According to a new survey at Your Black World, it was found that over half (56.3%) of all African American respondents have a friend or relative who they know to have HIV. The number was higher among black women (58.7%) than black men (51.2%).
The numbers are interesting and alarming because they reflect the reality that HIV infection within the black community is not being controlled, and it is also not well-understood. The numbers are likely an underestimate because most people don’t exactly wear a billboard telling the world that they have an STD. Therefore, there are likely relatives and friends very close to us who’ve gotten bad news from the doctor and haven’t said a word about it to anyone.
These numbers are also warning signs that our community needs to directly confront sexual choices and behavior in a way that is devoid of the debilitating stigmas that we put on one another. Far too many parents are hesitant to talk to their kids about sex, many women and men don’t ask questions of their partners, and our treatment of the gay/bi-sexual community is beyond embarrassing (a man is typically stigmatized less for being a reckless womanizer than he is for being gay). It’s time for all of us to wake up and smell the devastation being presented by the disease that is silently killing many of the people we love.
Most interesting is that heterosexuals in the black community are sometimes inclined to think that the entire epidemic is being fueled by black men on the downlow. I find this perception to be interesting in light of the fact that there are quite a few heterosexuals having a lot of sex with a lot of partners without asking very many questions. Also, many of us know individuals (quite honestly they are typically men), who pride themselves on having dozens of sex partners every single year and don’t even take a trip to the doctor’s office.
The reality is that there has to be a moment of truth for every individual when they ask if their sexual choices and behaviors actually make sense. Sexual attraction is natural, powerful and pretty damn enjoyable. But we can’t allow our sexual choices and values be defined by what we see on Basketball Wives or in a hip hop music video. Making bad decisions can kill you.
Dr. Boyce Watkins is a Syracuse University Professor and founder of the Your Black World Coalition. To have Dr. Boyce commentary delivered to your email, please click here.