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The XVII International AIDS Conference (AIDS 2008)
  
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It's Time to Demand Respect for Black People With HIV, Activist Declares

In an Impassioned Speech, Sheryl Lee Ralph Implores the Media to "Do Something Different"

August 4, 2008

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On Aug. 4, a panel of African-American HIV community leaders held an emotional press conference in which they expressed frustration and anger about the lack of attention being paid to the HIV epidemic among U.S. blacks. Sheryl Lee Ralph, an actress and long-time HIV activist, was one of those who spoke. Here is the text of her speech. (You can also click here to read or hear TheBody.com's interview with Ralph.)

I thank everybody sitting up here today. I thank them all for the kind of work that they have been doing for so long. But to all of you sitting out there who have the power of the pen, to everybody out there who is going to write a story, to everybody out there who is going to push a button and send a message out into cyberspace: I need you to do something different! It cannot be business as usual when it comes to black people and AIDS, black people and AIDS in America, black people and AIDS around the world! Something must be done differently. Because, if you sprechen sie Deutsches, AIDS is a problem. ¿Usted habla español? El SIDA es una problema. Vous parlez français? Le SIDA est un problème. You speak English? AIDS is a problem. And I want you to deal up front and in your stories about the "ism." Because "ism" is playing a big part in what has happened, what does not happen, and what will not happen in the future if we don't do something different.

Sheryl Lee Ralph
Sheryl Lee Ralph
I had a moment. I spoke with Senator Hillary Clinton. And I said, "Senator, what about AIDS in America?" She stopped what she was doing. She turned to me and she said, "If AIDS were affecting the general population the way it is affecting women of color, black women especially, there would be a national health emergency." That was two years ago. Two days ago, the report came out from the CDC [U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention] that the numbers of AIDS, as it had been calculated in black America, are far more than they expected. When will the national emergency take place? When will somebody get truly outraged? When is somebody going to value black people?

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I'm not a charity case. I'm not a poverty case. I'm not looking for a handout. I am looking to be valued as a full, complete, human being, whether I am on the continent of Africa, whether I'm on the hills in Japan, whether I am in Hawaii, whether I am in the mountains of Central America. If I am Negro, Cimarron, I want to be valued as a human being. [in accented English] I want you to listen to me when I talk to you and I have an accent. I want you to know that I am important, just like you. [ends accented English] I want you to look at black me and stop looking past me. Stop looking around me. I need a seat at the table. I need a seat at the table! [applause]

Stop writing policy for me, and you haven't really talked to me. Stop telling me what I need to be doing, and you don't know me. So if you have got the power of the pen, you're going to push that button into the Internet; I need you to write and do something different. Because I am black. I am in the world. And I matter just like anybody else. [applause]


  
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This article was provided by TheBody.com. It is a part of the publication The XVII International AIDS Conference.
 
See Also
Sheryl Lee Ralph Throws Down the Gauntlet
Pernessa Seele: How a Long-Time, African-American HIV Activist Keeps Up the Fight
Top African-American HIV Activist Calls for "National AIDS Strategy" in United States
More Views on HIV/AIDS in the African-American Community

Reader Comments:

