AIDS in the African American community has seemingly lost its luster. Despite the concentration and growth of AIDS among African Americans, improvements have been limp. Discussions have seemingly become more sparse, as many circles have conceded HIV/AIDS to be a “Black person’s disease.”
The Congressional Black Caucus will meet on September 15-18 to elucidate on a national AIDS strategy. Community leaders recognize AIDS as a persistent ill and they do a decent job of keeping the topic on their tongues in public forums. Black publications don’t let it stray too far from their pages and websites either.
Special reports are being conducted on it. Public policy scholars from many universities continue to bilk grants from the government to study it. But yet, the effects are still pervasive. Blacks account for over 50 percent of new cases of HIV/AIDS infections. And this was nine years ago.
Many within liberal and African American circles believe that the government planted AIDS among “certain” people. According to a 2005 Washington Post article, almost half of 500 Black people surveyed believe AIDS is a man-made disease. Even more believe a cure is available, but withheld from the poor. Does embracing this conspiracy encourage nihilism and prevent wholesale improvement? If the cause and spread of this disease is beyond our control, then why take preventative approaches? Why take the extra effort to use prophylactics and sterile needles?
The success of Magic Johnson has led many to believe that AIDS can be usurped with hard work and the right “treatment.” This doesn’t help in the government skepticism department, and it certainly doesn’t help thwart the prevalence of AIDS. Johnson has done a lot to dispel the myth that he is cured. He even warns against infected people thinking that HIV/AIDS is easily beatable.
“You can’t take that attitude that you’re going to be like Magic,” says Johnson. “Since I announced 15 years ago, hundreds of thousands of people have died of HIV/AIDS. There will be more people dying. The virus acts different in all of us. There’s no certainty that if you get the virus, you’re going to be OK.”
Arthur Ashe wasn’t as lucky. Neither was Eazy-E. Neither are countless others whose tales won’t even register on the radar blip of, say, Timothy from the Bronx Academy of Fine Arts.
Robert R., an African American male from Missouri, was the first confirmed case of HIV/AIDS in the U.S. He died in 1969, when he was 16 years old. Doctors estimate almost 20 years passed since the first AIDS symptom and its confirmation, in 1984. His sexuality was questioned, but never proven. From the onset, it appears this disease has been linked to closet behavior.
HIV/AIDS is by no means a Black person’s disease. Millions of people—of many ethnicities—all over the world die from it. While I could never deny its potency in the Black community, a part of me wonders why the microscope is so honed in on “AIDS in the Black community.” It alludes to the dominant thought that Black people are concentrated in urban jungles, at the whim and study of “outside managers.” But current demographic changes throughout the nation indicate otherwise, as more Black residents are moving to the outskirts of cities and more White residents are moving back in. It has yet to be seen if widespread population change increase access to better health care and wisdom.
One thing is for certain though: A consciousness has to be raised in certain sub-cultures of the Black culture in general, but especially in regards to preventing avoidable-but-happening-too-often illnesses.
The only way for substantive improvement in anything is to concretize the abstract. Instead of connecting this disease with esoteric behavior and roots, connect it with common behavior and roots. After all, what’s more common in this society than sex and drug use? Anybody could catch the bug, and until this mentality is shared—and the cavalier attitude is shed—universities will always have a scholarly muse. Much worse, however, is that AIDS will continue to be a “Black person’s disease.”
Whether we resent the term or not.