According to the Southern States Manifesto, more than 36,000 people have died of AIDS in the South as estimated by the CDC and in 2005 the South was burdened with half of all deaths from AIDS in the United States. The Southern US is clearly burdened with HIV to a degree unwarranted by its population size. This is a concern expressed by many and, to some degree, remains a mystery.
I started writing for TheBody.com to try and address issues of stigma and HIV in the Southern United States. My first blog talked about internal and external stigma. What I mean by external stigma is stigma as a result of actions directed towards individuals or groups through any form of targeted actions taken because of who they are as individuals or the group they belong to. This can be a result of race (racism), class (classism), sexual orientation (homophobia), gender (sexism), or HIV status. When I say internal stigma, it is the result of ongoing treatment that targets individuals in a way that they learn to believe that these messages are real and define who they are. Internal, or felt, stigma is thus the result of external, or enacted, stigma acting over a period of time. Though I think it can be helpful to understand the terminology to get a better understanding of how stigma operates, this is somewhat academic and understanding these terms is not really the topic of this post.
This is my second blog for TheBody.com. I took on this project because I wanted to write about stigma and HIV in the Southern U.S. But it's proven harder to do than I thought and it's taking me far too long to write this second post.
Two weeks ago we held a pastor's forum here in Durham, North Carolina. About 20 pastors came from both black and white Christian congregations. Stigma became the main topic. One of the things that surprised me most were the challenges of talking about health issues period -- let alone more controversial issues like HIV/AIDS.