Today is National Black HIV/AIDS Awareness Day. I could (and will, sigh, later in the post) cite some scary and infuriating statistics about the presence of HIV/AIDS in the black community. It’s true that HIV/AIDS disproportionately affects people of color, not only in the U.S. but around the world. And there are a number of reasons for that, not the least of which are the pervasive, systemic racism, classism, and sexism baked into our institutions including healthcare. But when I think of the pain in my community around this topic the first thing that comes to mind is the work of the brilliant Lani Buinier and Gerald Torres:
“Race, for us, is like the miner’s canary. Miners often carried a canary into the mine alongside them. The canary’s more fragile respiratory system would cause it collapse from noxious gases long before humans were affected, thus alerting the miners to danger. The canary’s distress signaled that it was time to get out of the mine because the air was becoming too poisonous to breathe.
Those who are racially marginalized are like the miner’s canary: their distress is the first sign of a danger that threatens us all. It is easy enough to think that when we sacrifice this canary, the only harm is to communiteis of color. Yet others ignore problems that converge around racial minorities at their own peril, for these problems are symptoms warning us that we are all at risk…One might say that the canary is diagnostic, signaling the need for more systemic critique.”
In this excerpt from the amazing book “The Miner’s Canary: enlisting race, resisting power, transforming democracy” Guinier and Torres manage to capture the devastation and havoc wreaked upon communities of color when their bodies and health are devalued, while also extrapolating the source of their pain onto the wider systems at play. This is the cord I hope to strike on this day, when I think about the people of color in my life who are confronting this disease head on, no matter their HIV status: those whose stories and activism have inspired me to be safer and to work harder to fight this devastating disease; those who are not only surviving but thriving in the face of this epidemic in our community; those who are dedicating their lives to spread information and influence policy in a way that will ensure our future generations do not have to bear the same burden that we do.
Officially, National Black HIV/AIDS Awareness Day is an opportunity for people to raise awareness about this pandemic and unite in the fight against HIV in the African-American community. We’ve made great progress so far, but there is still much work to be done. And here come those statistics I warned you about in the beginning. Unfortunately, young people still make up about 40 percent of all new infections, and African Americans are disproportionately affected by high HIV/AIDS rates. According to the Kaiser Family Foundation, there are approximately 1.1 million people living with HIV/AIDS in this country, including more than 500,000 African Americans. African Americans account for almost half of all HIV infections in the U.S., and are the racial/ethnic demographic group most affected by HIV.
A brief list of things you can do to honor the spirit of this day and fight back against the HIV/AIDS epidemic in your community:
- Educate yourself and others about the health disparities that African Americans face in this country, the current HIV/AIDS threat to the African-American community, and the need for access to affordable, high-quality health care services.
- Educate yourself and others about comprehensive methods for practicing safe sex (including how to negotiate abstinence if desired and/or tips for assertiveness in sexual situations).
- Support the Affordable Care Act, which would help millions more people be eligible for health insurance and HIV care and allow them to have access to a comprehensive range of preventive health care services.
- Support Planned Parenthood, among the nation’s leading providers of HIV screening.
- Leave more ideas for actions in the comments section!