The Down-Low Delusion

Why the media's obsession with blaming "undercover brothas" for the HIV epidemic in black America is hurting us.

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Last Tuesday on The View, during a conversation about the Food and Drug Administration's ban on gay and bisexual men donating blood, guest host D.L. Hughley attempted to school America on why HIV is so prevalent among African-American women. He said with confidence, "They are getting it from men who are on the down low."

Sigh. Yes, he went there.

Then View co-host Sherri Shepherd, oh so eager to co-sign, chimed in and said, "The down low is African-American men who have sex with men and then have sex with their girlfriends -- or their wives. They're husbands, as well. It's very prevalent in the African-American community. Very!"

No, neither one of these comedians-turned-talking heads is an AIDS expert. I think it's safe to say that if they were asked to name three antiretrovirals sold on the market or tell us what distinguishes HIV from AIDS, there would be awkward silence and an unexpected commercial break.

But nowadays, having expertise (or an ounce of knowledge on a topic) is not mandatory for a media platform. Anyone with a camera aimed at them can spout off at the mouth, claiming that fiction is fact, and it goes completely unchallenged. Meanwhile, Americans continue to be bamboozled.

Had The View actually asked established experts such as the University of California, Los Angeles' Chandra L. Ford, White House Office of National AIDS Policy's Gregorio Millett, or the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's Kevin Fenton to come on the show, all of them would have shut down Shepherd & Company.

They would have said that yes, closeted gay black men exist, but contrary to popular belief, the DL is not a major force in the rise of HIV infections among black women in this country. And to substantiate this, they probably would have cited the mounds of data and research findings from the numerous studies they have conducted over the years.

Most important, any one of these experts would have said that there are heterosexual black men who have HIV, and HIV-positive women who pass the virus to men, and everyone needs to get tested.

Perhaps the hard facts just weren't sensational enough for The View.

Unfortunately, AIDS-related misinformation is not just relegated to silly morning talk shows. Last October, CNN, which bills itself as America's most trusted news source, ran a segment in its Black Men in the Age of Obama special about gay and bisexual black men.

Instead of discussing pertinent issues that gay and bisexual black men in this country face, CNN anchor Don Lemon, Essence Editor-in-Chief Angela Burt-Murray and a panel of ostensibly straight black men (none of whom possessed HIV or LGBT expertise) used the time to talk about how the down low is killing black women. Once again, there was no proof to back up these claims, just regurgitated homophobic hoopla being passed off as news. No bias, no bull? Yeah, right.