It seems like, since the beginning of my tenure in working in the world of HIV, I’ve seen and heard every catch phrase, new campaign and placebo project known to man. You think I’m lying, think about it; “New Tools in the Tool Box”, “Getting to Zero”, “Testing Makes us Stronger” and even the project I’m currently working, “Doing It”, just to name a few. Now, I’m not saying that all of these projects and campaigns are not or were not very good ideas, and some have even had measurable success. A project that I created entitled “Fighting HIV Through R&B”, was a tremendous success. My organization, I Choose Life Health and Wellness Center partnered with Alan Haymon and Haymon Entertainment, as well as Pfizer, Inc. and together, over a period of 18 months, visiting 66 cities, in 24 states, tested more than 30 thousand primarily African American men, women and young adults for HIV. During that period, we found 600 plus HIV positive persons with the oldest being a 65 years old woman in Philadelphia, PA and the youngest, a 16-year-old black girl in Seattle, WA and none of those 600 plus Black people that tested positive for HIV, knew that they were infected with the virus; which brings me to the titled of my article, The False Equivalency in the World of HIV.
When I first started working in the world of HIV, the first thing I thought was, ‘I’m going to see unity as well as diversity like I’ve never seen it before; after all, many conservative whites don’t like homosexuals, a large number of Black, overly religious persons thinks that all homosexuals are going to hell. And we all know the position around Latin machismo and men who have sex with other men and I truly don’t know or even where to begin, with the Asian culture and their perspective on homosexual behavior, but I would be willing to bet you, it ain’t good! So, my thinking was, ‘hell if you’re Black, white, brown or yellow AND homosexual, you had better find safety and sanctuary among your own kind.’, well, I could have NOT been more wrong in my thoughts!
In 1966, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. said in a sermon, that the most segregated time in this country was during Sunday morning church service. Well Dr. King, the most segregated time in the HIV world, is during conversations that highlight Black people that are dealing with the HIV/AIDS pandemic. Now this is not to say that some of our white brothers and sisters haven’t worked tirelessly to help and support the black community in dealing with the HIV/AIDS pandemic in our community. But what’s been missing and is even more important, is the support the Black community needs in securing our own freedom, independence, and resources to address HIV/AIDS in our own unique and culturally competent way.
As well intended as some of these agencies are; that are owned and operates outside of the culture of their targeted population, these agencies will never be able to fully reach or teach their targeted population. And please know, just by hiring a face from and of the community isn’t the real answer to addressing any true issues concerning the people most in need. I’m not saying that many agencies don’t have good intentions, but as Dr. King once said, “Two of the most dangerous things in the world is well–intended ignorance and conscientious stupidity.” You see, to give an agency that’s outside of the culture of the targeted population the necessary resources and for that agency to just hire a familiar face within that community to reach and teach that population, isn’t a recipe for success; it’s only a false equivalency. Okay, here’s where I’m going with this. When organizations and researchers are funded that are neither from the community nor is their Project Officer, in many cases, based or housed in the community, that’s a problem. And even more of an issue for me is when I hear people from outside of the community saying things like, “what’s going on within the black community and why aren’t they doing more to address these issues. It’s been thirty-three years since the first HIV/AIDS diagnosis”. Why are the number of new infections among MSM and women continuing to rise with all of these news tools, drugs and prevention messages?”
You know, I would agree if all things were equal, but that’s the false equivalency in the world of HIV. You see the black community is still dealing with HIV/AIDS and crack cocaine addiction while now the funds and the focus are going towards prescription opioids and methamphetamine. I wonder why is that and who’s being impacted by methamphetamine and prescription opioids? But I digress. Now don’t stop reading now and start emailing your friends saying stupid s&^% like, I told you Tony Wafford was anti this or anti that. I’m not anti-anything other than oppression. I’m very much in support of multiculturalism. I’m even more supportive of culturally specific and culturally component programs and projects that are developed by, taught by and solutions are driven by the very people and persons that these projects and programs are intended to reach and teach.
Allow me to do a disclaimer and believe me, this is in no way an effort to suck up to the CDC, but they got it right when they put together the African American ACT Against AIDS Leadership Initiative (AAAAALI). But they %$#@ up when they caved because of outside pressure to be more inclusive and they both changed the name of the initiative to the Act Against AIDS Leadership Initiative (AAALI) and added others outside of the African American culture. Let’s stop pretending that there isn’t a false equivalency in the world of HIV.
So how do we fix it? I’m so glad you asked. There are a number of ways, but I would say, lets first start allowing the people to reach down and draw from the rich well of their own culture. You see, what works in West Hollywood, doesn’t always resonate in South Central Los Angeles. Respecting the fact that we are all different and to be different isn’t deficient; it’s just different. And to both support, learn from and allow different people and persons to operate within their own cultural understanding of self, society, and the world, is how we get to zero and then we can begin to address HIV/AIDS in a fair and equitable way. That’s what I’m Doing, how about you?