“Numbers and statistics hide as much as they reveal” — James Baldwin
Baldwin’s quote is so elegant yet simple. Blacks account for 13% of the U.S. population and account for 55% of new HIV infections and 46% of people currently living with AIDS. We know the numbers are bad, but what do they really mean? Who are these “people”? Why are the statistics always disproportionately affecting the Black communit—These are many of the questions that arose after seeing the latest of a series of three reports published by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) regarding AIDS in America. Moreover, it was a call to action for the founders of b condoms.
b condoms’ established goal is to transcend race, age, sexual orientation, and socioeconomic status in our struggle to proactively eradicate the HIV/AIDS epidemic that is silently encroaching upon Urban America. Furthermore, we seek to broaden the discussion and address the tough questions affecting our targeted communities.
Sometimes, people say that we as African-Americans can become numb to bad news and unfortunate statistics. However, the story that isn’t so often told is the one that sheds some light on the numbers and puts a human face to the epidemic. A deeper understanding of how we’re connected to those infected by the virus is oftentimes necessary.
The CDC released a study, authored by Dr. Paul Denning, titled, “Communities in Crisis: Is There a Generalized HIV Epidemic in Impoverished Urban Areas of the United States.” The study included Black, Latino, and White heterosexuals in 23 cities who lived in neighborhoods disproportionately impacted by both poverty and HIV. The researchers discovered that all of the participants, regardless of race, demonstrated alarmingly high HIV rates.
Blacks, Latinos, and Whites, within urban areas, all had HIV prevalence twice the level defined by the United Nations (“UN”) as a generalized epidemic. This study is significant because it shows that when ethnic groups encounter the same socioeconomic factors, differences within the HIV rates of infection between ethnic groups disappear. Thus, when Blacks, Latinos, and Whites live among each other in poor urban communities, they also share identical HIV infection rates.
As individuals increase their exposure to specific communities, they also increase the likelihood of infection. For example, if a person is living within a community with a high viral load, a person’s chances of contracting HIV will also be increased. This means that a person’s surroundings influence their sexual networks. We have sex with our neighbors even when we don’t share the same racial background. If you’re part of a sexual network that has eight times the viral burden as another sexual network, you are eight times more likely to encounter HIV than a member of the other sexual network, regardless of your race or ethnicity.
Cornel West had half of the problem solved when he wrote his epic book, Race Matters. He forgot the other half of the book and should have titled it, So Does Poverty.
This raises the question that asks, in addition to poverty, what else is driving the infection rate within the Black community? What role does Black popular culture play in our collective or cultural worldview? What about Latinos and the gay male community? Why are we so far behind as a first-world nation when it comes to having a handle on this preventable epidemic? Why has this epidemic shifted its demographic to one that is increasingly poor, Black, and Hispanic? What are the differences in HIV rates in poor urban communities that are overwhelmingly Black, and poor White rural communities? How do middle class and wealthy Blacks fare compared to middle class and wealthy Whites?
b condoms was launched because we didn’t see enough people asking the right questions or targeting the communities which are suffering the most. Collectively, our nation and, moreover, our community, has not been asking enough hard questions about our approach to this disease. HIV/AIDS is wrapped in the thorn bush of American discomfort and prejudices about race, class, homophobia, and drugs. Therefore, many discussions relating to the virus touch the third rail in the community.
One has to go above and beyond analyzing the range of risk factors that are prevalent in the urban community, and move towards taking action that yields a quantifiable outcome. If we know that incarceration removes eligible Black males from the community, we know that Black women have fewer choices in their sexual partnerships and relationships. Thus, they will be forced into relationships where they have multiple partners, or males who will have multiple female partners.
In accordance with the b condoms mission, we will be continuously launching campaigns that highlight some of the work done by individuals, artists, musicians, actors, non-profits, and some progressive politicians in their attempts to make a quantifiable difference with this epidemic. Stay connected to our movement via any media channel of your choice as we continue to spotlight a new wave of American citizens who are on the front lines of HIV/AIDS and are changing the impact of this disease.
In addition to a marquee event, b condoms is sponsoring, in New York City on World AIDS Day (December 1, 2010), a groundbreaking documentary titled, “The Other City,” will also be making it’s debut on Showtime that evening. Please see the trailer at www.theothercity.com. Based on the trailer, it seems to definitely be a heart-wrenching look into who is on the front line in the war against HIV/AIDS, and what are some of the stories of the individuals who are afflicted with HIV/AIDS—those who often are lost in the mere statistics that author James Baldwin warned us too often distill the true essence of the story the data is trying to tell.
For more information please visit bcondoms.com.