I spotted this picture of Queen Latifah and Eazy-e on Queen Latifah's Instagram and I was excited and sadden all at the same time. It sent me into thinking overload and Lord knows when my mind gets going, I dissect every angle before I'm done. It made me appreciate Queen Latifah even more than I already do, but it also reminded me of the shaming around HIV/AIDS still in 2013.
The posting of this picture on the Queen's account is significant. Significant because it gives voice to the voiceless, even in death. It sent a subliminal message that a person with HIV/AIDS's life still has worth, even in death. It said, "I am not ashamed that Eazy-e died from AIDS". It said, "I remember him and what he was to me and what he was to the world".
This subliminal messaging is important because still today the shaming around HIV/AIDS is alive and well, even in death. It amazes me how we have written off individuals who have made significant contributions to society that passed away from AIDS.
We have even done it in our families. I've met countless people in their 20's and 30's who told me that their mother, father, brother, aunt, uncle passed away from AIDS and how it's the family's "well-kept secret".
One woman told me that her mother gathered everyone in the living room after her sister died and laid down the law, "We will NOT talk about this." Then, there are the families that just don't talk, like the college student that explained to me, that after 2 aunts passed away from AIDS, she said enough is enough and became a peer educator on her college campus.
We have done it not only with Eazy-e, who is the father of Gangsta-Rap and also formed N. W. A., but with Rev. James Cleveland, the founder of contemporary Gospel music. He paved the way for the likes of artist such as, Yolanda Adams and Kirk Franklin. We have done it with Arthur Ashe, who paved the way in pro-tennis for the likes of the Williams sisters. We have done it with Max Robinson, the first Black national anchor man for national news. There wouldn't be a Don Lemon if there hadn't been a Max Robinson.
Our silence has spoken loud and clear. We will NOT talk about these people who have died from AIDS. We will not, because we would then have to face that "normal people," "talented people," "wonderful people," can become infected from this disease and that could mean me too. We will not talk about this because it would mean that we would have to have an honest conversation about who is at risk, and how we are at risk. God forbid if we made the line around HIV/AIDS between them and us thinner.
We will NOT talk about them and let them shame our family and our community. At the center of this concept is how we view people with HIV/AIDS. At the center of this is an ugly stereotype of who and how one becomes infected with HIV.
Eazy-e made a significant contribution to the music industry and help to usher in a new music form. His untimely death at age 31 was a shock to us all. I was already public and speaking at that time and he was the talk of town. People had questions. His death made AIDS real for that young generation. As did my infection for Black women and Magic's for heterosexual men. High school students wanted to know as much as they could about the how and why he died. His death brought a new consciousness to HIV/AIDS.
It also made clear the need to get tested for HIV. When he was admitted into the hospital, it was for asthma. Basically, he was having shortness of breath and difficulty breathing. However, what he really had, was an AIDS related Pneumonia, Pneumocystis carinii pneumonia, (PCP). The reality was, if Eazy-e had known his HIV status, he could have taken medication to prevent PCP and his life would have been prolonged. His death made it clear the need for testing and early diagnosis of HIV.
But today, no one really talks about him. I see all the pictures of other Gangsta rappers on Social Media on their birthdays and death anniversary all over Instagram and Twitter, but not until last week have I ever seen a picture of Eazy-e until I spotted that one on Queen Latifah's Instagram.
Thank you, Queen! Thank you for giving voice to the voiceless around HIV/AIDS, even in death.
Read Rae's blog Rae Lewis-Thornton Speaks.