OP-ED: The Chicago Sun-Times
AIDS is a conspiracy, and blacks are in on it
By Phill Wilson
I’ve been in denial. I’ve finally come to the conclusion that AIDS really is a conspiracy to kill black people.
I finally realized the truth in June, when the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported that African Americans represent about half of all people living with HIV in the United States. We’re only 12 percent of the population. If that were not enough, 37 percent of the total U.S. AIDS deaths are black, 69 percent of new female HIV infections are among black women, and, most horrifying, a new five-city study found 46 percent of black gay and bisexual men were already infected with HIV.
Nearly half! With numbers like that, there’s got to be a conspiracy going on. The question, however, is whose conspiracy is it?
After CDC’s announcement of all this alarming new data, a few activists, including myself, tried to shake black people into realizing that we’ve entered a new era — one in which the AIDS epidemic simply cannot be ignored. A few mainstream dailies covered the story. And then … nothing.
To my knowledge, no black media followed up to jump-start discussions. No civil rights organizations marched or called on policy makers to take action. No black celebrities sponsored relief concerts. No black gay organization called on policy makers to take action.
What other than a conspiracy of silence could explain this collective shrug at such shocking information?
Put this into perspective. AIDS rates of this magnitude are close to — if not already past — the “tipping point” where the virus becomes almost impossible to stop. As for black gay and bisexual men, nearly 50 percent is downright genocidal.
Look at the hardest hit parts of sub-Saharan Africa: Swaziland, with the highest HIV rate on the planet, has an adult HIV prevalence of nearly 40 percent, followed by Botswana with 37 percent, and South Africa with 25 percent. All these countries face decades of stalled economic development, families gutted of entire generations, and deep, irreversible tears in the social fabric. And yet, none suffer from infection rates on par with those that the CDC cited among America’s black and gay bisexual men.
Sure, the high rates among gay and bisexual men won’t carry the same society-wide ramifications as the rates among all adults in hard-hit African countries. But rationalizations of that sort are exactly what have kept us paralyzed in denial. We always find a way to wall off reality by thinking of AIDS as happening to someone else — gays, drug users, Africans. But will we dither until rates among middle class drug-free heterosexuals catch up with Africa?
Yes, there are many reasons why our community hasn’t yet responded to the new CDC data. But maybe a young man I was speaking with recently boiled it down to the bitter essence when he said, “Nobody cares about us — including us.”
Every time a black minister uses his pulpit to spew homophobic bile and we sit in the pews and don’t object, we join the conspiracy. Every time we let an elected official fail to push for federal funding of needle exchange programs that give drug users clean needles and a chance to get into drug treatment, we join the conspiracy. Every time we — male or female, gay or straight — have unprotected sex, we join the conspiracy.
So you don’t believe HIV causes AIDS. So what? You should still protect yourself. AIDS prevention measures also prevent transmission of other diseases, such as syphilis, gonorrhea, and hepatitis B and C.
What if AIDS really was started by a bunch of crazy white scientists in a laboratory? What if one — or even all — of the AIDS conspiracies really is true? Then what?
We still have to survive, that’s what.
Here’s how: Starting now, civil rights groups should offer HIV testing at their conventions and at every single major event they hold — and they should set, and meet, annual testing goals.
Historically black colleges and universities should develop and administer AIDS 101 curricula to be included in freshman orientation, and they should sponsor AIDS peer education programs. Black churches should adopt black AIDS organizations and collect “love offerings” once a month to donate to those organizations. Black newspapers and magazines should make a commitment to include HIV/AIDS information in every issue. Black radio stations should commit to run at least one AIDS public-service announcement every day.
And most important, we should all get tested, learn about the latest life prolonging HIV treatments, and get involved with one of the groups trying to stop this epidemic raging among us.
Unless and until we are doing everything in our power to stop the devastation HIV/AIDS is causing in our communities, we need not look any further than the nearest mirror to find out why black people are getting infected with HIV and dying from AIDS at greater numbers than anyone else.
We can stop the conspiracy — because the conspirators are us.
Phill Wilson is Executive Director of the Black AIDS Institute.