December 29, 2010
New York City radio station Hot 97 has indefinitely suspended one of its DJs, Cipha Sounds, following outrage over a controversial joke he made on the air on Dec. 17. During his morning show last Friday, Cipha Sounds, whose real name is Luis Diaz, told listeners, "The reason I'm HIV negative is because I don't mess with Haitian girls."
While he might have thought the comment would be forgotten by the next commercial break, it wasn't. Within hours, people from the Haitian community, local leaders and the general public launched phone complaints and angrily sounded off on the station's Twitter and Facebook pages.
In response to the complaints, later that day Diaz made an on-air apology and said, "I made a stupid, tasteless joke that was a one-liner that was taken totally the wrong way. I want to say sincerely that I apologize."
View his apology here:
But for some, his apology was not enough. That following Monday, a coalition of Haitian community groups, AIDS activists and politicians protested outside the Hot 97 offices in Tribeca calling for the DJ's removal. Among them were Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer, New York State Senator Eric Adams and City Councilman Mathieu Eugene.
The protestors stressed that Diaz's "one-liner" resurrected feelings of discrimination from the 1980s when the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention suggested that the AIDS epidemic in the United States was partially the fault of HIV-positive Haitian immigrants, thus declaring Haitians a high-risk group. And even though that myth was later debunked, stigma against Haitians has continued to linger on in this country. Several of the protestors said they remembered those times; when because of fear they wouldn't admit they were Haitian -- or even refer to their own Haitian-sounding names. According to WABC Eyewitness News, Carine Jocelyn, executive director at Diaspora Community Services, said, "Cipha Sounds, whatever his mom named him -- I don't know what his real name is -- is inappropriate. It's unacceptable. It's disgraceful."
On Wednesday, Dec. 22, the radio station responded to the protesting by suspending Diaz and instructing him to take sensitivity training about Haiti and the HIV/AIDS epidemic. A Hot 97 representative explained that, "The suspension is an indication of the importance we place on delivering a product that respects our Haitian audience."
Still, the HIV/AIDS organization Housing Works is demanding that the radio station "develop an on-the-air HIV prevention education program designed to counteract Sounds' attack on Haitians, people with HIV and women," and it has posted several ways in which people can join its campaign. [UPDATE 12/29: According to Housing Works, within two days of the launch of its campaign, Hot 97 agreed to develop an on-the-air HIV prevention program. As a result, Housing Works removed the campaign from its Web site.]
Cipha Sounds has since tweeted, "MI LUV ALL MY CARIBBEAN / WEST INDIAN PEOPLE & THE 1'S THAT DONT KNOW ME WILL SEE THAT IT WAS A MISTAKE & I HAVE NO HATE IN BODY WHATSOEVER."
Realistically, this comment could not have come at a worse time. In a year in which Haiti has been hit by a devastating earthquake, a pack of tropical storms, a cholera outbreak and a shoddy election -- on top of three decades of HIV discrimination -- he should have stayed as far away from this topic as possible.
Warren Tong is the research editor for TheBody.com and TheBodyPRO.com.
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