October 16, 2013
Unless you have been under a rock recently, you are aware that the fastest-growing group of new HIV infections in the United States is African Americans and Latinos age 13-24, according to the Center for Disease Control. So where is the public outrage? Might it be more if it were a group that mainstream society saw as more sympathetic that was being affected or infected?
In the late '80s a hemophiliac from Kokomo, Indiana contracted HIV through a blood transfusion. As a result of his AIDS diagnosis, Ryan White and his entire family faced unprecedented harassment, hate and bigotry all in the name of fear and ignorance. White soon became the face of HIV whether he wanted to be or not. He chose to use his story to fight injustices faced by those living with HIV. Regardless of how a person had contracted HIV, Ryan fought to fight the injustices that were endured by all. Celebrities from around the world befriended Ryan for various reasons but mostly because Ryan was a unique young man who was kind-hearted and thought of others over himself.
Having met Jeannie White-Ginder, Ryan's mother, it is not hard to see where he got his demeanor and kind heart from. I certainly mean no disrespect to Ryan or his memory however I must ask the question: "What if Ryan White would have been black?"
Prior to Ryan, the face of HIV and AIDS had been homosexuals and drug users. Before there was ever a governmental response to HIV and AIDS there was a response mounted by friends and families of gays who were dying in record numbers. For the first time however, AIDS appeared in the form of a young, white boy who contracted HIV through no fault of his own. He became infected through a blood transfusion that was meant to treat his hemophilia.
In the crisis that we are facing today there seems to be a trend that HIV has once again returned to populations that mainstream society seemingly does not care about. HIV has once again been relegated to the ghettos and slums across the United States; stigma within communities of color creates an environment in which new HIV infections occur but where they are not talked about. How can we expect communities of color which are barely surviving to mount a defense against HIV and AIDS?
Had Ryan White been a black or brown boy with HIV, would he have received the media attention that he received? Would he have gone on to become the face or reformation within the movement which subsequently led to legislation that affects hundreds of thousands of Americans each year?
It is time as a country that we have the same passionate response for our youth in communities of color as we do for our children from Sandy Hook. When we start to invest in the youth in communities of color, at the same level as their white peers, this will empower them. When provided the resources, these youth will be able to turn the tide of new infections within their own communities the same way that Ryan White was able to single handedly challenge the status quo of the Indiana Board of Education, Town of Kokomo, and a nation that will forever be in his debt.
Read Aaron's blog My HIV Journey.