Too many in the black community resist getting tested for HIV because of stigma and fear
African Americans have the most severe burden of HIV of all racial and ethnic groups in this country. We account for about 44 percent of all new HIV infections, even though we make up only 12 percent of the population. The rate of new HIV infections for black men men is seven times that of white men, twice that of Latino men and nearly three times that of black women. Though black women have seen a decrease in our infection rates, our numbers are still unacceptable: The rate of new HIV infections for us is 20 times that of white women and almost five times that of Latinas. And 36 percent of new HIV infections among gay and bisexual men occurs among black gay and bisexual men.
In spite of these numbers, too many of us don’t know we have the disease. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, almost 85,000 HIV-infected people in the African-American community in 2010 were unaware of their HIV status. This is, in large part, due to stigma, fear, discrimination, homophobia and negative perceptions about HIV testing. Many of those at risk for contracting HIV fear discrimination and rejection more than they fear infection, and as a result, opt out of getting tested.
Jamar Rogers, from season two of NBC’s “The Voice,” penned a poignant essay, “An HIV Status Doesn’t Make You Damaged Goods,” for the Huffington Post addressing this very issue. He said, in part:
People love boxes. Neat, little squares to help compartmentalize others. I’ve been placed in numerous boxes myself; I’m a walking statistic, apparently. Black, fatherless kid. Check. Sexual abuse victim. Check. Former drug addict. Check. HIV positive. Check.
Now that we’ve established that, let’s talk about living outside of the box. I’d like to talk to you for a moment. The real you, not the number that goes before percentage signs. If you’ve ever felt worthless or ugly, then this is for you. If you were ever the butt of some bully’s cruel joke, then please keep reading. If you’re just finding out you’re living with HIV, I most definitely want to speak to you.
You see, you’re more than a number. … You are intricately weaved in the plot line of humanity’s story and I, for one, am glad you’re alive. You’re worth being told that you’re not here on accident. You’re worth being told that you are more than some positive or negative symbol. You need to hear that an HIV status doesn’t make you damaged goods. And if you haven’t heard it before, please allow me to be the first to say to you:
You are not a failure.
Couldn’t have said it better ourselves? Check. Now go get tested.