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HIV/AIDS Resource Center for African Americans
Kai Chandler Lois Crenshaw Gary Paul Wright Fortunata Kasege Keith Green Lois Bates Greg Braxton Vanessa Austin Bernard Jackson


This is part of a ten-part article. For the next section, click here. For other sections of this article, see Table of Contents.

1. Denial: Save the Children!

"Folks honestly still are in that place that 'It just won't happen to me.' Or, 'My husband is not going to sleep with a woman other than me.' Or, 'There's no such thing as a crack whore as it relates to my life,'" says Linda Burnette of Youth Outreach Adolescence Community AIDS Program (YO ACAP), an African-American HIV/AIDS organization in Philadelphia, Pa. She was referring to the "epidemic of denial" among African-American heterosexuals when it comes to acknowledging HIV risk.

Actress and activist Sheryl Lee Ralph recalls once saying onstage, "If sex could be death for men, then women cannot be far behind." The response she got was a vivid example of the HIV denial that persists among many African Americans: "That was one of the times that I received hate mail," Ralph says. Many advocates say the denial is caused by difficulties African Americans face in talking publicly about HIV, risky behaviors and, above all, sex.

Dr. Louis Sullivan, the former head of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, expresses frustration that, even after years of headlines about the catastrophic heterosexual HIV pandemic in sub-Saharan Africa, "many heterosexual African Americans do not seem to be making the connection. Public education about everyone getting themselves and their partners tested, knowing their HIV status and using appropriate prevention is crucial in breaking through this denial." Sullivan also points out that as HIV infection has become far more easily to manage medically, denial has found fresh roots in a new type of syndrome: "Just pop a pill and HIV is no problem."

There is universal concern that young African Americans will prove to be denial's biggest casualties -- especially adolescent girls and young women, whose HIV rates are already almost as high as black women in general.

"The least progress is among young people who feel that they are immune," says Dr. Beny Primm of Addiction Research and Treatment Corporation. "About 75 percent of young people, by the time they reach 12th grade, have had oral sex. In most instances, it's unprotected."

Even the most devastating statistics, such as the fact that African Americans have accounted for 40 percent of all U.S. AIDS deaths, can't compete with the perfect storm of denial and ignorance, which conspire to prevent young people from protecting themselves.

What you can do: Break down the wall of silence surrounding HIV, risky behaviors and sex. Talk openly and honestly about these issues with friends and family -- and, of course, your sex partners. If you want advice on how to initiate these talks, contact your local HIV/AIDS organization. Need help locating it? Check out The Body's nationwide list.

You can also raise awareness of the African-American AIDS crisis by volunteering at local events on National Black HIV/AIDS Awareness Day and World AIDS Day.

This is part of a ten-part article. For the next section, click here. For other sections of this article, see Table of Contents.

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