Americans: A Difference of Class
Benjamin P. Bowser
We are now entering the second decade of the acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS) epidemic, and trends in diagnosed AIDS cases clearly suggest that the epidemic is moving into African American communities faster than into those of any other race or ethnic group ( Miller 1990: 160). This should be cause for special alarm and mobilization. Instead, surprisingly few churches, community groups, activists, community based agencies, national associations, or leaders are calling for action. Community opinion has not been mobilized, nor have there been demands for services from city, state, or the federal governments ( Friedman et al. 1987). A lot more is at stake than the lives of those who will be infected. The racialization of the AIDS epidemic would certainly increase the general population's hostility, discrimination, and neglect of everyone in African American communities.
This chapter does four things. First, explanations are proposed for why African American communities and leaders have not mobilized for more adequate AIDS prevention services. Second is an extensive review of the most important of these explanations--the AIDS risk is viewed as social class-specific to the underclass. Based on my experience conducting AIDS prevention research in an African American community, I propose that the AIDS risk is perceived by African Americans to be social class-- and intraclass--specific. The underclass is a subpopulation within the lower class that is associated with community decline and disorder. Those at risk of becoming HIV-infected are still thought to be two doubly marginal and stigmatized groups--underclass gay and bisexual men and intravenous drug users. The third task of this chapter is to outline the failures and successes of a university and community based organization's collaborative effort to do AIDS prevention research in a black community among working- and lower-class