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Commentary & Opinion

Black Silence on HIV/AIDS

June 28, 2010

"Sunday is National HIV Testing Day. The shame, discrimination, and (sometimes) abuse that come with a positive diagnosis stun people into silence, turning them into accomplices of a disease with no cure.

"The fear must be confronted.

"At a White House meeting, at which I was a panelist, this month on the black community's response to HIV among black men, David Malebranche of Emory University told a powerful story of how he broke the silence in a cultural focal point for African-American men: the barbershop. There's 'a tacit understanding,' Malebranche told me when I called to have him retell the story, 'that's not something that we usually discuss openly.'

"Malebranche, who is gay, went to get his hair cut while working on a project in Philadelphia last year. 'We started kinda traditional barbershop talk about sports and stuff like that. As we got to talking, of course, it always gets around to women,' he told me.

"'It got so ridiculous because they kept complaining about what was going on with women that I just started laughing.' When the barber asked why he laughed, Malebranche said, 'Um, I'm into dudes.'

"The barber stopped the clippers, spun Malebranche around in his chair and reached out to shake his hand. 'He said, "Thank you, brother,"' Malebranche recounted. 'He said, "I really, really appreciate your honesty. You didn't make a big deal about it. You didn't try to hide behind it."'

"Malebranche explained that many people hide their sexuality because they're afraid of stigma.

"When I asked Malebranche why he told that story at the White House, he said he wanted to highlight the homophobia and discrimination in the black community that feed stigma. 'The silence can be something where that creates the tension and that creates the discomfort,' he said.

"It's time to cut through the tension and get over the discomfort. Silence in the face of HIV/AIDS equals death."

The author writes the Post Partisan blog on the website

Back to other news for June 2010

Adapted from:
Washington Post
06.27.2010; Jonathan Capehart

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This article was provided by CDC National Prevention Information Network. It is a part of the publication CDC HIV/Hepatitis/STD/TB Prevention News Update.
See Also
More Views on HIV/AIDS in the African-American Community

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