African American Women and HIV/AIDS: Critical Responses

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

I
Reconstructing the Reality of African American
Women and HIV/AIDS

AIDS is a socially constructed disease, and much of the response to and attitudes to-
ward HIV-infected individuals center around the preexisting concepts, paradigms,
and societal constructions of those affected. Social construction theory is concerned
with the ways in which societies interpret, judge, and ascribe meaning to groups,
conditions, and events (Berger and Luckman 1966), interpretations that may or may
not reflect the reality.

From the beginning of the AIDS epidemic, the concept of [culture] has been used to interpret, define, and further distance the [other,] or members of groups deemed socially deviant. As has been aptly stated, [In the construction of AIDS risk groups, 'culture' has been used as a distinguishing criterion defining membership in 'high risk groups' and as an explanation of why members of these groups continue to practice 'risky behavior'] (Schiller, Crystal, and Lewellen 1994,1337). The CDC's unique and problematic initial approach of identifying entire subgroups as [at risk] provided the foundation for the public's view that people with AIDS were part of a differentiated group at risk because of their shared culture, be it a gay culture or in the case of Haitians, a unique Haitian ethnic or biological culture.

As we enter the third decade of AIDS, African Americans now constitute the subgroup of HIV-infected persons most disproportionately impacted, and also a group with relatively little powerful but a heavily burdened segment of U.S. society (Quinn 1993). There is a need to look closer at the lives of women living with or at increased risk for HIV-infection. In the first chapter, we begin with an overview of the many factors that place African American women at risk and examine the context of [risky behavior,] much of which can be traced to the historical and ongoing oppression experienced by Blacks in this country. Rather than cultural descriptions meant to be generalized to all African American

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