Many years ago my college roommate, Tawana Washington, wrote this hauntingly brilliant poem called "Fits the Description." The poem spoke about the negative portrayals and criminalization of Black men within the American psyche. You know the descriptions she spoke of, the generic ones: "black male, medium build" that so astutely allow you to identify the "suspect." After all, Black men only make up what… 6% of the American population, surely I know the Black man they mean. ALL OF THEM! I knew at the time that the piece was brilliant but I naively thought that such descriptors would have no place in my HIV work 15 years later.
Yet they do. Last week while being interviewed, I talked about the role of Black women in the HIV epidemic primarily from a purely American viewpoint and how it appears that we are often pawns in the search for a cure, prevention, or better treatment options. I say pawns because it never feels like the interest of Black women in HIV is relevant to the larger community unless it benefits them (the "them" not being Black women of course). If you want to have the face of HIV then let's cart out a Black woman, who may unwittingly play into the racial dogma of Black men as predators. After all the only time Black men and HIV are spoken about is if we are looking at Black MSM populations or the highly popularized villain the Black heterosexual male on the DL. Or of course the Black man in jail who comes home to bring HIV to his female partner. Let's not forget he is this hyper sexualized babymaking machine not unlike the Buck in the field.
So when I was asked about my interactions with Black heterosexual men and HIV, it wasn't a simple answer. But I must say I find it much easier to talk about HIV with Black heterosexual men because point blank they are rarely, if ever, included in the discussion about risk or prevention. Therefore when it comes up there seems to be the willingness and excitement to be involved in the discourse. If Black women are pawns, Black heterosexual men are plain FORGOTTEN! And if we in the HIV/AIDS activist community are serious about preventing HIV, we cannot simply neglect an entire segment of population even if we fell for the okie doke of descriptions regarding Black men.