It’s been three decades since the start of America’s AIDS epidemic. Thankfully, the devastating disease, which used to be called the “gay cancer,” has been mitigated in the ensuing years with new treatments and massive awareness campaigns. Conscious Americans who have safe sex and don’t use intravenous drugs are mostly safe. But one group, Blacks, is still in a lot of danger.
As is the case with many of America’s vitality metrics—graduation rates and incarceration—Blacks are disproportionately impacted by HIV and AIDS in a major way. If AIDS used to be the “gay cancer,” statistics show that these days it might very well be a “Black disease.”
Though Blacks now make up less than 13 percent of the population, according to the latest census data, they’re now accounting for nearly 50 percent of the new HIV infections annually. They also account for almost half of the deaths from AIDS complications. In some cities, as BET.com notes here, African-American men who have sex with men (a distinction that isn’t considered gay) have AIDS at a comparable rate to some communities in sub-Saharan Africa. An estimated 500,000 Black Americans now have HIV or AIDS.
“As AIDS enters its fourth decade, there could be no more fitting tribute to the hundreds of thousands who have perished from this disease in the U.S. than to demonstrate that we have learned a lesson or two over the last 30 years,” Phill Wilson, founder and CEO of the Black AIDS Institute, wrote in the group’s most recent report. “In 2011, we have an extraordinary new opportunity to conquer AIDS. Only bold, wise action will get us where we need to go.”
The Obama administration has bravely tackled the AIDS crisis in America’s Black community, offering programs specifically designed to help Black men and combat AIDS in prison. But private citizens can also help. It’s up to you to take away the stigma associated with HIV and AIDS. Get tested, and tell your friends and friends’ friends to get tested, too. Also, more important, it’s imperative to take away the taboos around men having sex with men in the Black community. Homophobia has long sent many gay and bisexual men into the closet, forcing them to have illicit and more dangerous sex.
End the taboos and you help end AIDS and save lives.
—An overview of the epidemic in Black communities
—A timeline of key milestones in the fight against HIV and AIDS
(Photo: Antony Njuguna/Reuters)