The current #BlackLivesMatter movement, founded by three queer women of color, centers and critiques the experiences of police brutality and state violence faced by black people in America. In fact, researchers at the Harvard School of Public Health are advocating for rates of police brutality and killings to be reported as relevant—and important—public health data.
Another often-overlooked public health concern facing the black community is HIV/AIDS. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, African Americans are the racial/ethnic group most affected by HIV, with an infection rate eight times that of whites. The American Foundation for AIDS Research (amfAR) reports that most new infections each year occur among black women and black gay men. Additionally, amfAR reports that since 1987, public health researchers have noted the racial disparity in HIV infection rates, but perhaps unsurprisingly, very little has been done to mitigate the disproportionate rates of infection among black women and queer folks.
The first black AIDS organizations were founded in 1985, the same year that President Reagan publicly mentioned AIDS for the first time (after laughing about it for several years in prior press briefings). This was four years after the first report of a mysterious illness was published. Many of these organizations—including Bebashi and the Minority AIDS Project—emerged in response to the overwhelmingly white narratives and activism surrounding the AIDS crisis.
When we begin to question the exclusion of young black experiences from the HIV/AIDS narrative and public activism, we have to also question the forces at play that exclude them in the first place. Structural racism, unconscious biases in the healthcare profession, and systemic discrimination have dire public health consequences.
As PEP and PrEP (pre- and post-exposure prophylaxis) have emerged in recent years, AIDS prevention efforts have gained new momentum. But how do we ensure that at-risk populations—people of color and queer people—are given equitable access to these drugs in a way that doesn’t stigmatize them? How do we ensure that low-income HIV/AIDS patients and people of color living with HIV/AIDS are guaranteed access to comprehensive and up-to-date treatment plans?
One role that we can all play in the fight against HIV/AIDS is working to de-stigmatize testing, treatment, and HIV/AIDS itself. We can do this by raising our voices on social media, showing our friends and followers that we’re not afraid of the topic. On February 7, National Black HIV/AIDS Awareness Day, use the hashtags #BlackHIVDay and #NBHAAD to join the conversation. Encourage your friends to get tested with the Get Yourself Tested hashtag: #GyT. Check out the Greater Than campaign’s page for information on HIV/AIDS prevention, treatment, and testing—and then share the information you learned with your friends. Remember that #BlackLivesMatter is about structures that exacerbate the violence and inequity faced by black people. Show that #BlackLivesMatter by de-stigmatizing HIV/AIDS and starting honest conversations online this February 7.
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