As much as it pains me to admit, this post is partially about Kim Kardashian. Yesterday, I came across an article on USA Today about a recent event at Thai orphanage involving the ever-controversial Hollywoodite. Kim was visiting the orphanage as part of a taping for her show (no doubt to portray herself as philanthropic) and became infatuated with a 13 year old living there. The infatuation was so strong that Kardashian apparently asked the teenage girl if she would like to come live with her. The proposal was promptly turned down. As the USA Today columnist wrote (very effectively I might ad), the scenario was akin to a billionaire (who can’t speak English) dropping by a U.S. group home, selecting his favorite teen and offering to become the child’s dad.
While it may be easy to pick on Kardashian in this set of circumstances, I would argue that her attitude is really not all that different from that of many wealthy Americans having cross cultural experiences in the third world. Let me explain.
This situation was as insulting as it was ignorant. Kim Kardashian exhibit a very common attitude towards third world poverty; the solution to poverty is Americanism, i.e. instantly replacing poverty & poor living conditions with wealth. It’s essentially going from one extreme to another. Kim, as well as many other westerners (often looking to adopt or sponsor children), genuinely believes that poverty is fought by removing children from bad situations.
Here’s the problem with that. While you may change the life of one, you’re not doing anything to address the causes of poverty. Things like hunger, lack of economic opportunity, and disease keep people in impoverished nations struggling to survive. While the life of one changes, as long as poverty prevails, there’s always another child in need. The cycle is allowed to continue. So I have to question the motives of these people. Do they really want to end poverty? Or do they simply want to vicariously have some sense of fulfillment by turning a child’s living situation completely upside down? While there are some who have pure motives, many are selfish and out-of-touch. Kardashian, saw a child in poverty, and automatically defaulted to: “you need to be adopted.” It was incredibly empty-headed, but worse, it failed to take into account what that child actually needed (which we can see was clearly not adoption).
The effort to combat poverty becomes futile when we stop asking what is needed and start asserting our pre-conceived solutions instead. When we make that jump, it stops being about helping the poor and becomes all about serving ourselves. Why? Because there will always be a conflict between what we as outsiders think should be done and what the people who are living it or have lived it believe. Americans don’t own the poor, and I’d like to see people like Kim Kardashian start acknowledging that.