A few days ago I was at work skimming through an old issue of Essence Magazine that I kinda sorta stole from one of my closest sista girlfriends. I got to this article called Capital Offense about the HIV/AIDS epidemic in Washington D.C. According to this article, D.C. is our nation’s leader in AIDS cases, with Black women making up most of the new HIV cases. African Americans make up “84% of newly reported HIV/AIDS cases” in The District of Columbia. Now, usually I skip articles like these because they are very scary to take in. But this time, I forced myself to continue reading and the more I read, the more I realized that I had been underestimating the extent to which HIV/AIDS was affecting the Black community. I kept thinking wow, this is real. HIV/AIDS is real and the topic should not be ignored or avoided because many of us are dying. The poverty that plagues the city plays a key role in this epidemic as nearly 19% of its resident’s are poverty stricken. Needless to say poverty begets crime and drug use, which leads to the exchange of needles, which leads to more cases of HIV/AIDS.
So I decided that I would take a step towards eliminating this epidemic and get myself tested. The last time I was tested was about 9 months ago but the health department encourages follow ups so I scheduled an appointment yesterday. Today, I sat in the Health Department anxiously awaiting my turn, paid my $15, and saw the nurse. My nurse was an old Black Woman with a warm southern accent. She reminded me of someone’s no nonsense but loving Grandmother. She drew blood from my finger, pushing down hard around the opening to get a good drop of blood. After she sent the blood off for testing (which took 20 mins), she decided that we would have a talk.
We went to another office, closed the door and she said to me, “What do you know about HIV?” I was so startled by the question that my little Master’s degree went out the window. I found myself stumbling over words and saying the little bit I could remember. Then she gave me the most elaborate explanation of HIV/AIDS that I have ever heard. She started at the beginning and talked about everything: “The best ways to avoid contracting HIV is abstinence and condoms. Condoms are 99% effective. Don’t exchange needles. Don’t even exchange crack pipes because there may be wounds in your mouth. If you are bisexual, wash your toys in Clorox. HIV/AIDS dies within seconds when it hits the air but if you are positive don’t leave bloody articles around. If you are positive and you have unprotected sex with someone else who is also positive, you may increase your chances of turning HIV into AIDS.” And so on and so on. I was like a little kid again in school at my desk. Then my teacher said, “Okay now sit out there while I go get your results.”
As I sat, all of the things that she said were running through my head. That’s when I realized that this woman really cared about me. I have been tested on numerous occasions and nobody took the time to see if I really understood what was going on. No one ever took the time to make sure I knew how to protect myself. No one ever took the time to speak to me on a personal human level about getting a HIV test.
When she called my back to the office, she informed me that my results were Negative. Then she gave me another talk about protecting myself. These were her words, “Trust NO ONE. Don’t trust anybody! The Black male has little concern for the Black female. He will go out and have sex with a risky person and then come right back to you and give it to you… A lot of women get HIV from their husbands. A woman I knew died this way… If a black man goes to prison and doesn’t have it already, chances are he has it when he comes out and passes it right along…Some people with HIV get sad and go spread the virus on purpose to share it with others… Don’t trust anybody!…Use a condom.”
The words of this old Black woman stung me. Reality set in. How many times have I engaged in intercourse unprotected with a boyfriend? How many times have we all done this, whether it was a girlfriend or boyfriend (maybe even one that we didn’t really trust)? Then, usually, especially in youth, those relationships don’t last. We don’t realize how many times we are putting our lives at risk. On the subject of the black man, those are her opinions. However, it has been proven time and time again that you may think you’re the only one and in reality you are as Aretha Franklin puts it, in a “Chain of fools.” The results are higher rates of HIV/AIDS cases among Black women than any other category in the U.S. Still, we hardly ever talk about it in our communities. It’s a secret, a hidden all out epidemic.
I just want to say to everyone. Love yourself. My sista Griselda reminded me of that in an article she wrote a few weeks ago. We’ve got to start loving ourselves better. We need to talk about this issue more openly. Churches (the best avenue to reach Black People) need to have some HIV/AIDS classes and testing days. We need to fight for Brothas in prison to have access to condoms. We need to remind Sistas that love for self is more important that HIS love. And we need to destroy this sexist misogynist illusion of Manhood that so many Brothas have fallen susceptible to. We need to replace it with “real” knowledge of self and self love.
So, I just wanted to let you all know about my recent eye opening experience. Please go get tested and tell your friends to get tested. Get educated about HIV/AIDS, so that we can prevent it from spreading. We don’t have to live like this. We can prosper. We can save our communities.
By Jessica Ann Mitchell