Three million people will die from AIDS this year; half a million of them are expected to be children under 15. Black people, in general, get the disease 10 times more than Whites, and die twice as much. The shocking reality is that AIDS cases have shifted race and gender–making it a women’s epidemic. With three out of four women getting it from a man, heterosexual women are the fastest growing segment of society to contract the virus.
In its annual report on Dec. 1, World AIDS Day, the United Nations said that women are contracting AIDS faster than men in most parts of the world. The rates of infection in Asia and Europe have skyrocketed. In the Caribbean, young women get AIDS double the rate of men their age.
In the U.S., women, in general, make up 47 pecent of all new AIDS cases. Seventy-two percent of the infected women are Black. Every day, 20 Black women become infected. It’s spreading among the young, who are the most sexually active. It is the leading cause of death of Black women ages 24-35.
We no longer have ringside seats in this fight–we are on the mat, sweaty, broken and bleeding and the referee is counting down. Women do not have to engage in high-risk behaviors, be drug users or prostitutes to be in the 72 percentile; they just have to suffer the misfortune of sleeping with the wrong person.
Some say it’s easier for women to contract AIDS because biologically our bodies are more vulnerable–an HIV-infected woman is twice as likely to give a man the virus during sex than an HIV-infected man is to give it to a woman. Some say these statistics reflect the lack of power women have to compel their sexual partners to use protection.
But does the prevalence of this pandemic facing Black womanhood stem from a lack of power, or a lust for pleasure? Is it carelessness or did we not pay attention to preventive measures out of a false sense of security that this disease was not relevant to us, it was a gay White man’s disease?
Why don’t we get tested as we should? Have Black people been so focused on proving to the skeptics that an enemy of our rise does exist and has created this virus, that we have neglected to guard ourselves against the risk that exists?
What you don’t know can kill you–and it is killing Black women. So, when do we begin to take absolute responsibility for our lives and our bodies–and that of our children who wind up suffering directly with the disease contracting it in the womb, or indirectly as we wither away from the disease.
“It is tempting to give up in the face of calamity after calamity. But like my husband, Martin Luther King Jr., we have no intention of ceding in the struggle for social justice–whether it occurs on the streets of Selma or in the maternity wards of American cities,” Coretta Scott King wrote in a Dec. 1 op-ed in USAToday. “Strong women are a cornerstone of the African-American community. But now we face a disease that is silencing the voice and stilling the hands of those mothers, daughters and sisters.”
Pointing out the enemy does not stop the weapons that he has already unleashed on us. We will die if we don’t get out of the way.
Are we too ashamed to confront the stigma of talking about sex openly? Or too prideful to accept constructive criticism to correct any irresponsible sexual behavior–corrections that may save our lives and the lives of those we profess to care about?
A little bit of pleasure is not worth the lifetime of pain to which this scourge continues to subvert our families and communities.
Men must realize: If you are HIV-positive, then the life of your woman depends on your willingness to protect her during sexual intercourse. If you want the pleasure, spare her the pain.
Abstinence, while the safest route to circumvent contracting the virus, is a challenge that obviously the majority in our communities have not accepted. Black men and women must fight to secure our future. We should be safe, get tested and get treated. We cannot let our fear of knowing if we have the disease remain greater than our fear of dying.
It’s better to be honest with ourselves now than to be dead at age 35.