Date Presented

Spring 4-10-2007

Document Type

Thesis

Degree Name

Bachelor of Arts

Department

History

First Advisor

Dr. Phillip Stump

Second Advisor

Dr. Dorothy Akubue-Brice

Third Advisor

Dr. Charles Walton

Abstract

It never occurred to me that African American women are in a state of emergency in relation to HIV/AIDS. The news program Primetime opened my eyes and changed my perception about life forever. The show was titled “Out of Control: AIDS in Black America.” The network admitted that this was the first documentary on national television about AIDS in Black America. So on a Friday night this program definitely had my attention. My immediate reaction was- is there really an AIDS epidemic in the Black community? Well, the show confirmed my fears. The program began with a group of African American men being interviewed by an ABC news reporter. These men were HIV positive. I noticed that they showed no remorse for their actions. They shared personal stories on how they were infected and how they infected others. These men were actually confident and not ashamed to tell their story. Immediately I began to think of all the black women in America who are unaware and misinformed about AIDS. The next clip was a roundtable of African American women. They discussed protection, prevention, and awareness. One young black woman calmly stated that young black women are not thinking about their sexual health in relationships. The longer the show aired, the more interested I became in the topic. I began to research information about AIDS and black women on the internet. The reported statistics stunned me. I felt shocked, angry, sad, and scared all at the same time. I wanted to change black women’s perception of black men after watching this show. This program definitely heightened my awareness and piqued my curiosity about AIDS in the black community. I wanted to tell as many people as I could the information that I gathered. 1 Well, I needed a topic to write about for my senior thesis. Everyone around me wanted to write about a historical event and/or person. However, I thought to myself this is history in the making. What could be more prevalent and relevant than educating people regardless of race, color, sex, creed, or religion about a topic plaguing the black community? I realized I could convince others to take a look at their personal situations and re-evaluate their relationships. So the following is a compilation of research that I have put together. My purpose in writing this is to educate my fellow black women about the necessary precautions that must be taken in order to protect one’s sexual, physical, and mental health. The AIDS pandemic has plagued ethnic communities throughout the world. In the United States of America, the human immunodeficiency virus/acquired immune deficiency syndrome (HIV/AIDS) was originally a disease affecting white, homosexual men. Over the past 25 years, HIV/AIDS has experienced a gender, racial, ethnic, and class transformation. Currently HIV/AIDS is more prominent within black communities. The group experiencing the largest increase is that of African American women. The purpose of this paper is to develop a comprehensive understanding of the rapid growth of HIV/AIDS among African American women today. This paper will discuss the major modes of transmission, sociocultural factors, coping barriers, conspiracy theories, stigmas, the media, the Black Church, and solutions to effective prevention. These points will examine why African American women are overrepresented in new and living HIV/AIDS cases. 2 Today, African Americans compose 13% of the United States population but account for more than 50% of all new and living HIV/AIDS diagnoses.1 Statistically, this is a dramatic increase in HIV/AIDS infection that is disproportionately affecting the black community. Further research solidifies the astonishing number of African Americans, and African American women diagnosed, living with, or dying from HIV/AIDS. As African American women represent a disproportionate number of cases, it is important to note that an analysis of statistical data allows researchers to draw conclusions that indicate the trend in HIV/AIDS among women versus the prevalence. The distinction must be made to ensure a thorough understanding of the conclusions drawn from statistical evidence. According to data, HIV/AIDS is the number one cause of death among Blacks ages 25-44.3 In 2004, AIDS was the number one killer among African-American women ages 23-34.4 Thus, there has been an expansion in the number of cases as older women are becoming infected. In addition, the rate of AIDS diagnoses among black women is 23 times the rate of white women.5 Even more interesting, black women account for 67% of all new HIV/AIDS cases.6 While African American women compose the largest amount of infected HIV/AIDS diagnoses, they are also dying from AIDS in larger numbers. There are numerous other HIV Surveillance reports, charts, and statistics provided by the

Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) that represent the growing rate of African American being diagnosed with, living with, surviving and dying from AIDS. Two sources reveal the major modes of transmission of HIV/AIDS; Women at risk by Ann O’Leary and Loretta Sweet Jemmott and Black Sexual politics by Patricia Hill Collins. O’Leary discusses the rise of HIV/AIDS among black women during the 1990’s. During this time period injection drug use was the number one way to contract HIV/AIDS. O’Leary’s book discusses major risk factors such as intravenous drug use, heterosexual sex, and the sexual promiscuity of black women. The reasons for the large increase in HIV/AIDS among African American women have to do with much more than modes of transmission. For example, Collins focuses on three major factors that make black women more vulnerable to HIV/AIDS. Collins attributes promiscuity, the role of the media, and stigmas are reasons why black women suffer from HIV infection. Collins asserts that the media portrays black women in a negative light through promiscuous roles on television and in movies. In addition, the stigmas placed on black women reflect their inability to cope with HIV/AIDS. Thus, Collins writes a risky book revealing black ideology about black women. The following sources-AIDS Update by Gerald J. Stine, African American Women and HIV/AIDS by Dorie J. Gilbert and Ednita M. Wright, and The Gender Politics of HIV/AIDS by Nancy Goldstein and Jennifer Manlow-discuss the social, political, and economic factors that contribute to the prevalence of HIV/AIDS among black women. AIDS Update provides information about behavior modification, condom negotiation, and knowledge of injection drug use and heterosexual contact. Without 4 education of risk factors, the number of infections continues to spread. The book also notes that Black women are more inclined to acquire AIDS because of risk factors such as IV drug users, poverty, and promiscuity. Moreover, the exploitation of black women makes it difficult to construct a different image of African American victims. Gilbert’s book describes the risks within the black culture which lead to the spread of HIV/AIDS. African American Women and HIV/AIDS focuses on the sociocultural factors and risk factors that contribute to the prevalence of HIV/AIDS among African American women. Gilbert says, “Black women are least understood in society and disenfranchised.” The book also discusses the sociocultural, economic, and political factors that influence the increase of HIV/AIDS among African American women. In particular, oral narratives of eight women are used as evidence of the impact HIV/AIDS has on black women. Gilbert and Wright assert that black women have no “face” or identification for HIV/AIDS. In addition, the book discusses the role of spirituality as it has always been a predominant player in the lives of African Americans. The Black Church is a primary source of prevention and intervention for black women who are at risk for HIV or who live with HIV/AIDS. Finally, research studies on effective prevention examine the concept of Afrocentric centers. These centers have programs targeted towards the African American community and are culturally appropriate. Clearly, this book is a major source of information regarding the social factors that contribute to the rise of HIV/AIDS among black women as well as solutions. Nancy Goldstein’s and Jennifer Manlow’s The Gender Politics of HIV/AIDS. also sheds insight into the lives of HIV- infected black women. The purpose of the book 5 is to focus on the educational responsibility that black women owe to themselves. As HIV/AIDS programs for white men have been successful, the government and black community have been slow to respond to the alarming rate of infected African American women. Goldstein acknowledges that the silence in Black America contributes to lack of awareness and prevention. Sheila Battle emphasizes that more education is necessary in order to eliminate false information and stereotypes. This book also argues that the stigmas associated with black women lead to racism and discrimination. Therefore, socioeconomic issues play a major role when discussing medical, social, and mental health services. This book discredits both the government’s and Black Churches’ lack of mobilization. Evidently, HIV/AIDS is a huge challenge in the black community as a result of lack of education and support. Using the case studies, oral narratives, and studies of prevention and treatment efforts, I will argue that social, economic, and political factors are the most important factors that contribute to the increase. In particular, I will focus on the culture of silence in Black America. In the Black community, health issues are not openly discussed. In particular black women are not expected to openly discuss issues such as AIDS. It is imperative to understand that “silence is suicide” in the African American community. This lack of dialogue suggests that a large number of black women are misinformed, unaware, and uneducated about their increased exposure to HIV/AIDS. According to an HIV infected black woman, “It is just a thing we do in my family, we know things, but we don’t say them, we don’t talk about them and this is one of those things.”7 As no one is immune to

AIDS, the perpetuating silence in Black America only worsens the condition of its members. In addition, I will investigate the larger context of the causes of the increase and the obstacles to prevention by means of personal interviews. Vikki Johnson, an editor from the Rap It Up campaign at BET, and Ms. Rhonda Callaham from the Courtland Center in Lynchburg, Virginia, confirmed the statistical data with what they see on a daily basis. At BET, the Rap It Up Campaign produces public serve announcements for HIV/AIDS awareness. Ms. Johnson admits to seeing a large increase in the number of infected black women. Also, the efforts of BET have produced effective results in spreading the word. Ms. Callaham also admits to seeing a large increase in the number of infected black women. Yet, working at a community-based organization she is experiencing a loss of funds, which is not helping to mobilize the black community about AIDS. However, each of these women provided me with knowledge that supported my other primary and secondary sources. My brief interview with a representative at the Congressional Black Caucus (CBC) provided insight into the political factors in the HIV/AIDS increase among black women. Essentially, members of the Congressional Black Caucus are HIV/AIDS activists that tour at risk communities in the United States speaking to the black community about the HIV/AIDS crisis. In addition, the CBC is linked to funding initiatives for prevention. In addition, Essence and Ebony magazines offer personal stories about HIV/AIDS among women. These are oral narratives that African American women have voluntarily chosen to share in hopes of preventing others from making the same mistakes. The 7 articles also have statistical data that support the same information provided in the CDC reports. Understanding social, economic, and political factors will shed more light on why black women are overrepresented in all new and living HIV/AIDS cases. As these facts are alarming, it is difficult to understand why black women are not more aware about their increased risk of infection. The following analysis represents through a variety of methods how black women are experiencing a growing health disparity in society.