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Thank You, Mr. Sterling

By Gary Bell

May 16, 2014

Strange title, eh? After all, why would I thank someone attributed to insensitive racial comments about African Americans in 2014? With an African American president, thousands of African Americans now listed among the elite, but elusive, top 1% (over a dozen of whom, by the way, actually work for Mr Sterling) don't we now live in, as many idealistic pundits and scholars call it, a 'post racial' society? Well, this blog is not intended to thank him for reminding us that racism is alive and well. I am thanking Donald Sterling for getting HIV back in the news.

Now, one would think that the greatest epidemic in modern history alone, would remain in the headlines by virtue of well, it being the greatest epidemic in modern history. Its amazing to think that 75 million total infections, over 36 million deaths and over 2.3 million new infections annually rarely makes the news. Nor is it the fundraising leadership of 'twinBill" of Bill Clinton and Bill Gates; or the dramatic breakthroughs in HIV treatment that have enabled millions to live longer, more productive lives; or even the tenacity of the advocates who have fought for access for these treatments. No, it takes the uniformed comments of an 80 year old man about one of the most iconic figures in the history of this epidemic, Magic Johnson, to justify front page news. So thank you, Mr. Sterling for reminding us that HIV infection is not the same thing as AIDS and that people can LIVE with HIV. Thank you for reminding us that many people still blame the victim ( 32%- according a 2012 survey by the Kaiser Family Foundation). And last, but not least, thank you for reminding us that we still have a long way to go to reduce the crushing stigma still associated with HIV. The attention that you brought to this issue, misguided as it may have been, has produced the rare public 'teachable moment" that we HIV advocates and educators so often yearn for. Now, I guess we will just have to wait for the next major, public faux pas to get in the headlines again.

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