As we enter the second week of Women’s History Month, there are a few provocative basic realities that our community has to confront squarely in the eye:
? Nationwide, for the past three years, AIDS has been the leading cause of death for black women between the ages of 25 and 34.
? African-American women across the United States of America are diagnosed with HIV and full-blown AIDS in numbers severely disproportionate to their demographics. While blacks make up only 13 percent of the population in this country, they are diagnosed with HIV at 10 times the rate of their counterparts?”78.5 per 10,000 compared to 7.8 for whites.
? More than half of all new HIV cases are black folks, of which an astonishing 72 percent are young black women.
? Heterosexual transmission is the chief mode of infection for black women, with more than 70 percent contracting the disease that way. Intravenous drug use trails a distant second.
? A major contributor to the “getting-AIDS-young syndrome” is poverty. Studies have shown a direct relationship between higher HIV incidence and lower income.
Given the alarming statistics of young black women dying from AIDS, who among us is willing to offer an “internal reparation plan” to at least attempt to appreciably reduce these statistics next year? No one is immune. Regardless of income, good health care or background, we do not know what’s going to happen to any of us. According to the Feb. 11, 2005 edition of the Cincinnati Enquirer, nationwide an estimated one million people are infected with the HIV virus, but about 300,000 of them don’t know it! We are all at risk.
Just ask Miss Jordan, a former 16-year-old Pittsburgh high school student. She was 16 when she fell for a football star. She believes her “football star” was infected through intravenous drug use. Jordan said, “Here I am, an African-American woman, and I’ve only been with one partner. You don’t have to be promiscuous or use drugs. You just have to protect yourself.” And she is correct. Many in the black communities of Chicago, including some churches, are in denial, slow to acknowledge homosexuality or drug use, and therefore less receptive to prevention messages and protective measures.
There are hordes of contributing factors that create and maintain the “Hush, Hush, Sweet Charlotte” atmosphere that aptly defines our community’s “wholistic” attitude toward this serious crisis. Therefore, some of our young black women are vulnerable because they are not aware of the possible risks of their partners, including unprotected sex with multiple partners, and bisexuality.
Some women are caught in the controversial “down-low” situation, where a man is in sexual relationship with a woman while secretly having sex with men. In my opinion, these are not real men, a bunch of low-down, low-life nothings. Such unprotected sex may lead to sexually transmitted diseases, and the physical changes caused by STDs can increase the chances of contracting HIV.
Let’s return to the “poverty generator.” According to the Centers for Disease Control in Atlanta, in an examination of 15 southern states, HIV/AIDS hit hardest in about one out of six people who lived below the poverty line, in seven out of 15 states with the highest unemployment and in nine out of 10 states that had the fewest high school graduates. Therefore, there are more people living with AIDS in the South than in any other areas of the country.
In the urban centers of the north, poverty and persistent unemployment fuel a cocktail of risks. As women are forced into social and economic survival mode, they will not question men’s behavior. Most are afraid that being too challenging will cause the man to flee with the income they need.
Also, because of the incarceration of nearly one million black men in prison or jail, some black women don’t feel they have many options for quality relationships. Their self-esteem takes a “back seat” and these women’s expectations are lowered to zero. In this state of mind, women are less likely to negotiate condom use and more likely to accept partnerships “under the barrel” with zero moral value creeps.
In addition, men who smoke crack or inject drugs pose huge risk factors for the spread of HIV. Many black women don’t find out they are positive until they are sick or give birth, when the treatment is more expensive and much more difficult.
The final message is simple, ladies: Be smart, get informed, protect yourself and get tested. An ounce of prevention is worth a “ton” of cure.
Have a happy, healthy month, ladies.