"We Still Don't Get It"

Khafre Abif
Khafre Abif

I've thought a great deal about what's happening to our youth as it relates to their rate of infection from HIV. Most of the time when I speak, share or blog, HIV in our youth is what I speak, share or blog about because that is where my life is centered.

But it occurred to me that we have been in this struggle and I am very concerned about how we are progressing in it. So I thought a lot about it and decided to title this blog, "We Still Don't Get It."

For some time now I have been trying to get to the idea that Black people must take charge of their lives and the lives of their children and youth. We can't leave this to other people to do it. And we cannot sit around wringing our hands and shaking our heads and talking. It's getting late, brothers and sisters, especially for our youth. When it gets to the point that the way we live is destructive and leads to our extermination, then we have to think about what has happened to our culture. And we need to take a long, serious look at our condition, now!

If culture is the sum total of artifacts, which any group accumulates in its struggle for survival and autonomy, then it's dynamic. Because it's a struggle. It's not static. It doesn't stand still and never change. It changes with the conditions. Because as you try to survive and to be self autonomous and the conditions change to keep you from doing that, you change in order to combat those conditions.

Now, what is survival? Survival means that the group has to do at least three things. One, the group has to see that each individual members keeps himself or herself in good enough mental, moral, spiritual, and physical health long enough to reproduce that self and then take care of whatever you reproduce. This is the least; if you don't do that the group dies. That is what survival means. In order to be self autonomous it means that the group has to have within its control the means to assume its survival. The group cannot depend on anyone else to do that. It's not going to happen, because that is not the way the world works.

What are the chief obstacles to survival? Nature, other men and women who may want to take what you have, and yourself. The culture that we pass down from generation to generation is supposed to help the group to survive and to be self autonomous. The major way we pass this culture on is through groups; family, church, school, organization. Those are the means. Unfortunately, for us, Black people, we live in a country where the overriding values of the country are against us.

For instance, these overriding values put in the positions of privilege people who are white, people who are male and people who are wealthy. These three groups dominate the society, so when we talk about teaching your children and youth instrumental values like equality, liberty, fraternity, etc., we are talking about ordering those values under institutional values of race, gender, and wealth. So that more white people get more equality, liberty, fraternity than Black people, more men get equality, liberty, fraternity than women, and more wealthy people get more equality, liberty, and fraternity than poor people.

It doesn't do enough then for us to teach our children and youth about the instrumental values if we don't teach them the impact of the institutional values on the distribution of the latter. Otherwise our children and youth don't get the full message and don't know how to behave.

Black families are in a state of crisis. Single-parent households are now the norm. It's becoming far too likely for young black men to end up in prison. In some circles, educational achievement and hard work have become things of the past.

The truth is that it doesn't have to be this way.

Great adults must be built, the same way you build a car, a house or any other piece of productive equipment. The first teacher of any child is the parent, and it takes a deliberate effort to teach your child the things they need to know in order to be extraordinary. For parents, teachers, mentors and those who care about our children and youth: The obstacles our children are facing, as well as the opportunities that exist for those who are focused on achievement at the highest levels, is no secret.

The truth is that among the first ten people identified as being infected with the HIV virus in the United States, four were African American. We needed to get that message then. We collectively believed that HIV, well, that is someone else's problem.

African Americans have the most severe burden of HIV of all racial/ethnic groups in the United States. Compared with other races and ethnicities, African Americans account for a higher proportion of HIV infections at all stages of disease -- from new infections to deaths. That was true in the beginning of the epidemic and still holds true today.

We thought the problem was someone else's. Someone else is being infected with that virus. Someone else is dying. Someone else is living with HIV. Someone else needs to educate the community. Someone else needs to organize. Someone else needs to speak up. Someone else needs to change that policy. Someone else needs to fund that campaign. Someone else needs to dialog with our youth about their sexual health. Someone needs to love of GLBTQ son, daughter, cousin, uncle, and neighbor. Someone else needs to stop the spread of HIV. That someone else is you.

Send Khafre an e-mail.

Read Khafre's blog, Freedom Rider.