Tag Archives: HIV/AIDS

Apologies Abound and CNN’s Black in America: The Inescapable Nexus

By Dr. Pamela D. Reed

On July 28, in the year 2008, the United States House of Representatives, almost 150 years after the Emancipation Proclamation, passed H. Res. 194, offering a formal apology for the centuries-long, government-sanctioned enslavement of African Americans and for the generations of Jim Crow segregation and for the institutionalized discrimination that followed and that persists in this, the “land of the free.”  Florida, Alabama, Maryland, North Carolina, New Jersey and Virginia had done so previously.

            Just a few days before the passage of H. Res. 194, in an ironic bit of timing, CNN launched its much-hyped documentary chronicling the plight of the contemporary African American people, Black in America.  Most would read these two headlines and would not connect the dots.  Well not this writer, for whom this seeming historic coincidence bears critical scrutiny.

            For four hours CNN documented the mixed bag that is Afro America.  To be sure, there is much to be proud of for America’s descendants of chattel enslavement, whose forebears, as the House resolution bluntly states, “were brutalized, humiliated, dehumanized and subjected to the indignity of being stripped of their names and heritage” for almost a quarter of a millennium.  Which brings us to what I see as the major problem with Black in America:  There was no substantial, meaningful historical context presented.  Unless you count the meeting, with cameras rolling, of the two sets of Rand offspring:  the ones descended from slaves and the ones sired by their slave-holding forefathers.   But I digress.

            In the face of incredible odds, African Americans have flourished in this country, in spite of the past.  As the CNN report documents, more Blacks are attending and completing college than ever before.  The so-called Black middle class is burgeoning.  Moreover, for the first time ever, an African American man, albeit not a descendant of enslaved Africans, is actually within reach of the American Presidency.  That’s the good news.

            This notwithstanding, recent studies indicate that only 1 in 2 of today’s African Americans will graduate with a high school diploma.  This is particularly alarming since the high school graduation rate serves as a societal bellwether and as an indicator of future skill and income levels.  Indeed, the Center for American Progress (CAP) reports that by 2006, after steadily declining in the 1990s, the poverty rate for African Americans had increased to nearly one-quarter of its population, 24.2 percent to be exact.  This is in stark contrast to the 8.2 percent of impoverished Whites.  The CAP analysis, The State of Minorities (April 2008), went on to report that the unemployment rate for African Americans, 8.3 percent, is double that of White America’s 4.1 percent.

            And still there’s more.  The Home Mortgage Disclosure Act revealed that, in 2006, of the 322,356 home-purchase loans made to African Americans, 172,055 were “high-cost.”  That is a whopping 53 percent.  Only 150,301 were at the market rate.  In a rare instance of being outpaced economically by Blacks, the subprime rate was only 18 percent for Whites.

            Then there are the staggering incarceration disparities between Blacks and Whites in America.  Much has been written of it; however, it is clearly crystallized in a Washington Post article “New High in U.S. Prison Numbers” (29 February 2008).  It broke to the world the news of the findings of the Pew Center of the States report, One in 100:  Behind Bars in America 2008:  “One in nine black men ages 20 to 34 is behind bars. For black women ages 35 to 39, the figure is one in 100, compared with one in 355 for white women in the same age group.”  Truth be told, this is a new low.

             I won’t even go into allthe dismal statistics relevant to the healthcare disparities in America. It’s too depressing. The AIDS pandemic in Afro America, which has been likened to that of some developing African nations, cannot be ignored here, though, as many contend it has been by the federal government.  CNN’s Black in America sounded the alarm regarding the skyrocketing rate of HIV/AIDS infection among African Americans, particularly women between ages 25 and 34, for whom AIDS is the leading cause of death.

            This modern-day “black plague” is particularly dangerous because the primary modes of transmission are behavioral, i.e. sexual intercourse, drug use, etc.  Hence, it is far too easy for some, particularly in the church, to write it off as some sort of divine penance.  Further, many fear that as AIDS becomes known as a “black disease,” still fewer dollars will be spent for medical research in this area. It certainly wouldn’t be the first time Blacks were, well, mistreated. 

            Even the American Medical Association (AMA) has owned up to this, issuing an apology of its own last month. The nation’s largest organization of physicians is seeking forgiveness for generations of race-based discrimination against Black physicians, who for many years were denied entry into this professional enclave. In a written statement, the National Medical Association (NMA), the organization of Black doctors in America, graciously accepted the apology, but stressed the deadly legacy left in its wake. 

            This medical redlining, “a litany of discriminatory practices, [has] had a devastating effect on the health of African-Americans,” says Dr. Nelson L. Adams, NMA president.  “These persistent, race-based health disparities have led to a precipitous decline in the health of African-Americans when compared to their white counterparts and the population as a whole,” added Dr. Nedra H. Joyner, chair of the NMA’s board of trustees.

            Is this all accidental, this being the chasmic gap between Blacks and Whites in America?  Of course it’s not.  This is the shameful legacy of chattel slavery, Jim Crow, and continuing racial discrimination in this country.  And this is why the House of Representatives, with no mention of restitution, whispered their long-overdue apology.  That is to say that there has been little to no media coverage of this historic resolution.  Bringing to mind this time honored question:  If a tree falls in the forest and there’s no one there to hear it, does it make a sound?

