Earl Ofari Hutchinson
Jesse Jackson shocked the crowd at the recent Black Expo in Indianapolis when he called on black political and church leaders to take an HIV test. Jackson literally put his mouth where his words were when he took an HIV saliva test. The idea was to prod black leaders to say and do more to combat the dread disease. Much less dramatically a week earlier a group of black ministers and community activists at a meeting at Howard University also blasted black ministers and many black leaders for their tight lipped silence about AIDS. Jackson and the activists sound the alarm bell for a good reason. The disease has wreaked more carnage than ever in black communities. In its latest report the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention revealed that blacks account for more than fifty percent of new HIV/AIDS cases in the United States. This comes at a time when AIDS deaths have dropped among whites. While Jackson and others hand wring and finger point at black leaders for failing to speak out louder on the AIDS epidemic, they are loath to expose the dirty little secret of why these leaders barely utter a peep about it. That's because many cling tightly to the myth that AIDS is almost exclusively a gay disease. They fear that making AIDS prevention a top priority is to commit the heresy of endorsing the gay lifestyle.
There's a tragic reason for the deep fear and irrational phobia of gays that paralyzes many blacks on the AIDS crisis. From cradle to grave, many black men have been brainwashed into believing and accepting the racist and gender propaganda that the only real men in American society are white men. In a vain attempt to recapture their denied masculinity, many black men, mirrored America's traditional fear and hatred of homosexuality. They swallowed whole the phony and perverse John Wayne definition of manhood, that real men talk and act tough, shed no tears, and never show their emotions. These are the much touted prized strengths of manhood. The young black and Puerto Rican men who gleefully groped and fondled women in Central Park in June were a textbook example of how many men of color act out this exaggerated and warped notion of manhood. When men break the prescribed male code of conduct and show their feelings, they are sneered at as weaklings, and their manhood questioned. Many blacks attempt to distance themselves from gays and avoid confronting their own biases by railing at homosexuality as a kinky contrivance of white males that reflect, they claim, the decadence of white America.
In the overwhelming majority of black churches, congregations listen to black ministers shout and condemn to fire and brimstone men who stray from the traditional male-female family relationships. For those who challenge their rants against gays, the ministers instantly flip to the oft-cited line in Levi ticus that sternly calls men laying down with men, "the abomination." Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan repeatedly condemns what be brands the "unnatural act" of homosexuality. Even though the Nation run Million Man March in 1995 publicly welcomed gays and treated the ones who participated civilly, this hardly represented a sea change in attitude among blacks toward gays. In numerous interviews since the March Farrakhan hasn't backed down one inch from his anti-gay stance and has made it clear that he still regards homosexuality as a perverse lifestyle. Black speakers at the group's next extravaganza the Million Family March planned for October will again demand that blacks reject any deviation from traditional family values.
The anti-gay feeling runs so deep among many blacks that there is a virtual black-out of any discussion or activities of black gay men. Black gays and lesbians have held National Black Gay Conferences since 1987. Yet, there has been only the scantiest mention of them in the black press. The national gay and lesbian publication, BLK might as well gather dust in the Smithsonian Museum for all that most blacks know or care to know of it. The frequent appeals of Jackson and other civil rights leaders for blacks to reject homophobia and support gay rights has mostly fallen on deaf ears within black communities.
A survey in Jet Magazine in 1995 found that many blacks were openly hostile toward gays, especially black gay men. Now that the AIDS crisis has imploded within black communities, the NAACP, The Congressional Black Caucus, and the major historically black church groups have scrambled to get a handle on the crisis. They promise to lobby hard for more funds for AIDS prevention programs, mount AID awareness campaigns, and promote safe sex practices in black communities. These are belated but desperately needed steps in the fight to stave off the AIDS catastrophe. But until black political and church leaders shake their dread that AIDS is a gay man's disease, and encourage open and honest dialogue about sexuality within black communities, the body count among blacks will almost certainly continue to rise no matter how many HIV tests Jackson takes.
Earl Ofari Hutchinson is the author of The Disappearance of Black Leadership. email:firstname.lastname@example.org
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