HIV/AIDS awareness for Black people…and all of us

Today is the 18th Annual National Black HIV/AIDS Awareness Day. You might ask yourself, “Why do we need a special day just for Black people with or at risk of contracting HIV?” I ask you to consider the following:

  • In 2015, 3,379 African Americans died from HIV disease, accounting for 52% of total deaths attributed to the disease that year.
  • At the end of 2014, an estimated 471,500 African Americans were living with HIV (43% of everyone living with HIV in the United States), and 16% were unaware of their infection.
  • In 2016, the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention predicted that HALF of all gay and bisexual Black men will contract HIV in their lifetime.
  • Young Black men between the ages of 13 and 24 face a particularly high risk, as they make up 54% of new infections among all men who have sex with men.
  • Black women account for 60% of new infections among all women and are 16 times more likely to contract the virus compared to their white counterparts.

In July 2016, Charlize Theron, who is UN Messenger of Peace and founder of an outreach project targeting South African youth affected by HIV, said something profound when speaking to a crowd at 21st International AIDS Conference. She said, “We value men more than women … straight love more than gay love … white skin more than black skin … and adults more than adolescents” and even though her frame of reference is based largely on situations in South Africa, it’s hard to deny the striking parallels between there and here in the United States. The risk factors for HIV/AIDS seem to be global.

With that said, there are significant geographical disparities within the United States. Even though it’s widely accepted that HIV is “no longer a death sentence,” that is not the case for many people, particularly those in the South. According to a New York Times article written in June 2017:

“2,952 people in the Deep South (Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee and Texas) died with HIV as an underlying cause, with the highest death rates in Mississippi and Louisiana. Among black men in this region, the HIV-related death rate was seven times as high as that of the United States population at large.”

(Take the time today to watch this short documentary about young black men dealing with HIV/AIDS in Jackson, Mississippi, at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JOSN1bKG3zQ)

The so-called Deep South is ground zero for the HIV/AIDS epidemic in the U.S. Each of the states this region encompasses (Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, and Texas) share other notable but seeming related characteristics:

  • They all have public school curriculums that teach abstinence-only sexual education;
  • They are among the top 15 most impoverished states;
  • They are collectively the home of 47% of the total Black population of the United States.

Even though statistics provide a sobering glimpse into this devastating epidemic, at the end of the day the numbers represent real people with unique stories, experiences, and perspectives.

Properly managing HIV/AIDS requires regular medical appointments, medication management, diet control, and major lifestyle changes.

For many people with HIV/AIDS, they also struggle with substance abuse, mental health issues, homelessness, and food insecurity.

Compound those challenges with misinformation, stigma, and discrimination, and you can see that fighting HIV/AIDS becomes more than an issue that can be solved with medicine, clean needles, and condoms alone. Attitudes have to change, and education is at the cornerstone.

The sooner everyone understands the risk factors and how the virus is spread, the sooner we as a society will get from under this daunting but preventable disease.

For more information about HIV/AIDS treatment and prevention in Southern Maine, contact the Frannie Peabody Center—the largest community-based HIV/AIDS service organization in Maine, providing prevention services for at-risk groups and direct services for people living with HIV/AIDS. They also offer free, confidential HIV testing every Wednesday and by appointment.

Get Tested. Know your status. End the stigma.


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Why, people, must you misunderstand wypipo?

“People blackfacing with their emojis: What’s up with that?”

That was a Facebook status I had recently posted. At the outset, I knew the post had the potential to spiral out of control, but I was genuinely curious.

Shortly after I posted, people began putting in their two cents on the topic. For the most part, it was an echo chamber as can be expected with most social media these days.

Soon, the conversation turned from emojis to GIFs and whether it was acceptable for white folks to use GIFs depicting Black folks.

Someone said that “wypipo” don’t often comprehend that some GIFs are culturally unique. His point was that white people using GIFs of Black people doing uniquely Black things is a form of “digital cultural appropriation.”

It was an interesting perspective that I thought contributed to the conversation.

But a few moments later, an onslaught of replies came in by white people claiming that the term “wypipo” was politically incorrect, racist, racially insensitive, divisive, and to the detriment of race relations in America.

I was admittedly boggled by these characterizations. I’ve always consider the term “wypipo” to be tongue-in-cheek, maybe a little snarky, but I never saw it as racist.

If you are unfamiliar, “wypipo”—a phonetic version of “white people”—is often used when talking on social media about problematic, insensitive, and rude attitudes displayed by white folks oftentimes as they relate to racism and white supremacy.

Similar terms have emerged recently in the digital lexicon of people of color, terms like “Becky” for example.

Popularized by Beyoncé, “Becky” has emerged as a name for a white woman who, according to this article from The Root, “uses her privilege as a weapon, a ladder or an excuse.”

It’s a term that is generally reserved for those white women who utilize, underappreciate, and remain willfully ignorant of the challenges white supremacy places on Black women and Black people.

“Becky” is someone who weaponizes her privilege. In this way, it’s a defensive term rather than one whose sole purpose is to offend.

Terms like “Becky” and “wypipo” do not perpetuate a racial divide; rather, they highlight an existing one. They are a sarcastic reply to a system that seeks to devalue and undermine people of color. They are defense rather than offense. They are words uttered by people who have been wronged. They are expressions of frustration.

Conversely, words invented by white folks to characterize people of color have had only one purpose: to cause harm and to assert white supremacy.

It’s a common theme that arises when looking at names invented between the oppressed and the oppressor.