            But what does all this mean?  The short answer is this: it will take more than apologies to right the wrongs that America has heaped upon generations of African Americans. Regret without redress is just not enough. Not when these past transgressions undeniably led to the present uneven playing field.  And more importantly, if the present high school graduation rate for African Americans is any indication, the future looms large.

         Dr. Pamela D. Reed is a diversity consultant and assistant professor of English and African-American literature at Virginia State University.

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CNN’s Black in America Sounds Clarion Call To Do More

By James Ewers

 

I am black in America so the recent two-part series produced by CNN entitled “Black in America” did appeal to me. This special program to my mind was not only for black people but for white people as well. For whatever judgment you rendered about the series let us give both CNN reporter Soledad O’Brien credit for undertaking this project. It was two years in the making and was well worth watching. It validated some of my thinking and gave me further insight into some other areas that were eye opening. I remember a few years ago when some said that Bill Cosby was exposing our “dirty laundry” in public when he talked about the issue of self-responsibility in the African American community. Some thought that he was too candid and much too skeptical. Well if Bill Cosby exposed our dirty laundry, then CNN wasn’t far behind. 

 

One of the more compelling topics broached on the series was HIV/AIDS. While watching the snippets was painful, the information needed to get out there so that people would know.  HIV/AIDS is the leading cause of death among young women in the black community. According to the report, one in 20 people in Washington, D.C., are infected with HIV/AIDS. Wherever you are and if you are black, you ought to pay serious attention to this statistic. The takeaway from these statistics is that we as African Americans must make better choices and decisions. HIV/AIDS education must begin, I believe, at the elementary school level. While some may think otherwise, I think to talk about this dreaded disease at the middle school level may be too late. There are a lot of conversations that we have with our children around the dinner table and this must be one of them. In order for our present generation to survive and future generations to thrive, we must become much more proactive about this issue. 

 

T.D. Jakes, a prominent African American minister, in essence said that black churches have a responsibility in this area. This responsibility just didn’t happen as it has been our responsibility all along; we have just ignored it, thinking that it might go away. Many in the black community think that sermons on Sunday and education programs during the week will help. As for our black community in Middletown what church will begin a ministry that will target HIV/AIDS?

 

“Black in America” started off on Wednesday showing related black families going to their family reunion in Atlanta, Georgia. The strength and resoluteness of the black family cannot be overlooked or minimized. I spoke with a good friend of mine recently who also had his family reunion in Georgia. I could see the pride on his face as he brought me a souvenir. The black family is steadfast and unmovable because it is our bedrock and the centerpiece of our entire experience. Black folks have long understood that, when all else fails, we still have our families. Dollar bills will come and go but our families will remain strong and consistent. I thought the segment on the family reunion was good, as you could see the connectivity between generations.

 

One aspect that could have been talked about more was the increase in the number of African Americans who are graduating from colleges across the country. Highlighted in the piece was the fact that more African American women are graduating from college than men. The ongoing challenge that has existed over a period of many years now is how to get more African American males in college and to graduate them. The road to college is filled with potholes called jail, drugs, and poor choices for many black males. I believe strongly that education must be valued in our black households. If it is valued, then in the end it doesn’t matter as much if your parents went to college. All that matters is that they see the importance of getting a college education. I found it a bit amusing on one level that a high school counselor on the special told the African American boy at the time that he should not consider college. Does that still happen today in 2008?

 

African Americans make up 13 percent of the population yet represent 49 percent of the homicides. This statistic is just horrific. There is no other way to say it. Presidential candidate, Barack Obama, in a recent talk at the NAACP Convention in Cincinnati spoke of personal responsibility and accountability in the black community. If we want to see change, then we must be the change and not wait for it. If we don’t begin it, then who; if not now, when? We, as African American parents and love providers, must provide our children at an early age with a set of instructions that will ward off poor choices and their consequences. Poor decision making results in no dreams of success and generally low expectations. We must teach our children that good things happen when you work hard and treat all people with dignity and respect. Unfortunately, big clothes don’t mean big dreams. We can, we must, and we will do better. We have no choice!

 

I would hope that mentoring groups and churches would invest in a copy of this series as it can be instructive. There is much to talk about as our future can be bright if we want it to be. The terms and conditions of our future are up to us. While the circumstances are dire in some cases, we have the brainpower to make a difference in the future. Despair must be replaced with hope, and protraction must be replaced with interaction. African Americans who have achieved have a moral obligation to help others who have not been as fortunate. We cannot think that, because we have a bigger house or a bigger car, we have arrived. It is only when we enrich the lives of others that our own lives will be enriched. 

 

While the CNN special pointed out some of our challenges, it also showed that we have much to be proud of in the black community. As one of my colleagues has said, we have gone from picking cotton to picking presidents. Maybe our dirty laundry was exposed, but we have a chance to clean it up!

 

Dr. Ewers is the associate dean for student affairs and director of community partnerships at Miami University Middletown in Ohio. He is the author of Perspectives From Where I Sit: Essays on Education, Parenting and Teen Issues