Because 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.