OFFENSE DEFENSE
kike goy
nigger honky
faggot breeder

By reading the chart above, you will notice that the words in the left column carry more weight than those in the right. To notice this inequity is to realize the power dynamics at play when assessing the harm certain slurs cause.

Through that lens, any way that “wypipo” might reinforce racial tensions is far outweighed by its more egregious impetus: white supremacy.

To assert that there is some sort of double standard at play is to ignore the power dynamics.

If you are white person who is offended or troubled by the phrase “wypipo,” don’t be mistaken: the perpetrator behind your frustration is not in fact the speaker of the word but rather the system of white supremacy from which it derives.

Instead of jumping down the throat of the Black person who says “wypipo,” take a step back and try to appreciate why someone might use such a term. (Hint: it’s not to offend or oppress you.)

Uncomfortable conversations about race are can potentially be the most productive conversations about race. In this new digital age, we are communicating in different ways and with change comes new challenges and learning opportunities. Memes, GIFs, emojis, as well as words like “wypipo” are giving us new ways to discuss race. It’s important we work to understand these new forms of communication, however awkward it may feel.


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It’s all about race

Football player Colin Kaepernick began silently kneeling during the national anthem as a protest against racial injustice and police brutality in August of 2016. Since then, other football players have joined him in peaceful demonstration as an act of solidarity. Despite their efforts to shine a light on one of America’s most glaring humanitarian crises, people—particularly white people and the media—have chosen to instead discuss the First Amendment, as well as the national anthem, the American flag, and the patriotic ceremonies which surround them. But this should not come as a surprise. Flipping the script on discussions about racial injustice is an American tradition that has been carried on throughout the decades. People—particularly white people—cannot bear shining a light on the nation’s racial wounds, so they change the topic as a way to silence dissent and escape the discomfort associated discussions of race.

For example, when a few among thousands of peaceful protesters vandalized a Baltimore CVS in the aftermath of Freddie Gray’s death, a discussion about police brutality was seized away in favor of a conversation about the integrity of personal property and the importance of brick and mortar. No one wanted to talk about the fact that Gray’s spinal cord was 80% severed or that he had crush injuries to his larynx. No one wanted to talk about the fact that he was so forcefully apprehended after willingly surrendering to the police. (Unsurprisingly, charges were dropped against the police implicated in Gray’s death.)

When Tamir Rice, a 12-year-old boy, was shot and killed by Cleveland Police, calls for justice and sympathy were drowned out by claims that the shooting was “tragic” but “reasonable.” No one wanted want to talk about the fact that Tamir was a child in middle school. No one wanted to talk about the fact that the police officer who killed Rice was later terminated after lies were found on his job application. According to the Los Angeles Times, Officer Timothy Loehmann was sacked for “not disclosing that he had resigned from his previous position as a police officer in Independence, Mo., to avoid being fired for insubordination, emotional immaturity, dishonesty and mishandling his gun.” (Unsurprisingly, charges were dropped against Timothy Loehmann.)

“To me, this is bigger than football and it would be selfish on my part to look the other way. There are bodies in the street and people getting paid leave and getting away with murder.” – Colin Kaepernick, San Francisco 49ers.

These are just two examples of hundreds cases where the police shot and killed unarmed Black people and got away with it—add to that the number of cases where some punishment was applied, and add to that the number of civil cases settled outside of criminal law. The sum total of these incidents represent a human rights atrocity. According to a study by American Journal of Public Health, Black men are nearly three times as likely to be killed by legal intervention than white men. It is because of these injustices that football players have taken a knee during the national anthem.

“It baffles me that our protest is still being misconstrued as disrespectful to the country, flag and military personnel. We chose it because it’s exactly the opposite. It has always been my understanding that the brave men and women who fought and died for our country did so to ensure that we could live in a fair and free society, which includes the right to speak out in protest.”- Eric Reid, San Francisco 49ers.

Many people—particularly white people, especially white people on the political right—will say that there are other ways to protest. They will say that the sanctity of the American flag and the national anthem is directly tied to the value of the lives of the people who have fought and died for the country. It’s a drum beat that has been carried on by the president of the United States who encourages all citizens to respect the flag and “the men and women of the United States Armed Services.”

But it’s hard not to notice that a large number of people who recite the aforementioned rhetoric were noticeably silent when then-candidate Trump disrespected a Gold Star family, or when he disrespected the service of Senator John McCain who was imprisoned in a Korean military camp for five years, or when he most recently disrespected yet another Gold Star family. These incidents were quickly explained away as politics as usual, fake news, and fabrications from people who just want to hate on 45. But the disproportionate scrutiny applied to football players verse the person who leads the country seems a little suspicious.

It seems suspicious that it wasn’t neo-Nazis or the KKK, nor the death of children like Tamir Rice, nor the extrajudicial murder of unarmed citizens which mobilized millions to speak out but rather it was kneeling football players that really angered people. It’s seems suspicious that the anemic hearts of those who actively ignore issues of injustice and inequality are now hemorrhaging over symbols, ceremony, and respect.

Instances of hypocrisy are rife on both sides of the aisle and all walks of life, there is no doubt about that, but none more glaring than that which comes from those who speak out against Kaepernick under the guise of patriotism, liberty, and justice.

These protests are not about the military, those who serve in it, the American flag, or the national anthem. Anyone who says otherwise is either actively or ignorantly evading their own discomfort with racial topics. These protest are about racial injustice and they always have been and they always will be.


If this piece or this blog resonates with you, please consider a one-time “tip” or become a monthly “patron”…this space runs on love and reader support. Want more BGIM? Consider booking me to speak with your group or organization.

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