Comment by: A_nOBOdy (charlotte north carolina) Sun., Sep. 21, 2008 at 10:03 pm EDT
It is very obvious that the majority of the commentors completely missed the point of Sheryl's remarks...I am a black american with HIV 24 yrs...and don't consider HIV a black disease, I do consider HIV a disease that the government is ignoring its impact on the black community...Yes, it is each of our responsibility to protect ourselves and practice safe-sex....but when education dollars and the messages are not targeted for our community...the rates of infection will continue to rise, and this is why HIV/AIDS has had a greater impact on the black community than any other....when HIV was first identified in the U.S. as a WHITE gay disease...the dollars and education and prevention efforts was targeted toward that group, thus a decline in the infection rates....historically uneducated, historically economically disadvantage, and historically medically disparsed always trying to catch up...usually when it's too late...bottomline is ...give us some of our damn tax money so we can educate our people..with prevention programs targeted especially for us by us....a white gay meth head can't tell a black woman why her down low boyfriend infected her with HIV --the education messages are not the same....PUT A REAL FACE ON THE MESSAGE...The data is saying BLACK... use a BLACKFACE....
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Comment by: Williams Pete (UK) Thu., Aug. 21, 2008 at 9:26 am EDT
I don't think this is very fair ... all people with HIV demand respect, not just black people!!
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Comment by: Jay Tue., Aug. 19, 2008 at 7:14 pm EDT
I think many of those responding have missed the point of what Sheryl was stating (I actually watched the program aired). She was not negating the fact that this is a human issue. She addressed issues of denial and the sex in the community and how this is largely affecting WOMEN. This is not a disease that discriminates and yes we are all responsible for our sexual health (practicing safer sex etc.,.) However, the point being made is the fact that WOMEN (mostly black and young) are the fastest growing cases of HIV through heterosexual sex and that it is not being addressed within the schools and communities as it should. Sandy Boshart a social worker in Georgia wrote a book " like a thief in the night" which addresses the veil of denial which still exist with case workers in regards to developing progams and lobbying for affordable healthcare FOR ALL. Check it out.
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Comment by: Keith Tue., Aug. 19, 2008 at 11:50 am EDT
I see all sides of the debate, but seriously, it's a people problem like stated earlier. It just depends on what country, region, demographic you are in that influences your strongest feelings. It's not a social, class or race thing. I think it's an education thing. We younger generation (27 WM married/3 kids) think "it would never happen to us." All we see on T.V. and other media outlets is sex this, sex that. How many movies or music videos/songs ever displayed safe sex practices? Hardly any. The perception we get is AIDS is an Africa problem. America is safe, except for California and New York. Blame media. Blame school systems for not educating youth. Short of creating a new Safe Sex Task Force that chaperones every sexual encounter to put condoms on people and enforces safe sex practices, STDs like HIV, Herpes, etc are going to exist in ALL races. I buy my condoms at the same store that any black, hispanic, asian, or other race can get theirs at the same price as they would pay. No special discounts for being white. We all have to be advocates for educating others. BTW, Hillary only gave that answer because that's what you wanted to hear. She is a politician you know. Ask her now that votes are involved.
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Comment by: Jairo,from TANZANIA Mon., Aug. 18, 2008 at 3:20 am EDT
It is true that all people must be treated equally regardless of their colour or body morphology.
Keep it up Sheryl. You are not alone. You are just the voice of the voiceless. The World should understand that black people are neither the virus nor the creator of the virus.
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Comment by: Phil Fri., Aug. 15, 2008 at 2:39 pm EDT
I am white and I demand respect also. I am HIV positive and I get the same respect as the black people do. There is no disrespect for someone because of color, it is the way they act. Get off this black issue. It is a people issue.
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Comment by: Teboho MOHLABI Fri., Aug. 15, 2008 at 2:31 am EDT
Maybe Sheryl would also like to know that even in one race countries, women or poor or illiterate also suffer the same problems. AIDS has not just been turned into a race or gender issues but it has also become a class issue.
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Comment by: Lennette- Orlando, FL Thu., Aug. 14, 2008 at 9:25 pm EDT
I am a black 46 year old heterosexual woman. Never used drugs or alcohol, never promiscuity in my life. My only "crime" to is love one man who totally deceived me. And I didn't listen to my God and intuition. I've been positive for 15 years and I live healthy so far. I have struggled with numerous medications mishaps as pancreatitis, avascular necrosis, thyroid problems etc. My insurance recently changed to where I bore most of the cost, over $1500 per month which I cannot afford. I canot qualify for extra assistance. I make too much to qualify and not enough to afford. So, I need to make a life descision to go off my meds which according to my doctor will end my life quickly. I have no choices left and I feel so left out. My spirit is broken with this medical system. I've worked so hard to be the best citizen. I've worked straight 25 years never a break and paid my taxes and voted every election. Still, I can't afford to live.....
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Comment by: Robert Thu., Aug. 14, 2008 at 7:38 pm EDT
YOU need to do something different. YOU need to tell black people in America and around the world, that they are personally responsible for their behavior. Not the Germans, nor the French, and not the Latino world either.
Oh,and Sheryl, the WORLD OWES YOU NOTHING. Your work is an inside job. When are YOU going to value yourself and black people?
Oh, and which soapbox were you on between say, 1981 and 1996, while white gay men were dying by the 10s of thousands? Where was your anger then? Once you realize that the world owes you NOTHING, you'll be a happier and more peaceful woman.
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Comment by: volley_drop Thu., Aug. 14, 2008 at 7:29 pm EDT
Sheryl Lee Ralph, you are simply another screaming woman. I am HIV+, are you; I am gay; are you. AIDS is my problem, I contracted it and the medical community has worked overtime trying to fix "MY" problem. If you get breast cancer, it is "your" problem, not societies, the gouvernment, or your neighbour- it is yours!! AIDS is not black, white, gay, straight, male of female, it is a viral infection which can lead to death...if you get it- DEAL WITH IT; DON'T BLAME THOSE ALREADY WORKING AROUND THE CLOCK. READ, REFLECT...AND DEAL WITH IT. Sheryl Lee Ralph, there are currently many ways to prevent HIV infection- who will you blame this on?

Thanks,

Michael
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