INTERRELATIONSHIP OF RACISM AND AIDS
Joseph R. Barndt
Persons with far
more expertise about HIV/AIDS than this writer have documented the ways
in which national and global efforts to understand, prevent, treat, and
find a cure for HIV/AIDS are persistently affected by racism. We know,
for example, that information about HIV/AIDS is more readily accessible
in white communities than 'in communities of color; that treatment is
less available to Persons of Color with HIV than white males; that
within the AIDS activism movement, voice, access and power is in the
hands of white activists while the voices and concerns of Persons of
Color with HIV and AIDS have gone virtually unheard and unheeded.
perspective of this writer, it requires serious denial to avoid the
conclusion that racism and AIDS are intimately interrelated- However, it
is not nearly as easy to comprehend how or why this reality exists and
will not easily disappear. I believe the problem is not due to our
failure to understand H1V/AIDS so much as our failure to understand
racism. Thus, any attempts to understand how and why racism profoundly
affects efforts to understand, prevent, treat, and find a cure for
HIV/AIDS must begin with some basic presuppositions about racism.
three brief statements of presuppositions about racism that need to be
explored before applying them to the issue of HIV/AIDS. The brevity of
these statements do not include in-depth explanations, nor assume
agreement of disagreement by the reader, but are intended to suggest
premises for exploring the interrelationship between racism and
I) Racism is a
systemic issue, more than personal and relational. Contrary to the
assumptions of most white people, racism is not simply an individual,
relational, or attitudinal issue, perpetuated by intentionally
prejudiced or bigoted persons. Rather, racism is a systemic,
institutional issue and is not even necessarily correlated to conscious
intentionally. People of Color (African Americans, Native Americans,
Latinos/as Asian Americans, Pacific Islanders, Arab Americans) are not
hurt by white individuals as much as they are hurt by white
exploration of the interrelationship of racism and AIDS should not just
pursue individual and purposeful acts of discrimination, but the
underlying systemic reality of institutionalized racism.
2) The end
goal of racism is white power and privilege. Systemic racism can not
be understood simply by measuring its detriments, effects on People of
Color, but rather how much it helps, benefits and empowers the white
society. Hurting People of Color is not the end goal, bit is rather a
consequence of racism. This is the "Big Secret" about racism that the
white community pretends not to know: that racism's essential purpose is
white power and privilege. By focusing on the how racism hurts of People
of Color, we cover up the real reason that racism exists and persists.
explore and understand the interrelationship of racism and AIDS requires
not only measuring how People of Color are systemically excluded, but
also measuring haw the preferential inclusion of white people as a
racial group is systemically preserved and maintained.
3) Racism is
preserved in the roots of every US institution. Racism is like a
weed that thrives in its roots even after the visible plant is tom from
the ground. Systemic racism continues because of institutionalized
infrastructures rooted in the past. Every system and institution in the
United States was intentionally created and structured to serve the
white society exclusively. Eradicating the visible evidence of
discrimination without dealing with its underlying causes only
guarantees that racism will reinvent itself in forms that are more
subtle, sophisticated and destructive than ever.
exploration of the interrelationship of race and AIDS requires not only
analyzing more recently developed systemic efforts to understand,
prevent, treat and cure HIV/AIDS, but the historic roots of racism in
the healthcare system of which HIV/AIDS care is apart. The problem is
not simply the interrelationship of racism and AIDS, but that People of
Color are now and have always been disproportionately without access to,
resources from, and control over every aspect related to a just and
affordable health care system.
AIDS FROM AN ANTI-RACIST PERSPECTIVE
Of course, tile
above premises must be more deeply explored and tested, which is
unfortunately not within the purview of this brief article. However, to
the degree these promises are valid, it is possible to conclude that if
we are to effectively address racism while simultaneously addressing
MV/AIDS, there must be an approach on two fronts.
The first is to
continue and increase efforts to confront and eliminate discriminatory
practices at every opportunity. While struggling on a daily basis to
transform the way AIDS work is carried out, it is imperative that we do
so with an understanding and analysis of racism. We must work in ways
which understand and challenge the ways treatment, research, education
and activism are designed to serve white privilege and result in
detrimental effects on Communities of Color in general, and *in
particular Persons of Color with HIV and AIDS. We need to work on a
daily basis to correct daily discrimination in the policies, practices,
and programs 'in the cure and prevention of HIV/AIDS. However, to do
this alone is to continue pulling up weeds without getting at their
roots. Systemic racism must also be addressed at its foundations.
Fundamental change in the cure and treatment of HIV/AIDS is
interdependent with - and cannot be separated from - the struggle to
transform the racism of the entire health care system and the white
power and privilege which is embedded in its origins, its Mission and
purpose and its historic structures.
If those who are
addressing HIV/AIDS do not adopt an anti-racist understanding and
strategies in all of their work, including toward the entire health care
system, then it is inevitable that efforts to understand, prevent, treat
and discover a cure for HIV/AIDS will continue to be racist. This
statement is, in fact, applicable to all struggles for justice that seek
to cross racial lines: if they are not addressed from an anti-racist
perspective, the results will inevitable be racist.
OPPORTUNITY M THE NEW MILLENNIUM
The Civil Rights
Movement created a revolution of expectations in the United States.
However, many of us live with the daily frustration that forty years
later these expectations have yet not been implemented. The cause of
this frustration is, to a great extent, due to our failure to eliminate
systemic racism. Our institutions have not yet been equipped to carry
out these expectations; they have not yet been enabled to transform
structures that were designed for the benefit of white society.
The late nineties
and beginning years of the next century are a special moment in time of
both crisis and opportunity. The crisis is evident in the frustration
and the realization of our failure to implement the expectations of the
Civil Rights Movement. The opportunity is the realization of the
possibility of fundamental systemic and institutional transformation by
equipping our systems and institutions to be anti-racist at the very
core of their being.
Can we begin to
realize that this time of crisis and opportunity is fertile for the
shaping of anti-racist HIV/AIDS work?