by: Frank McAlpin
In the United States every nine and half minutes someone is newly infected with HIV and of those new infections half are African American. A study released just last week found that Black men who have sex with men are twice as likely to become infected with HIV than their white counterparts. In fact, today if African Americans were a nation unto themselves they would have the 16th highest HIV rate in the world. And that nation would likely be eligible for PEPFAR funding.
I know that statistics can be easily glossed over, especially when used to describe the HIV/AIDS epidemic. But these statistics and more importantly the people and realities that these statistics represent cannot be glossed over. These statistics not only say something about the state of HIV and AIDS in the US but they are a reflection of the gross injustices pervasive in our society today. Injustices, most notably oppression and marginalization, that have fueled the epidemic from the beginning.
Since it first surfaced HIV and AIDS has always been and continues to be a disease that impacts people and communities that are greatly marginalized in our society. Whether it is men who have sex with men, injected drug users or sex workers. Or now, as highlighted by current statistics; Black Americans.
There is no question that oppression, mostly in the form of institutional racism, and the overall marginalization of Black Americans, has led to a disproportionate amount of HIV infections and AIDS diagnosis’s in the Black community. Realities such as poverty, access to health care and high incarceration rates, all of which are consequences of oppressive policies and systems, have contributed to the fast spread of HIV in the Black community. In addition, oppression within the Black community, most commonly in the form of homophobia, has greatly marginalized Black gay and bisexual men. Thus leading them to internalize negative feelings and engage in risky sexual behaviors.
It is worth noting that even the manner in which this topic, HIV and AIDS in Black America is spoken about can be oppressive and further marginalize members of the community. Some of the recent articles and commentary on HIV and AIDS in the Black community, especially, as it relate to Black men who sex with men has been seeped with fear and racial undertones.
As a trained HIV/AIDS counselor, I am strong advocate for culturally informed HIV and AIDS education, prevention initiatives and treatment. However, no matter how great HIV/AIDS prevention and treatment programs are it will not be enough to end HIV and AIDS. We must also work to eliminate the oppression and marginalization that has exacerbated the epidemic from the very beginning.
Purging our society of oppression begins with each of us individually. It is done by examining how oppression and injustice of the past impacts people and communities today. It is done by identifying forms of oppression such as: racism, sexism, homophobia and poverty. By demanding a culture where everyone, regardless of skin color, drug use or sexual behavior feels included and respected. And by challenging the oppressive policies and systems that often times are ingrained in the very fabric of our society.
The truth is behind every HIV/AIDS statistic there is a person. There is a story. And there is us. We, as a society have too often glossed over the people and the injustices the have contributed to this growing AIDS crisis. It is now time to recognize the people and communities behind the statistics. And it is time to a build a larger movement that challenges oppressive systems and promotes a response to HIV/AIDS that is grounded in reality and is socially just.
Frank McAlpin is an educator, social worker and human rights activist.