I had a plan for another blog for today, but something happened to change my mind.
This evening I was working on the membership rolls for Passionate Ink, an RWA online chapter, which is in the middle of its membership renewal drive. I had the television on, but wasn't really paying attention to it.
Primetime was doing a special on AIDS in America. Within minutes, I found myself getting up and moving to where I could watch it.
The statistics were almost unbelievable:
***African-Americans make up 13% of the American population, but account for 50% of the new HIV cases in this country
***The HIV infection rate is eight times higher in the black population than in the white population
***Black women are twenty-three times more likely than white women to be diagnosed with AIDS
***AIDS has been the leading cause of death for African-American women between the ages of 25 and 44 for the past eleven years
***Sixty-eight percent of all new AIDS cases in the U.S. are black women
If you don't believe me, go to www.abc.com and check. That's where I got these statistics. Coincidentally, this was the last story Peter Jennings worked on before announcing his lung cancer diagnosis. In an eerie interview during the program, Peter met with a group of HIV-infected black men about ten days before telling the world of his own illness. You can already see the ravages of the disease on him.
I was outraged by this documentary. I cannot believe that this issue could have been going on in this country without anyone talking about it. Frankly, I've been under the impression that we were on top of the HIV epidemic in this country. We keep hearing about AIDS now being a chronic disease as opposed to a death sentence. The press focuses its attention on the AIDS crisis in Africa. No one is talking about this issue's impact on American citizens.
Terry Moran finished the report that Peter had started. The ABC website sets it up this way: "'In America today, AIDS is virtually a black disease, by any measure,' says Phill Wilson, executive director of The Black AIDS Institute in Los Angeles. Wilson also points out that while many black American leaders and celebrities have embraced the cause of the epidemic's toll in Africa, few have devoted similar energy to the crisis here at home."
The documentary listed five reasons for this crisis in the black community:
1) Ignorance of the problem: I can buy that. No one even knows there IS a problem.
2) The War on Drugs: According to Moran, since 1980, the War on Drugs has quadrupled the prison population in America. The infection rate is five times higher inside prison than outside. Men who go into prison HIV negative come out HIV positive. Although the state and federal governments are aware that sexual activity is taking place in prison, they refuse to provide condoms to the prisoners.
3) Sexual practices in the black community: It turns out that there are 85 African American men of marriageable age for every 100 African American women. This imbalance leads to the fact that "Black men are more than twice as likely as white men to have multiple female partners at the same time," according to studies by the Universities of Chicago and North Carolina. The study in North Carolina concluded that black women in that state were fourteen times more likely to contract AIDS than white women. One of the results of the increased number of sexual partners is that blacks have a higher rate of STDs, which facilitates HIV transmission by making it easier for the disease to attack the host.
4) The stigma of homosexuality in the black community: Homosexuality is so frowned upon in the black community that blacks are much less likely than whites to come out of the closet. This leads to men being "on the down low" (DL). Bisexual black men or married homosexual black men do not share their sexual histories with their female partners. The result is that many black women contract HIV from a male partner who is also engaging in homosexual sex on the down low.
Women who are in committed--and they think--monogamous relationships are being infected by partners who are having--or once had--sex with other men. The first time many of these women learn of this is when they receive the diagnosis.
When AIDS first emerged as an issue in this country, it was a disease of gay men. However, the gay community was all over it. They mobilized and worked hard to get information out on safe sexual practices. The result was that they slowed down the rate of new cases of the disease--even though it devastated their ranks for many years. The black community has not rallied in the same way. The documentary postulates that this is largely because of the stigma associated with homosexuality.
"'I know of few communities as conservative as the African American community, especially about sex,' says Debra Fraser-Howze, CEO of the National Black Leadership Commission on AIDS in New York. 'And when it comes to homosexuality, it's a real problem. Nobody wants to talk about it.'"
5) A failure of leadership in this country: According to ABC, "Moran also reports on the role of the churches, traditionally the most powerful source of political and social activism in black America. Black churches have been silent on AIDS, says The Rev. Calvin Butts Jr., Rector of Abyssinian Baptist Church in Harlem. 'When you see the numbers going up, you know you have not done enough,' he says."
The Rev. Eugene Rivers of Boston says, "too many young people are dying because black leaders have failed their children."
A lack of support on the part of the federal government for needle exchange programs for drug users, which have proven effective in reducing HIV transmission, was also cited as an example of a failure of leadership.
Fixing this problem begins with making Americans aware that there even is a problem in our own country. If everyone who saw that program or reads this blog will just tell three other people about it and those people will tell three more, we can begin to lift the veil of secrecy that has been hiding this problem for far too long. We should all be offended by the lack of action on the part of our leadership to address this serious health issue.
I feel a particular kinship with my black sisters who are being infected, often without their knowledge. This is not right. It has to stop.
P.S. Sloane Taylor has asked whether she could cut and paste this message. Please feel free to do so. I offer permission to copy today's post and email it. Whatever. Just get the word out, please. We need to get enough people angry that our leadership will have no choice but to respond.