Op-Eds Address HIV Infection in the African-American Community
In the wake of the CDC's report that HIV infections are on the rise among young gay black men and the "Meeting of the Millenium" on HIV/AIDS organized two weeks ago by the National Black Leadership Commission on AIDS, columnists across the country have spoken out on the root of the AIDS epidemic in the African-American community. Summaries of some opinion pieces follow:
- Chicago Tribune: "[T]he state of denial is the primary reason the [AIDS] epidemic has wreaked havoc within the black community," Salim Muwakkil, a senior editor for the magazine In These Times, writes in the Chicago Tribune. "While black leaders should stress the need to eliminate racial disparities in the funding of treatment and prevention programs, they must be equally vigorous in attacking the denial that fertilizes the growth of the deadly virus," he continues. The reasons for that denial include a variety of "complex elements," but "perhaps the core of the denial is the African-American community's conception of masculinity" and the "history of cultural stereotypes [that] have placed a particular emphasis on notions of masculinity for black men," he states. "Because of that, many African Americans consider the words homosexuality and 'blackness' mutually exclusive," he continues. "The African-American concept of macho masculinity was born of the need to project black men as protectors and defenders. Instead, it is serving as bridge for a virus of destruction. That is a tragic irony born in the state of denial," he concludes (Muwakkil, Chicago Tribune, 6/18).
- Atlanta Journal-Constitution: "If a group of African-American politicians, activists and celebrities who met recently in Atlanta are serious about fighting AIDS, they will have to do more than give speeches and solicit funds from Washington. They will have to declare war on the prejudice, fear and ignorance that allow the disease to spread," columnist Cynthia Tucker writes in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Although increased funding is needed, HIV/AIDS in the black community "cannot be fought with the traditional methods alone," she continues. A "virulent homophobia emanating from black pulpits and a widespread embarrassment about black homosexuality have stymied outreach," she states, adding that there is "little that President Bush or the NIH can do about that." Homophobia must be fought by black church leaders, athletes and celebrities, she continues. A few, such as Coretta Scott King and Jesse Jackson, have spoken out, but "those efforts are too quiet, too small. This movement must grow. The lives of black men and women depend on it," she concludes (Tucker, Atlanta Journal-Constitution, 6/17).
- New York Daily News: "AIDS is spreading at an alarming rate among young gay black men because of an old-fashioned symptom: ignorance," columnist Mike Barnicle writes in the New York Daily News. "It is sadly obvious from the CDC numbers as well as from simple eyesight that AIDS poses a more lethal danger to black neighborhoods than alleged police brutality," he says. However, "[t]oo many among the black clergy can't stop screaming about ... [police brutality] but say nothing about the silent menace devastating their people," he states. Gay men in their 20s are "too young to be scared ... by the realities of the recent past," Barnicle adds. "Mix political correctness into this recipe, and the result is a looming disaster," he continues. Many "well-intentioned activists," who are "hung up on color at the expense of truth," will not urge young gay black men to "behave more responsibly and less promiscuously." Barnicle concludes, "Acting responsibly and morally, avoiding dirty needles, not jumping in the rack with IV-drug users or constantly having unprotected anal sex with strangers will go a long way to prevent the spread of [HIV]," but "anyone who discusses" this "obvious" observation "might be labeled a homophobe or worse, a racist" (Barnicle, New York Daily News, 6/10).
- Washington Times: "Too afraid and ashamed to deal with their own homosexuality, many young black men live a double life, compartmentalizing their homosexual behavior," Armstrong Williams states in his nationally syndicated column, published in the Washington Times. "The implications are disastrous not just for the [HIV] infected, but for the throngs of orphans this scourge threatens to leave in its wake. It is here -- with the surviving children -- that the disease may have its greatest impact," he continues, saying that many urban children stand to lose "at least one parent" to AIDS. "Couple this trauma with the absence of an emotionally secure environment and a decent education, and one begins to see how this disease threatens to bind and suffocate even the survivors," he states. "With the rising rate of HIV infection, an entire generation of urban dwellers will be forced to confront these issues at an earlier age. It will be difficult for this generation of orphans to be introspective about their health, when they are struggling to feed themselves. And so the cycle threatens to continue, endlessly and senselessly," he concludes (Williams, Washington Times, 6/9).