Monday, April 2, 2012

Who will Cry for Me? Silence, HIV/AIDS and Black Women


The Oscar awards brought the intersection of race and gender to the forefront. The recent shooting of Trayvon Martin brought the intersection of race and gender to the forefront. To be Black and male and to be Black and female means something in the U.S.—even in this so-call post-racial state. We’ve tweeted, we’ve faced-booked, we challenged The Help; we challenged the criminal justice system (or at least some of us) in the name of the injustices that occur as a result of the nexus of race and gender. The question I have is: Where are we in challenging this silent but growing epidemic among Black women? How many more Black women must become infected with HIV and die from AIDS before someone, other than a love one, publicly cries for them?

HIV/AIDS brings center stage the intersection of race and gender and class in a fascinating way. What this disease (which is as much social as it is medical) does is show how, indeed, Black women can be rendered invisible and the danger of such invisibility. Cathy Cohen, among others, charts how Black women are systematically excluded in our conversations on HIV and AIDS. While the "band has marched on" it seems that Black women are left with nothing more than Dust Tracks on [the] Road

ABC has proclaimed that the rates of HIV/AIDS among Black women is SHOCKING. No! 

The HIV rate among black women living in some U.S. cities is the same rate as that of some African countries, according to a new multicenter study presented Thursday at the 19th Conference of Retroviruses and Opportunistic Infections. The jarring findings acknowledge that HIV is not an infection that has been eradicated, but one that has been somewhat forgotten, researchers said.”

What have we learned about HIV/AIDS in the last 30 years—the spread of the disease maps itself onto already existing inequalities. In the past 30 years we have yet to confront, in a systematic way, the structural violence (which manifest and perpetuates the inequalities experienced by Black women) that is experienced by Black women. Instead, we’ve told these women to change their behaviors; thereby, absolving the larger society from its behaviors to address inequitable health care, education, and the blight of many urban communities. Instead, we’ve told them to shut their legs. Guess what, it is human to be sexual. Also, not everyone who is sexually active is promiscuous or the victim of a so-called “down-low brother” (a word that I wish we could ban from our lexicon). Do we really believe that these Black women are all engaging in risky behaviors?

Something to think about, how does our understanding of the spread of HIV/AIDS among Black women incorporate many of the negative images often mapped onto Black women’s bodies? Images such as promiscuous, angry and uncontrollable, and welfare queen, the same images that we tend to fight against. But somehow we’ve been rendered silent in how we confront these images and HIV/AIDS.

So as I sit here and ponder the reports that document the spread of HIV/AIDS among Black women, I wonder where are the hastags with #BlackwomenandAIDS for example? Where is the media? Where are my White “sisters” in the name of feminism? Left alone to bear this burden, Black women have to fill in the gap. We have to actively engage in actions that challenge HIV/AIDS at many levels—political, religious, educational, social and economic. We need to lobby our elected officials, we need to not sit quietly in the pews and say our prayers silently. Will you publicly cry for her?

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