February 7th , every year is recognized as National Black HIV & AIDS Awareness Day, founded in 1999 to bring HIV awareness in African American communities. But how can we spread awareness about HIV if it’s a mute subject in our communities? We don’t want to have informative talks about HIV, yet we spread misconceptions which stigmatizes, discriminates and places moral judgements on a person’s worthiness because they are living with HIV. This is serious damage that we are doing in our communities and it continues to create a fear of HIV that prevents people from getting tested and accessing treatment.
HIV & AIDS will not magically disappear, no matter how long we keep our heads in the sand. There are an estimated 1.2 million people in the United States living with HIV, with 498,400 being African Americans. Although, HIV rates have decreased for Black women, they still have higher rates than White and Latina women. The hardest impact of HIV is on the MSM (men who have sex with men) population. Also, HIV has a devastating effect on our youth between the ages of 13-24 ,who are 55% of new HIV diagnosis, in that age group. Our youth are our future and we still are not discussing it!
Denial prevents people from looking at the bigger picture. Some people think it doesn’t concern them, that it’s a problem of those “other people”; Black women and men living with HIV, straight, gay or transgendered people, sex workers, IV drug users or any other group that’s affected by HIV. But the bigger picture is, it’s a community problem. It doesn’t matter if you are not personally affected, whatever affects your community should concern you.
There are a lot of issues in the Black community, that as a whole we haven’t come to terms with or have not been healed from. Our communities are hurting from racism and oppression, and adding insult to injury are the things that are swept under the rug. Because of shame we are taught not to discuss rape, incest, homosexuality, drug and alcohol addiction, mental illness, incarceration, domestic abuse, among others, especially if it existed within your household. “What happens in this house stays in this house.” We are socialized to be shameful, to be quiet and keep our mouths closed. And…then along comes HIV. We haven’t even deal with our other “stuff” and here’s something else to be shameful and quiet about. We are ashamed about the conditions in our communities because we were made to think by the establishment that we are at fault for all of our problems. We did something wrong, it must have been our lifestyle. “Why don’t you pull yourself up by your bootstraps.” Ok, but many of us don’t even have the boots!
There are circumstances that make our communities vulnerable because our basic human rights have been denied for so long. The problem lies in a broken system that has never been in our best interest. When your human rights have been denied you become defenseless, powerless and a perfect target for the ills of society because the resources, information and skills people need to empower and protect themselves are withheld. And when you look at poverty, homelessness, mass incarceration, inadequate education, lack of health care, unemployment, addictions, violence and trauma, these are some of the root causes that fuel the HIV & AIDS epidemic.
The Universal Declaration of Human Rights was adopted by the United Nations in 1948 but was never ratified by the United States, in fact, this country is among some other countries who do not recognize universal health care as a basic human right.http://www.un.org/en/universal-declaration-human-rights/
As long as our human rights are continuously oppressed, there will always be problems that can be detrimental in marginalized and disenfranchised communities.
We must come together in the Black community and look at our problems in its totality and not fractionalize and think that one issue has nothing to do with the other. We are a broken community that must become whole again. After all, we are all in the same rowboat trying to row without the oars. Can we come to terms that the culprits in our communities are oppression, racism and lack of human rights and not each other? Can we have some empathy and stop stigmatizing and looking at people only in terms of a medical condition or their sexuality? We are not the problem, we have problems! For when we stop looking at the individual as the issue then we can truly be our brother’s and sister’s keeper and work on our problems together.
So, what can you do for National Black HIV & AIDS Awareness Day?
Educate yourself, bring up the conversation and share what you’ve learned with someone else, especially our youth. Use the hashtag #NBHAAD and of course get tested.
“We must live together as brothers or perish as fools.”- Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
A special thanks to Zee Strong for creating this awesome photo frame.