Recently I had the pleasure of viewing the PBS documentary entitled Endgame: AIDS in Black America. The documentary is powerful and I thoroughly applaud all that were involved for it spoke to our community about our community. What was so poignant about this documentary is that there were topics that were discussed that for DECADES have been off limits for public consumption. I think with the continued rate of HIV infections in our community we can honestly say that Silence = Death. The documentary highlighted the major cracks our foundation.
Many African-Americans are uneducated about HIV and how it is transmitted as well as viewing it as a gay issue. This has caused many to walk blindly directly into the oncoming high speed traffic of HIV. There are several stories within the documentary that have stuck with me, however, the overarching message I walked away with is that we (each individual) learn acceptance if we ever want to see the infection rates decline.One of the stories that spoke to me on many levels was that of an older woman that had been divorced or 14 years before meeting a deacon in the church they both attended. After dating and falling in love they decided to marry. One day while doing some chores around the house she found a letter indicating that he was HIV positive. The irony of it all is that the letter was dated a year prior to them becoming husband and wife. I could consider them both casualties of our community’s inability to address this very serious issue. Her husband made the conscious choice to not inform his wife of his HIV status. While that is wrong and does not render sympathy from the masses, the underline issue is that he lives in a community and attends a church that does not discuss sex and sexual behavior, nor do they embrace him as a gay or bi-sexual individual. We have seen the personal flogging and bashing of men that are not considered “real men” within our community. Therefore self-acceptance is not an options and hiding who we really are is the only possibility. Churches have had members die from HIV/AIDS and still find it easier to remain silent. I was left wondering what it would have been like if the deacon was able to live an authentic life and not one of judgment and stigma for his sexuality and/or his HIV status. I tend to bet anything that he would not be married and possibly not HIV positive. On some level we all worry about what others think of us but living an authentic life is very freeing.
It was just reported that the infection rate amount young black men who have sex with men (YBMSM) has dramatically increased. Young BMSM, aged 13 – 29, are at even higher risk, experiencing a 48% increase in HIV incidence between 2006 and 2009. More specifically, most new HIV infections are occurring among YBMSM under the age of 30. YBMSM accounted for 63% of the HIV infections among MSM aged 13 – 24 in 2009 compared to only 18% for young White MSM and 16% among young Hispanic MSM.
It is very important to change our attitudes about those that are impacted with the virus as well as those that are HIV positive. Testing and education alone will not decrease the infection rates of those in the African-American community without a change in our attitude about those that are HIV positive.The power is within us as a community but we have to address our issues and take steps to correct them or we will continue to spiral out of control.