Valkyrie is an writer, artist, and spirit worker currently living in Rennes, France. She is one of the co-founders of Gods&Radicals and has been interacting with a wide assortment of both gods and radicals for nearly twenty years now. When she’s not talking to rivers and cats or ranting about capitalism, she is usually engaged in a variety of other projects. She can also be supported on Patreon.


Gods&Radicals is currently raising funds for 2018. Can you help support essays like this? Thanks!