HIV Is Both A Social & Racial Justice Issue
To sit back and look at where I started and see where I am now, and why I started and to hear the things I have accomplished read aloud all reminds me of exactly how serious this work is for me. It’s a reminder that I haven’t accomplished the things I have by simply being a handsome face and telling the world I’m living with HIV. It’s a reminder that I am where I am right now because I’m doing exactly what I am supposed to be doing. I truly believe that I have accomplished all that I have because of the resiliency that lies within me as well as the courage that I have to speak up and speak out on everything that I feel is necessary to see the advancement of all people in all aspects of life, regardless of race, gender, sexuality, social or economic status. This means having those conversations that no one wants to talk about, and addressing the issues at hand so that we all can advance and truly be equal.
It’s a few specific topics that truly intersect and tie into each other in a way that should and must be understood so that we may truly get to an AIDS-free generation and zero new HIV infections. It’s social and racial justice in regard to HIV/AIDS and healthcare overall. Before jumping in to how social and racial justice affect HIV and AIDS, one must listen with the intent to understand and with the intent to learn exactly what social justice and racial justice really mean.
Social justice is defined as the equitable distribution of social, economic, and political resources, opportunities, and responsibilities and their consequences. It affects the way people live, their chance of illness, and their risk of premature death. Social justice is the sustained commitment to create a society based on equality and fairness for all people. It calls for fair and equal treatment of the “haves” and the “have nots.” The social justice movement is centered on fighting all forms of oppression, discrimination, and disenfranchisement. It calls for systemic changes to governments regarding policies and practices that empower all people to live healthy and productive lives.
To understand what racial justice is, you must first understand what each of these words means separately. Race (or racial) is often determined by your skin color and what you look like in general. Justice means fairness. It means treating everyone the same regardless of their skin color to ensure everyone has a chance at equal opportunities. Unfortunately, we live in a country where systems and institutions see race. This isn’t opinion, it’s fact. If there’s anything that I have learned, it’s that facts, data, and numbers don’t lie. People, however, do.
Question: Do you say or consider the fact that you don’t necessarily see race or color?
You should see race and color when dealing with others because you can’t treat or talk to me the same as you would a white gay man; or a white man – period. Our life experiences are much different. I’m not as privileged as my white counterparts, and that’s okay. What’s not okay is not recognizing that privilege exists. And if you truly think you don’t see race or color, or if you think race or color shouldn’t be discussed, or has no place in this regard, I must ask, why is everything else in this country based off of race?
Our educational institutions look at race and color. Our healthcare systems see race. If you don’t believe that, just look at the number of black and brown people who have health insurance, Medicare and Medicaid versus our white counterparts. Diseases (in our race climate) see race. We know based off the numbers that people of color are negatively affected by almost every chronic illness known to man versus our white counterparts. Our governments, local, state, and federal see race. We know our current administration sees race based off the budgets that have been put in place. The White House has agreed to cut over $186 million from HIV/AIDS funding -- funding that would ultimately help those most affected by HIV/AIDS; that being black and brown communities and gay and bisexual men.
However, now that there is an “opioid crisis,” a drug addiction that is highly affecting our white counterparts more than any other demographic, our government sees the need to invest hundreds of millions of dollars into an initiative that will help those affected to get into rehab and help them overcome this drug addiction. I’m all for helping folk beat addictions. But I have to wonder why we have never seen an initiative like this when we saw an addiction outbreak of cocaine, marijuana, or any other drug that is found to be consumed by more people of color than our white counterparts. This is social injustice.
When we have a good understanding of social and racial justice, then we can connect the dots and understand how these issues affect the epidemics we know as HIV and AIDS.
Black and brown men and women are extremely disproportionately affected by HIV and AIDS compared to any other race. According to the CDC, black gay and bisexual men will account for 1 in 2 HIV diagnoses within their lifetime. While our white gay and bisexual men will account for 1 in 11 new HIV diagnoses, with a steady decreasing rate. Among women who account for new HIV diagnoses in 2015, 61% were black women, while white women accounted for only 19% of new diagnoses. The question here is why? Why are communities of color at a much higher risk of contracting HIV than that of our white counterparts? The answer is simple. The lack thereof of social justice!
Communities of color are historically known to be at a disadvantage when it comes to access to education, wealth, better jobs, better living environments, and better healthcare. It’s no secret that the black schools don’t get the same level of education experiences as our white counterparts; which has to change ASAP. Education plays a major role in seeing an AIDS-free generation. We must teach our youngsters about sex, the good and the bad, so that they can protect themselves and others.
Wealth also plays a major role in HIV/AIDS. Note that the wealthy are less likely to contract HIV compared to the poor. This being because the wealthy have better health insurance, better doctors, and better access to education compared to the poor. Also, better living conditions play a factor. As many of you should know, communities of color are more likely considered to be the “poor” in this scenario compared to our white counterparts. This is something that has trickled down since the dawn of oppression, slavery, civil rights movements, and so on.
Having better jobs is crucial to access to healthcare, but not because of better benefits or more money being made. But rather because with better jobs comes job security. Better jobs means being able to take care of one’s self and the ability to make those doctor appointments and not fear losing your job due to missing work. Better jobs and equal opportunities means access to better career opportunities regardless of one’s race, gender identity, or sexual orientation. Oftentimes I see in the LGBT community, young boys, and transgender women having to resort to sex work just to make ends meet. Because they’re either too young to work a good paying job, or no one wants to hire them. They also result to sex work as a means of survival after being kicked out of their homes for coming out as LGBT. To this day, parents will still disown their own kids and kick them out simply for being who they are. And in this community, I’ve learned that sex work for some is part of their survival. It’s how they ensure they have a place to stay.
The lack of access to healthcare is also one, if not the most crucial factor in communities of color contracting HIV and being diagnosed with AIDS. For one, black folk have a history of distrust of doctors and anything medically related; which is understood when we look at history and how black and brown men and women have historically been treated in the medical field. We were seen as experiments and not people. Look back at slavery and Tuskegee. Although I may have not been there to go through any of that, the stories that trickle down, generation after generation, have some effect on us and can cause trauma, in a sense. We have to work together with our doctors and physicians to build those levels of trust and understand both sides of these partnerships. And that’s what it is: you and your doctor are creating a partnership working to better your health overall.
These things tie in to each other. It’s imperative that we recognize these issues, and seek justice and fair treatment in all aspects of life so that we may actually get to zero new HIV diagnoses and an AIDS-free generation. We must continue to have these types of conversations regardless of who may or may not be comfortable, because they allow room for growth. But it won’t happen if you all leave here and don’t retain the facts given to you or if you all don’t take what was said here and act on it in some way, shape, form, or fashion. We all have a duty! For ourselves, for our communities, for our kids, and for generations to come to make HIV and AIDS things of the past!