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What's Going On?

That Hump

Reflections on the Rising Rates of STIs in African-American Teenage Girls

May/June 2008

Keith GreenBecause I am genuinely passionate about my work, it is sometimes really difficult for me to not take it personally. Hearing that one in two African American teenage girls may be infected with at least one sexually transmissible infection (STI) was one of those times.

The data is from a study that was released at the 2008 National STD Prevention Conference. It was held here in Chicago this year, so I was able to ride the train to and from the sessions listening to Erykah Badu's politically charged new CD, New Amerykah, on my iPod.

There's a song on the CD called The Hump. It's sung from the perspective of a drug-addicted single mother of two who is certain that if she could just "get over that hump," things would be better. But you can tell from her words that she knows that even if she is able to miraculously get over the hump that she's faced with today, another one awaits at tomorrow's sunrise.

It's the circle of life that traps, I mean, moves us all, right?

So, though I have no idea what it feels like to be in her shoes, on the train ride home following the first full day of the conference, I could certainly relate to her pain.

Fully aware of the relationship between STIs and HIV (infection with any of the former makes one considerably more susceptible to the latter), what I saw developing was yet another hump in the work that I have signed on to -- the work of eradicating HIV from communities of color and other marginalized populations.

Lucky for me, the car that I ended up on for the train ride home was practically empty. Usually, I can hold it until I get home, but the combination of those statistics and the shrill of Badu's voice towards the end of that song brought me to tears right on the train.

My brother's sleepin' on my flo'
A bitch could use a little mo'

If I could get over that hump
Then maybe I will feel better

I cried because I knew that relief for her pain, the other side of the hump, would be a long time coming.

In the five years that I have worked in HIV, the one thing that I know for sure is that it is not a lack of resources necessarily that allows this virus to continue to disproportionately affect African Americans. Rather, it is a lack of collective human will to sincerely address and correct the myriad of social ills that have impacted African Americans since there was such a population.

I recently heard one-time presidential hopeful Mitt Romney give a speech to his campaign supporters. In that speech, he suggested that the one thing that all Americans have in common is the fact that all of our ancestors came to this country in search of better opportunity. I believe he was speaking about immigration and the need for policies that would reward people for doing it the "right way," while severely penalizing those who did not.

Sitting in my living room in complete awe, I nearly jumped through the screen to pull him off that stage by his ear to give him a piece of my mind.

I wanted to tell him that my ancestors, Mr. Romney, did not come to this country in search of anything. In fact, they didn't even come by their own volition. And until you and others like you recognize this, and that this very critical historical fact has given you and others like you an incredible advantage for survival, both economically and emotionally, people like me and the woman in Erykah's song will continue to live our lives struggling to get over "that hump."

I want it to be clear that I am not blaming anybody for the current situation of Black people in America. We have a responsibility to ourselves to relentlessly fight the uphill battle and to not prove ourselves to be the inferior human beings that we were once "scientifically validated" to be. Often times, as Bill Cosby once said, we are not holding up our end of the bargain.

But I also want it to be clear that until we acknowledge and make a sincere effort to correct the psychological effects that the years of oppression of Black people in America has had on all of America, but African Americans in particular, none of us will get over the hump.

Taxes for the rich will continue to increase. The gap between the haves and the have nots will continue to widen. Our schools will not be safe. Teenage girls will continue to contract STIs at astronomical rates. And African Americans will always be disproportionately impacted by HIV/AIDS.

But if I could get over that hump, maybe I will feel better.

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This article was provided by Positively Aware. It is a part of the publication Positively Aware. Visit Positively Aware's website to find out more about the publication.
See Also's HIV/AIDS Resource Center for African Americans
HIV and Me: An African American's Guide to Living With HIV
Quiz: Are You at Risk for HIV?
10 Common Fears About HIV Transmission
More Views on HIV Prevention in the African-American Community

Reader Comments:

Comment by: Tarvis Mack - DC Wed., Jul. 2, 2008 at 3:03 pm UTC
Kevin, I totally agree with your article in its complete entirety. Apparently, Mr. Romney does not understand the African-American struggles and experience in this country. I'm sure his fore-fathers were not held into captivity, sold into slavery for generations, prevented to be educated or seen by a physician of any sort for centuries. Because of this type of conditioning we have developed taboos, stigmas and dogmas against going to see a physician for even basic health issues reasons. We have to educate ourselves to the importance of seeing a physician, getting tested not only for HIV/AID, but for all life-threatening illnesses that plague our communities. Until the leaders of this country recognize the misdeeds of the African-American race they will never come to understand our struggles with HIV/AIDs in our communities. Yes, the resources are there, but how do you get those resources to people that needs them the most? It's a fighting battle, and we all must stay in it to win. Great article!
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Comment by: Frank Mon., Jun. 30, 2008 at 12:53 pm UTC
Dear Keith -

I read your article with great interest. I am sorry to say, I am not sure what else can be done "to correct the psychological effects" you speak of. Just like my bad decisions put me in this place, the same is true for the Black Community. I have heard this song for so long - same message just prettier words.

We all need to accept our own responsibility. My mistakes are not because of someone else. I believe you have done a disservice to your own community with this article.

I grew up in the south, hate racism, love my black, brown and other friends but I am positive because of my own choice and no one else.

The same is true for the Black Community today. You can not blame anyone for bad decisions except the decision maker.

Yes, I am white and only found out I am positive at 43 years old. That is no one's fault but my own.

Thank You

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Comment by: Delphine Sat., Jun. 28, 2008 at 10:19 am UTC
Hey Keith,I feel you on so much of what you wrote in this article.Like you I work In the field and I do outreach and advocacy, oh and lets not forget to mention that I'm also black and infected with aids, so for those reason alone I too take the NSTDPs stasitics personally. I was so glad to hear you speak to the fact that we as people need to step up and be more responsible in not only addressing the growing rates of STIs in our communities, but we need to stand on the front lines of prevention.I feel that when we become more accountable to the realities of what our drug addictions do to our children in our communities we will fair a much better chance of getting over the hump.Being a recovering crack addict myself I identify all to well with that song.But being a black women living with Aids looking out at the devastation my crack addiction has added to my communities struggle, I believe as Bill Crosby does, we have not kept up our part of the bargain,and I will take it even further to say that we perpetuate most of our own destruction.Working in the field and pounding the pavement on the front lines of prevention I am faced with a reality that makes me cry daily. That being the true facts that I live with every day,1. I watch people that are infected and addicted, continuously ignore all the safe sex talks and workshops provided to help keep themselves and others safe,all in the need to get more drugs by any means necessary.2 As you wrote there is enough available prevention wise, but is there enough available,in morals in our communities. I believe we the cracked generation especialy those of us that are clean, need to take a good look at what's become of our children and families. We need to take a serious look at the connection of drugs and the rising rate of STI infections and start trying to come together and build some strategies to get us over this hump.
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