It was one of those “I remember where I was at when _______” moments that rocks you to the core. I remember very vividly that I was in my dorm room on November 7, 1991, when my best friend came in and announced, “Man, Magic Johnson just announced that he has Aids.” Although we had all heard of the disease, I had already had a close family member die from the disease after contracting it from intravenous drug use. However, in the early 90s, there was an unspoken belief in the African-American community that the disease was one that only gay men contracted through sex.
In the early-nineties, Aids was little more than an urban legend to many of my contemporaries. Not even Magic Johnson’s announcement that he was ending his professional basketball career as a result of contracting something called HIV changed that fact. Apparently little has changed during the nearly twenty-five years since Magic Johnson’s announcement. Magic Johnson was so affable and engaging that many of us felt that we actually knew him. One would logically expect this unprecedented moment to have changed Black America in unconscionable ways, unfortunately, nothing could be further from the truth.
The Center for Disease Control relates that African-Americans are currently the group, above all others I must emphasize, most affected by HIV. As of 2010, African-Americans were acquiring HIV at a rate eight-times greater than the white population based on population size. “Gay and bisexual men account for most new infections among African-Americans; young gay and bisexual men aged 13 to 24 are the most affected of this group.” (http://www.cdc.gov/hiv/risk/racialEthnic/aa/facts/index.html)
According to the Center for Disease Control the following facts are true:
- African Americans accounted for an estimated 44% of all new HIV infections among adults and adolescents (aged 13 years or older) in 2010, despite representing only 12% of the US population; considering the smaller size of the African American population in the United States, this represents a population rate that is 8 times that of whites overall.
- In 2010, men accounted for 70% (14,700) of the estimated 20,900 new HIV infections among all adult and adolescent African Americans. The estimated rate of new HIV infections for African American men (103.6/100,000 population) was 7 times that of white men, twice that of Latino men, and nearly 3 times that of African American women.
- In 2010, African American gay, bisexual, and other men who have sex with men**brepresented an estimated 72% (10,600) of new infections among all African American men and 36% of an estimated 29,800 new HIV infections among all gay and bisexual men. More new HIV infections (4,800) occurred among young African American gay and bisexual men (aged 13-24) than any other subgroup of gay and bisexual men.
- In 2010, African American women accounted for 6,100 (29%) of the estimated new HIV infections among all adult and adolescent African Americans. This number represents a decrease of 21% since 2008. Most new HIV infections among African American women (87%; 5,300) are attributed to heterosexual contact.c The estimated rate of new HIV infections for African American women (38.1/100,000 population) was 20 times that of white women and almost 5 times that of Hispanic/Latino women.
Unfortunately, the numbers do not lie. The greater question facing the African-American population, I use the word population and not community intentionally, because a community bonds together to aid one another and solve common problems, I am personally unsure if we are a community, is a simple one of ‘how long will you act as if this issue, and a host of others that pivot upon matters of personal responsibility, should not be at the forefront of issues on our collective agenda. Maybe it is time that we lay the cross of victimization down in regards to repeated reactionary responses to racism and begin with a stern movement toward socially responsible individualism.
On this date, the twenty-third anniversary of Magic Johnson’s announcement that he had contracted HIV, I think that it may be imperative that we each take a moment to recognize those that have fallen victim to this horrendous disease, but also take proactive steps on an individual and collective basis to address the matter. As a college professor, I am constantly bombarded with the issues of unprotected sex among collegians, I hear male students, hetero- and homosexual, bragging about their sexual conquests; rarely do I hear any mention of safe sex or any type of protection being used. I am almost certain that similar conversations occur among my female students. Regardless of if we want to admit it or not, we are each inextricably linked with one another and my Lord, what a tangled weave have we created?
Dr. James Thomas Jones III