After nearly 15 years of writing about AIDS, I’m forced to acknowledge that nobody needs to hear much else from people like me about this epidemic. For too long the conversation about HIV in black America has been one-way: Wonks talk, sometimes people listen and then it’s over. So on this World AIDS Day, we’re going to try something new here at The Root. We want you to tell your fellow readers how HIV/AIDS has affected your life.
First, some background. Thankfully, black America seems to have finally taken notice of an ugly reality: The American epidemic, like it or not, is largely concentrated in our community. That doesn’t mean AIDS is only about black folks. But there’s simply no avoiding that we are in the eye of the storm. We represent roughly half of all new infections each year and about half of those already living with HIV. And once infected, we die from the disease at far greater rates. Indeed, as my colleagues at the Black AIDS Institute have documented, the black American epidemic has more in common with the developing world than it does with the rest of America.
If you’re a regular Root reader, you’re aware of these depressing facts; we’ve written about them repeatedly. All kinds of complicated dynamics drive the black epidemic, and you can dig into an in depth report on those here. But for now, let’s do something more basic: Practice telling the truth.
We’ve heard it time and again. Silence equals death. It was true in the 1980s, and it’s true now. The shame and stigma surrounding this disease not only facilitates its spread, it keeps people from taking control , getting into treatment and living the sort of physically and emotionally healthy lives that make HIV infection manageable rather than deadly. Stigma is one part of a complicated epidemic for which the solution is simple: Those who aren’t afraid to talk about HIV in a personal way should lead by example.
This is not a chance to sound off; save the judgments and declamations for another article. Instead, testify about your own experience. Tell a story about how HIV has affected you. Any story. Maybe it’s about a time you were tested, regardless of the outcome. Maybe it’s about someone you have lost. Maybe it’s about how you have lived and thrived with an HIV diagnosis. It can be about anything, just keep it about you.
You’ll have to log in first, which you can do here. Then chime in to the comments section. Please be respectful of others. This is a difficult subject for many people, and we will remove comments we deem inappropriate.
For inspiration, check out Beyond the Odds, a multimedia arts project funded by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting that is giving young, creative folks a chance to talk about HIV. One of my favorite contributions is a video poem by a young Cuban American man named JoJo Napoles. Watch it, then add your own voice.
Kai Wright is The Root’s senior writer. Follow him on Twitter.