African American Women and HIV/AIDS: Critical Responses

By Dorie J. Gilbert; Ednita M. Wright | Go to book overview

Foreword

June Osborne, who was then chair of the President's Commission on AIDS, gave a speech in 1991 at the 7th International AIDS Conference in Florence on the topic of [feeling like Cassandra.] Cassandra was the Greek heroine who heard the warriors inside the Trojan Horse, but, because no one would listen to her, failed in her efforts to warn her city about the hidden invaders. Dr. Osborne was feeling a great deal like Cassandra, and I had nothing but empathy for her. When I started to do AIDS research in 1986, I used to say in speeches, [African Americans account for 12 percent of the U.S. population but 25 percent of the people with AIDS.] Each year I have watched the difference grow: Dorie Gilbert, writing in 2002, opens this book by pointing out that African Americans make up 13 percent of the U.S. population but over 50 percent of newly diagnosed cases of AIDS. The numbers each year get worse. Like Dr. Osborne, we all feel like Cassandra.

It is not comforting to know that there are structural factors or mistaken ideas that underlie this growing disparity. It is certainly not comforting to know that the numbers are not so much up for African Americans, as they are down for other groups. It is not comforting to know that we have built treatment centers and prevention organizations. It is not comforting to know that, by now, AIDS 101 has been inculcated into the minds of every American, including every African American. It is not comforting to know those things, because we are failing in our major goal: to control the epidemic among African Americans.

We must somehow stop being Cassandra—who was not heard—and become Harriet Tubman, who was heard. Or Sojourner Truth, who was heard. Or Ida B. Wells, who was heard. Or Pernessa Seele, who is being heard all over the country—only her one voice must be multiplied until the insistence upon life has

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