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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.

6. The Media: Turn Up the Volume

The media play a critical role in how much attention America pays to AIDS in the black community -- and how much the black community pays attention to AIDS.

But in general, African Americans haven't exploited the power of the press to expose the gaping racial inequities surrounding HIV/AIDS in this country, and the press' performance on covering the African-American epidemic has been equally disappointing -- especially compared to the amount of ink and images devoted to AIDS in Africa.

Even when the media does take heed of the ravages of HIV among blacks in their own backyard, they often opt for the sensational angle. The long-running media obsession with the "down low" is only the most obvious example. J. Lawrence Miller, former executive director of the Black Educational AIDS Project, contends that the media "has dropped the ball with respect to reporting local disease-fighting progress, as well as local challenges and failures. From Appalachia to Albany, the press is looking for the scandal, but rarely reports on the victories."

Dr. Alvin Poussaint
Dr. Alvin Poussaint
Harvard University's Dr. Alvin Poussaint, an expert on race relations in the United States, believes that many journalists avoided the burgeoning black epidemic for fear that, "blacks would feel the media was blaming blacks." He disagrees with that assertion, though: "It just kept up the barrier, the wall of silence," he says. This despite the fact that the media earned the title of "the Fourth Estate" precisely because of their ability to hold government officials, corporations and communities accountable for their actions -- or inactions, in the case of the HIV crisis. But who is watching the watchdogs?

Enter the National Black Justice Coalition (NBJC), founded in 2004 to influence officials, clergy and -- above all -- the media on issues and trends effecting gay African Americans. The proactive group not only critiques the news with opinion pieces and editorials; it also makes news by holding press conferences and sponsoring summits to address critical HIV issues, such as that recent meeting in Atlanta between heads of black churches and leading gay and AIDS advocates. Still, NBJC's focus is necessarily limited to gay issues, even though all African Americans infected or affected by HIV deserve media coverage.

What you can do: Information is power -- not only where HIV and your own health are concerned, but also for the black AIDS epidemic in general. Stay informed on how the media cover HIV/AIDS issues by bookmarking the leading HIV news Web sites, including the Black AIDS Institute, the National Black Justice Coalition and The Body. If you have e-mail, join those sites' mailing lists for free e-mail updates.

Also take the time to write letters to the editor whenever you notice your favorite newspaper, magazine or TV news program neglecting black HIV/AIDS issues. They may not publish your letter, but they will read it -- and the more letters they read, the more likely they'll be to do something about it.

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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