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Editorials and Commentary

The New AIDS Fight -- Race, Sex and Stigmas

March 7, 2003

"... Black women make up less than 15 percent of the female population of the United States. But they represented 64 percent of all new AIDS cases among women in 2001, according to the federal government. Yet it is difficult to find any public campaign that focuses specifically on the prevention and treatment of black women. Magic Johnson may be a powerful symbol, but he cannot be expected to speak to the specific predicament of black women.

"That predicament has been shaped by a long history of distorted notions about sexuality. Images of black women as sexually debased were developed during slavery to justify forced breeding for profit and the sexual oppression of female slaves ...

"Today, these stereotypes are given force in contemporary culture, where black women, especially young performers in music and film, are portrayed as highly sexually available and valuable because of it. Such perceptions have discouraged many black women from speaking openly about their sexual desires and experiences for fear that what they say will be distorted and used against them. In turn, some men interpret using a condom as a threat to masculine prowess, and some women play along. Similarly, some men and women perceive women who are sexually informed and who set the terms for a sexual relationship as less desirable or less feminine.

"Negative sexual images are not easily dispelled by openly challenging them. Sexual and racial labels have a special power over black women. Rather than risk attacks on their reputations and self-esteem, many women have retreated into silence. All this may help explain why black women who know about safe sex practices sometimes neglect to adopt them.

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"Educating black women about AIDS and prevention and improving their access to health care should be a significant part of lowering the rate of HIV infection. But any plan has to involve addressing the racial legacies of sexual stigma and the silences they have produced. This will make room for a new cultural language on sexuality that will help us navigate this crisis and beyond."

Rose is author of the forthcoming "Longing to Tell: Black Women Talk About Sexuality and Intimacy" and a professor of American studies at the University of California-Santa Cruz.

Back to other CDC news for March 7, 2003

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Adapted from:
New York Times
03.01.03; Tricia Rose



  
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This article was provided by CDC National Prevention Information Network. It is a part of the publication CDC HIV/Hepatitis/STD/TB Prevention News Update.
 

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