Commentary: Why Uncle Luke’s Condom Message Is Not Enough

Though it’s important to recognize the importance of condom use, it’s also important to recognize that it is not the only factor when preventing HIV.

In one of the stranger career turns in American culture, Luther Campbell, aka Luke of the infamous rap group 2 Live Crew, has left behind the world of raunchy lyrics to become a columnist for the alt weekly Miami New Times.

In his latest column, titled, directly, “African-Americans Need to Use Condoms,” Campbell implores Black Americans to have safe sex. “[African-Americans are] number one in murders, gun violence, poverty, unemployment, teen pregnancies, and sexually transmitted diseases,” writes Campbell, “I'm tired of being number one.”

He continues by reminding everyone of the Black community’s very abysmal HIV statistics, noting, “Blacks account for more new HIV infections and HIV-related deaths than any other racial/ethnic group in the United States. Of the 1.1 million people living with HIV/AIDS in the country, 510,000 are African-Americans.”

Nothing Campbell wrote is really wrong, per se: Blacks do indeed struggle with a lot of horrible problems in the community, one of which is HIV and AIDS, an illness that’s ravaging too many African-American men and women in places around America. But where he goes astray is with his headline — “African-Americans Need to Use Condoms” — and the article’s final sentence: “If I can convince young African-Americans that it's OK to use condoms, it's a small step in ending our own genocide.”
The fact of the matter is that African-American young people don’t necessarily need Uncle Luke to tell them they need to wear condoms, because many of them are already doing so.

As it stands, according to a 2011 CDC survey of sexually active high school students, Black teenagers were more likely than their counterparts from other ethnic groups to use condoms. As CBS News reported last year, “Black students are most likely to heed the safe-sex message, yet their condom use dropped from a high of 70 percent in 1999 to 65 percent last year, the study found.” By contrast, only 58 percent of Latino students were using condoms and 60 percent of white students.

It’s easy to assume that because African-Americans are struggling with HIV at such high rates then that must mean they don’t know to use condoms. And, indeed, 65 percent of condom use is still a long way away from 100 percent — Luke and other celebrities pushing to get more condoms into the Black community is not a bad thing.

But anytime someone wants to complain about the fact that Blacks are still suffering with AIDS, it’s important to remember that that’s not necessarily for lack of condoms, and for them to consider what other issues are at play that are keeping the numbers so high.
For instance, Dr. Robert Fullilove, professor of clinical sociomedical studies at Columbia University's Mailman School of Public Health, told NPR last year that drugs and prisons play a big part in the Black AIDS epidemic.

“It is especially important, in the African-American community, to understand that in the late '80s and early '90s, roughly 40 percent of the cases of AIDS were basically identified among people whose major risk behavior was intravenous drug use,” he said. “Between 1970 and 2010, we made a practice of making the war on drugs, which meant we were locking up the folks who were at greatest risk for being exposed to this virus.”

Looked at from this angle, condoms are the easy part. Figuring out how to navigate drug addiction and the criminal justice system are much, much harder.

The opinions expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of BET Networks.

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