African American Women and HIV/AIDS: Critical Responses

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

II
The Collective Impact: Women, HIV-Affected
Families, and Communities Impacted by
and Responding to AIDS

The AIDS literature has focused on individual risk groups: intravenous drug users,
gay men, women, and so on. The fact that these people are all part of families is
obscured. Among African Americans, family is an incredibly important concept.
Because many current problems of American Blacks can be traced to the histori-
cal trauma resulting from slavery and the persistent societal oppression, reliance
on family and community, however these concepts are defined, provides emotional
support and protection from outside forces of discrimination.

A major strength of African Americans is the ability to compete and survive in the face of oppressive mainstream forces and to act in collective ways that benefit the group. This is consistent with the Africentric worldview of interdependence and collectivist survival as contrasted to the mainstream Eurocentric emphasis on independence and individualism.

Thus, both the family and the construct of an African American community become paramount to healthy coping for most African Americans. Yet, social problems within the African American community (e.g., substance abuse, homophobia, and Black-on-Black crime) have challenged this notion of collectivity For example, African American gay males and lesbians have been isolated and alienated by the African American community especially by traditional Black churches. Black communities have been disrupted by substance abuse and violence, oftentimes causing further isolation in already marginalized neighborhoods. Family collectivism has been tested by substance-abusing family members, high incarceration rates, and extreme poverty that depletes family resources. And now AIDS, with its pervasive stigma, is placing even further burdens on family systems.

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