Few can forget the public outcry against former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly for the stop-and-frisk law that made suspected criminals out of hundreds of otherwise law abiding citizens. It can be posited their cavalier use of this law to intimidate many in our community led to the election of the more progressive thinking Bill DeBlasio.
In the past few years, “Driving While Black” and “Walking While Black” have been given new meaning and sparked almost universal outrage because of the disproportionate number of African Americans who’ve received undeserved scrutiny and treatment by police.
The disparate impact of the school-to-prison Pipeline, the difference in sentencing for crack vs. powder cocaine, and numerous other disparate treatment based on race or ethnicity have raised the ire of concerned citizens. Public outrage has followed the identification of the problem.
There is another challenge that has a disproportionate impact on our community. This problem receives attention, but not at the level it should. I refer to HIV/AIDS.
If we’re to believe reports of the Center for Disease Control, African Americans experience the greatest burden of HIV infection of all racial/ethnic groups in the U.S. Despite being only 14 percent of the population, estimates suggest that African Americans make up 44 percent of all new HIV infections. The estimated rate of new HIV infection for African American males is seven times as high as that of white males, twice as high as Latino males and nearly three times as high as African American women.
The bad news from the CDC continues with estimates that, in their lifetime, 1 in 16 African American males and 1 in 32 African American women will be diagnosed with HIV infection. Since the onset of the disease, it is estimated that over 250,000 African Americans died from AIDS. The outcry from our community should exceed that of almost all other issues of concern.
The CDC offers many reasons for this critical impact in our community. Among the first reasons presented is the fact there is a greater prevalence of people living with HIV in our communities. They follow this reasoning with the idea of a greater incidence of sexual exclusivity among African Americans within our communities. The CDC also offers the idea that our communities experience higher rates of other sexually transmitted infections (STI) as compared with other racial/ethnic communities. The extended logic of this point is that having an STI can significantly increase the prospect of being infected with or transmitting HIV.
The CDC offers many other reasons for the high rate of HIV/AIDS in our community that include poverty, men having sex with men, a lack of adequate medical attention, and a lack of education regarding the life cycle and transmission of the disease.
In the National Congress of Black Women, we ask: “Where is the righteous indignation to the disparities of this disease?” Just as we are concerned about ending stop-and-frisk or “Driving While Black,” we are committed to reducing the impact of HIV/AIDS. Instead of just righteous indignation, we actively work to bring real change to our communities. Our goal of improving the quality of life for African American women and their families demands no less.
Our program for change must include reframing the perspective of our communities toward the disease. We must promote heightened awareness of the disease and work to engage community assets and organizations for the purpose of eliminating this scourge.
We have as much control over the outcomes of this disease as we do over indignities imposed from outside our communities. Our most important responsibility is to act with a purpose and urge better information regarding prevention, testing and treatment.
Dr. E. Faye Williams is Chair of the National Congress of Black Women, and author of “The Truth.” See website: www.nationalcongressbw.org