Monday, October 22, 2007

HIV/AIDS: An Epidemic in the African-American Community

When the media announced that Eric “Easy E” Wright had full blown AIDS in 1995, I grab my Straight Outta Compton CD and head nodded for a few. Four years prior to his announcement, Magic Johnson shocked the world with a similar message… “I have the HIV virus…” It hit me like a rock as my best images of Magic and Eazy E came from the times when they where young and hungry for success. I believed that only gay men got the disease, not realizing that a second cousin moved to California after being diagnosed with an unknown illness and died a lonely death. HIV/AIDS was once thought to be a problem for gay white men only and was defined as the Gay Related Immunodefeciency Disease or GRID. However, ten days after being admitted to the hospital with pneumonia, a common complication of AIDS, Eazy E was dead. The HIV/AIDS epidemic was real and one of gangsta raps pioneers fell prey.

Today, African Americans are facing its greatest health challenge and the numbers reported by the Centers for Disease Control are staggering: African Americans make up only 13% of the United States population, yet we represent 50% of the cases of HIV/AIDS in this country; African American women are the fastest growing population of HIV positive people in the United States; and of the 1.2 million people in the US believed to be infected with HIV, 200-300,000 are unaware they are infected. In the month of October I personally diagnosed eight African American women of child bearing age with HIV- all but one, 25 years old or younger, was incarcerated. This unfortunately comes as no surprise when individuals like Elidor Kersaint (club promoter in Miami), Nikko Briteramos (former college basketball player), and Nushawn Williams (former drug dealer from Brooklyn) have knowingly spread the disease to women.

What was considered a gay white man’s disease has now become one of black and brown brothers and sisters. Debates continue on the origins of the HIV and the emphasis focuses on treatment, not prevention, immunization, or a cure. The bottom line is that the HIV, which is spread by blood and body fluids, is here!

Abstinence, wearing condoms, getting tested, dispelling the myths and educating ourselves about HIV are the only cure. Intravenous drug use (IVDA), promiscuity, men having sex with men (MSM), is the primary modes of infection among African Americans. The southern states have been hit the hardest and my hometown of Baton Rouge ranked number 6 in the country in AIDS cases followed by New Orleans. In 2005, Miami had the highest rates of new AIDS diagnoses in this country. Hip-hop has made several attempts to raise and help eradicate this illness from our communities. When hip-hop was “founded” in the early 1970’s, it was the result of crime and violence that brought about the movement to positively change things. “Coochie Bang” by Queen Latifah and “Go See the Doctor” by Kool Moo Dee, although not specifically addressing HIV, did address condom usage and sexually transmitted diseases. But as you know, the culture has evolved, the game has changed, and the call to do things not necessarily hip-hop is upon us. Rappers, MC’s, and DJ’s have been summoned to speak on politics, injustice, and health. "Hip-hop as a culture is getting a lot of backlash right now for its lyrics, for its public image, and the people are crying out for more responsibility," said KRS-One at the 2007 BET Hip Hop Awards. I applaud Common and Ludacris in their recent efforts to bring more awareness to the issue of HIV/AIDS. We need more of a collaborative effort, however, and I support KRS One for pulling MC’s together to “stop the violence”, but we need some love on the medical battlefield. The messages must be consistent and reinforced on and off the stage. The use of hip-hop as a tool for empowerment has been proven. Lets us use it to educate about health issues as well.

For more information on HIV visit (c) 2007 Rani Whitfield. This article was published October 2007 at

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