By Danny Glover
When people hear about AIDS, a lot of them think of Africa. After all, the media has inundated us with photographs and stories of AIDS orphans, mother-to-child transmission, the lack of access to drugs, the disproportionate number of persons infected by the HIV virus, and so on. All of this is true, and we should continue to fight the AIDS pandemic in Africa, yet we need to realize that the AIDS epidemic is not over in America, and it is especially not over in Black America.
Photo: Danny Glover. Photo by Suluki Fardan.
I happen to be part of a generation that came up in San Francisco at an important time in the world. We saw ourselves as part of a community with a commitment to ideas that would change the world. That resonated with me as a child and as a young student. I spent six years doing community development work in San Francisco. Those kinds of things you don't dismiss or put aside.
That history drives all of my activism. And it's certainly what drives my AIDS activism. When people hear about AIDS, a lot of them think of Africa. After all, the media has inundated us with photographs and stories of AIDS orphans, mother-to-child transmission, the lack of access to drugs, the disproportionate number of persons infected by the HIV virus, and so on. All of this is true, and we should continue to fight the AIDS pandemic in Africa, yet we need to realize that the AIDS epidemic is not over in America, and it is especially not over in Black America.
AIDS is the leading cause of death for Black women between the ages of twenty-four and thirty-four, and continues to be a leading cause of death for Black men of all ages. Why aren't we alarmed? Why isn't the media reporting this and getting the word out so that we can protect ourselves?
People here and around the world think, based on what they hear from our government and the media, that the incidence of HIV and AIDS is considerably lower now than it was in the 1980s. That is true. But lowering HIV incidence and prevalence in some communities is not the same as ending the epidemic in all communities. Nearly half of the estimated 1.2 million people living with AIDS in America today are Black. Fifty-four percent of the new HIV infections in the United States are in Black communities. Yet the silence is deafening.
We've got to work on the stigma. We cannot allow so called "traditional values" to allow large segments of our communities to be marginalized. If we want to end the AIDS pandemic, either at home or abroad, we have to confront intolerance wherever we find it. If you open your heart, you open your mind. If you open your mind, you also open your heart.
I remember the day that my brother told me that he had AIDS. I was scared and angry. I was even speechless because I didn't know how I could comfort him. Although I had already lost countless friends to AIDS since the 1980s, there was nothing that could have prepared me to hear those words come out of his mouth.
My brother is not gay. I say that not because that would matter to me, but because in our community, we think AIDS is only a gay issue. This misperception has undermined our ability to adequately confront the disease in our communities. Black churches and traditional Black institutions stayed away from even talking about AIDS in the beginning. As a result, it spread like wildfire in our neighborhoods because of drug use, the lack of awareness, insufficient prevention efforts and an absence of any mass Black mobilization. Today, AIDS in America is a Black disease, and every one of us has been touched by it in some way. Even though it is a hard subject to bring up with family and friends, we need to talk about it with our children and with each other.
A lot of my AIDS work was born out of my work in Africa. The African AIDS pandemic is really a part of the larger systemic social and economic problems facing the planet. In some ways, the HIV/AIDS pandemic is showing us the ultimate result of sustained systemic poverty. If you