African American Women and HIV/AIDS: Critical Responses

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

1
The Sociocultural Construction of AIDS among
African American Women

Dorie J. Gilbert

African Americans constitute only 13 percent of the U.S. population but account for over 50 percent of newly reported cases of HIV-infection (CDC 2001a). African American women represent 63 percent of AIDS cases among women, and researchers estimate that about one in fifty African American men and one in 160 African American women are infected with HIV (CDC 2000). Among HIV-infected African American women, injection drug use has accounted for 42 percent of all AIDS case reports since the epidemic began, with 38 percent due to heterosexual contact with infected male partners, primarily male injection drug users (CDC 2001b). Among African American men with AIDS, the two greatest exposure categories are sex with men (37 percent) and injection drug use (34 percent); heterosexual exposure accounts for 8 percent (CDC 2001b). The devastating impact of this disease on African American men and women is clear. However, much of what we know about these trends has focused either on specific behavioral subgroups of [high-risk] populations (e.g., men who have sex with men, drug users), which, without the social context, puts emphasis on individual behavior. In other cases entire ethnic/racial groups, such as African Americans or Hispanics, are said to be in [high-risk] groups, which emphasizes race/ethnicity and obscures the pervasive forms of disempowerment of the group. Both ignore sociopolitical constructions of HIV/AIDS.

Perceptions and interpretations of a disease are sociopolitically constructed but rarely by those who are primarily affected by the disease. Epidemics evoke human reactions of exclusion, fear, denial, and naming and blaming some [other.] Since its beginning, HIV/AIDS has been a disease of some differentiated populations characterized with deficits of individual behavior. In the case of

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