The Conspiracy of Silence
About AIDS Among Blacks

By Earl Ofari Hutchinson, Ph.D.

Earl Ofari Hutchinson

It was the week before this year's World AIDS Day, December 1 and the young black minister worked his congregation into a near frenzy as he railed against the evils of drugs, alcohol, tobacco, and adultery. But he got the loudest applause when he denounced homosexuality as the greatest sin of all, and called it a major threat to the black family, and a major cause of moral breakdown and disease within black communities. The disease he was talking about was AIDS.

Yet even as he thundered against gays the grim reality is that African-Americans now account for more than forty percent of AIDS cases in the United States. By the year 2000 they will make up half of all AIDS cases in the country. This comes at a time when AIDS deaths have dropped among whites. With a health crisis that wreaks this kind of carnage, it's convenient to blame uncaring politicians, insensitive health officials, public indifference, and of course, racism, for the crisis. But these usual suspects aren't the only ones to blame for letting this health problem get out of hand. Many African-Americans ignored it too. As the AIDS/HIV death toll rose among African-Americans, many black leaders, and organizations kept silent, or denied that it was a major problem.

Or many such as the minister clung tight to the myth that AIDS is almost exclusively a product of homosexuality. That's only one of the myths that many African-Americans have swallowed about AIDS. These are the myths that are repeated the most often.
  • A White gay affliction

The majority of new AIDS cases in the United States are among African-American and Latinos. They contracted AIDS through heterosexual sexual activity or drug injections with unclean needles.

  • A Male Disease

Recent studies confirm that women appear physiologically more susceptible to contracting AIDS than men. They are twice as likely to contract HIV from sexual relations with a male partner than the other way around. Black women now have the fastest rising number of AIDS cases.

  • A Punishment for sin

Many black ministers cite the line in Leviticus in the Bible that brands the act of men laying down with men as "the abomination." But there are many other passages in the Bible that command tolerance and respect for differences among people, and that includes different lifestyles as well.

  • A Destruction of the black family

The list of the greatest threats to black family stability are: the disproportionate high rates of unemployment, imprisonment, poor education, disease, drug and alcohol addiction among black men. The gay lifestyle is not and should not be listed as a reason for black family instability. Now that the AIDS crisis has imploded within black communities, many blacks are scrambling to take action. The NAACP has launched a crash program of AIDS education. The Congressional Black Caucus pushed Clinton to add $156 million more in federal funds for treatment and prevention programs. Black health professional's say they will make AIDS prevention their top priority. And most importantly, all major historically black church groups have called for a Black Church Speak-Out on AIDS on Worlds AIDS Day, December 1. These are much-needed steps in the battle against AIDS. But the war can't be won until the conspiracy of silence about AIDS among all blacks is finally broken.

Earl Ofari Hutchinson is the author of The Crisis in Black and Black.

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