AIDS is not a disease in isolation.
My first consciousness of AIDS didn’t come from Magic Johnson’s infamous press conference, per se. Around my way, the acquired immunodeficiency virus was a deadly version of the kooties. Kids would run around tagging each other with “the big, bad AIDS,” and some even alleged that the most unpopular girl in the class had AIDS and all sorts of infections just for the sake of ostracizing her. In other words, we hadn’t been taught the severity of the virus nor would we take AIDS / HIV seriously until someone who everyone identified as “cool,” “heterosexual,” and “worth our time” (kids can be so trifling) contracted it and came out on national television.
Thus, the televised conference of Magic coming out with HIV shook many of us who had previously pegged this wicked disease as strictly for gay men (again, completely uninformed). This coincided with my membership into the Milliken Boys (and some Girls) Club, where they taught some of the older members about sex, a series of workshops I found fun and useful at the same time. However, looking around, these ladies and gentlemen also tended to be the more intelligent people in the house, and while I think we needed to know, there was a much larger population downstairs who needed the information that much more.
Because they weren’t exposed.
Because I saw personally how their lives had been affected by the typical ailments of the hood: early pregnancy, drug addiction, homicide and suicide, and increasing drop-out rates.
And the higher I went in education, the more exposed I was to the dangers of the AIDS virus. In high school, a man came to visit us and show us the 32 or so pills he had to take daily just to stay alive. In college, my Latino organization ran workshops and went to workshops discussing sex, and asked the health center to provide us with as many facts as possible.
AIDS, for those that never made it to that workshop in Milliken, was just another “problem” to deal with rather than a serious pandemic, and the more some social forces began to advocate for prevention and destigmatization over the last 2 decades (public service announcements, musicians, philanthropists), the more other social forces began to just peg it on specific communities (gay men, down-low men, Black women, prostitutes, the whole continent of Africa). Even Magic went from blaming others for his unfortunate and irresponsible sexual behavior to “not having HIV anymore,” or letting people think so, which in turn lends itself to a lack of responsibility on the part of anyone watching.
The impact of Magic Johnson getting the virus transformed the worldwide perception of AIDS, but for dudes or girls in the hood, it didn’t make many of them any more eager to ask the pertinent questions about their sexual health history or wait before making that next big step. By no means am I a sexual conservative, but after all I’ve seen, I really have a profound understanding of the “hard lesson;” if the person doesn’t experience it, then there’s no real connection for them.
We cannot waver in our interest for a cure for AIDS can waver in a time when we desperately need to find cures. At some point, cures can drive down the costs of medicines purchased, sold, and distributed for a costly disease. Information is the #1 deterrent against AIDS. Conspiracy theories aside (because you know how much I love those), I also think the national governments play a role in the research and education of children all across the world. It’s not just a “Black” issue or a “Latino” issue; it’s a world issue.
When it comes to this disease, the world simply acknowledging its existence is not enough. It’s not enough to wear the ribbon and wear red. It’s not enough for us to write blogs and tweets, and watch TV specials on HIV / AIDS. We need a wave of concentration on it, before we have any more “learning the hard way” how dangerous the disease is. We already have 33 million of those.
For more information, please refer to the World AIDS Day 2008 site.
Jose, who wonders what was your personal experience with AIDS /HIV …
p.s. – Thanks to Yobachi for getting us organized around this salient issue.