lundi, juillet 24, 2006

AIDS: A Colored Disease

Its pretty common knowledge that AIDS affects people of African descent disproportionately around the world. In fact, when I did a google image search for photos for this post, I put in the word "AIDS" and on the first page were a myriad of images associated with Africa and Blackness: pictures of the continent, underweight African children staring despondently at the camera, varying colors of Brown arms and hands encircling each other amidst slogans calling for AIDS activism. Even the photos in this post make an explicit statement about Blackness. The venomous spider and scorpion are symbols of the infected partner, notice that Blackness and the the noxious insects that are emblematic of disease are one and the same. So, in essence, AIDS has become colored. In today's New York Times an op-ed appeared about the absence of condoms in the American prison system. Basically, the rationale for this is that sex behind bars is banned. But that doesn't mean that its not happening. Perhaps its the intense conservatism of the current Bush administration coupled with the ever pervasive discomfort that society has with men having sex with men. But as the article states, "The states need to take this advice seriously. Diseases that fester in prison spill over into society as a whole when the infected inmates return to the streets". And indeed, it does spill over. In a tangential 2004 New York Times article, the focus becomes the link between individuals who have gone to prison and transmittal of HIV/AIDS among the African American population. The author Lynette Clemetson writes,

"Many inmates enter prison already infected. The prevalence of confirmed AIDS cases in prisons is three times as high as it is in the general population, according to the Bureau of Justice Statistics. H.I.V. cases are harder to count, because only 19 states conduct mandatory H.I.V. testing of inmates. But many researchers believe the number of prisoners with H.I.V. to be far higher than the 1.9 percent most recently documented by the justice agency. Correctional health experts say the rampant sexual activity among prisoners depicted in television shows like the HBO prison series ''Oz'' is exaggerated. But sex in prison certainly occurs. And because the distribution of condoms is banned in most correctional facilities -- North Carolina's state prison system included -- any sex between inmates carries a high level of risk.

Add the element of drug addiction, which often goes untreated in prisons and is frequently accompanied by risky sexual activity, said Robert E. Fullilove, associate dean at the Mailman School of Public Health at Columbia University, and the risk of H.I.V. transmission both inside and outside prison increases exponentially...

Newly released prisoners often plunge immediately into dangerous sexual behavior. ''Many inmates who have been locked up for a while want two things when they come out,'' said Dr. Wohl, who regularly sees current and former inmates in his clinical practice. ''One of them is a Big Mac. The other is sex. If you're going to get to them with condoms or health messages, you have to be quick.'' Thomas Clodfelter, 44, a former felon with H.I.V. who now counsels other ex-convicts in Greensboro, said that for some men, the first weekend after release is consumed with sex -- with prostitutes, old flings, fresh one-night stands or a combination thereof. Condoms, he said, are often an afterthought. "

This year AIDS turned 25. AIDS and I are coevals; I myself not consciously remembering a time when AIDS was not part of the discourse --- whether it was the mystery disease that was killing gay white men to the focus of the 1993 Oscar winning film Philadelphia to the simultaneous global phenomenon and plague it is today. Newsweek's May 15, 2006 issue was solely devoted to AIDS's 25th birthday. Within the issue was a section specifically devoted to HIV/AIDS within the Black community. There is no need to write about the statistics here, share personal stories that this article or the New York Times articles reported on, nor is there any need reiterate how devastating this disease is to our community. Its insidious problems like this: AIDS, poverty, crime, etc. that seem so incredibly herculean a task that you don't even know where to start. This bevy of information that I have had assuredly succeeded in making me hyper-sensitized and paranoid at any mention of HIV/AIDS, knowing that its my demographic that are the most dramatically effected by it in this country. Unfortunately, its become necessary to be suspicious of men and their intentions. Is he positive? Does he know if he's positive? If he is, would he tell me? Due to the dramatic and devastating impact that HIV/AIDS has had on people of African descent, it has become characterized as a sort of "Black death". Disease has become colored and this color is adding another facet of igonominious characterization to Blackness. Are African Americans a dying breed? I hope not but it seems like HIV/AIDS aims to make us one.

afflatus -- n: A divine imparting of knowledge; inspiration

"I am deliberate and afraid of nothing" -- Audre Lorde



Anonymous Valerie said...

These AIDS posters are unbelievable!! I am completely offended because I do not believe everything I read and I certainly don't believe blacks are the leading number of AID's cases. If that were truly the case, rich, white people would not be giving millions of dollars each year to save and cure people with this disease. If it were mostly Blacks you wouldn't be able to find a dime for AIDS research.

3:27:00 PM  

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