BEYOND SENTIMENTAL AIDS
All the textual and visual representations of women and AIDS that I have been analyzing recall Hilton Als's discussion of the black woman as “Negress, ” an identity he links to American culture's historical roots in what he calls “puritanical selflessness” (7). Puritanical selflessness links “the Negress” with the “good woman” construct so prevalent in AIDS. 1 Just as the Negress is a “good, ” strong, black woman—“selfless to a fault”—so is she (along with the generic white “good woman”) a prevailing conception that structures many representations of women and AIDS (Als, 8). By and large, women's puritanical self-abnegation is the bedrock of narratives and visual culture on AIDS.
But fortunately, some discourse on women and AIDS refuses to reproduce the mammy/good woman paradigm. In addition to Cleage's What Looks Like Crazy on an Ordinary Day, Tiye Milan Selah's short story “An Elegy for Jade” addresses many of the real problems black women with HIV and AIDS encounter—invisibility, ignorance, and lack of care linked to historically entrenched racism and sexism. It also forcefully abandons the idealized sacrificial woman as solution and device.
“An Elegy for Jade” presents a woman character with AIDS, Jade, through the admiring eyes of her best friend, Leilani. Both characters are self-possessed, creative black women linked together through a long friendship. Through Leilani's point of view, we learn about Jade's experiences as an HIV-positive woman.