Black Looks - Including an African LGBTIQ+ Archive

Black America, HIV/AIDS

African-American Women and HIV

HIV/AIDS remains the leading cause of death for African-American women ages 25 to 34 and the fourth cause of death for African-American women ages 35 to 54. HIV/AIDS rose 17% among US women from 2001 to 2005.

Abstaining, being faithful, and using a condom are the ABCs of prevention being preached by Bindiya Gillenwater Patel of the Washington-based Global Campaign for Microbicides. I’m happy that Patel isn’t touting circumcision as the “c” in the ABCs, but I think that more than this simplistic approach needs to be adopted in order to save the lives of African-American women.

It’s reported that 75% of HIV-positive African-American women become infected through heterosexual sex, but that’s an essentially useless statistic, used to make us shift the focus of the AIDS crisis and un-gay the movement. There is no mention of the means through which the male sexual partners became HIV-positive. Studies have shown that high-rates of incarceration of Black men and the lack of condoms in prisons contribute to the high-rates of African-American men becoming HIV-positive and thus infecting Black women.

More than abstinence, monogamy, and condom use need to occur to keep African-American women healthy and HIV-negative. Improving our access to quality healthcare, providing universal healthcare for all in the US, a reduction of the incarceration rates of African-American men, and a shift in US policy that provides access to free condoms both IN and OUT of prison would be a start.

Visibility is also crucial; making it known that HIV and AIDS are not just inflicting Black people on the African continent, but infecting Black people, especially Black woman, in the US at comparable rates.

And then it is crucial that we address the issues of low self-esteem, self-hatred, and other mental health issues that make African-American women participate in risky sexual behaviors.

Let us not forget rape, prostitution, and poverty. African-American women may be becoming HIV-positive through heterosexual sex, but that doesn’t always mean that the sex is consensual. We need to take into consideration how poverty often dictates the sexual behavior and forced economic choices of African-American women. To simplify HIV contraction to the ABCs is to miss entirely the socio-economic reality of African-American women, making it impossible to effectively stem the high-rates of HIV infection that plague our community.



  1. susan

    The disproportionately higher rates of HIV/AIDS among African-American women is certainly a topic needing more attention. And reports, policy-makers, etc. spouting the stat 75% of the infections come through heterosexual sex have troublesome ideological underpinnings. I wanted to raise the issue that nearly every HIV/AIDS-related statistic potentially falls into the troublesome ideology trap. Falling into this trap is at times, just that, falling… meaning it’s unintentional. It’s right on the mark to point to need for condoms in prisons and the bigger picture need to better address the disproportionately higher incarceration rates among African-American men. But at the same time, there is danger in making a singular connection between African-American men in prison and HIV positive African-American women. That being, to unwittingly send a message that to be a Black man equates to being either in prison or an ex-con. I don’t doubt studies have shown high incarceration rates among African-American men/lack of condoms is one factor contributing to African-American women becoming infected. But, it’s one of many factors and the author seems to fall into a similar trap that she criticizes with respect to the 75% heterosexual sex stat…. isolating one stat, one factor, trying to pinpoint, categorize, or simplify something that is not that simple. There are black men who have sex with men who infect black women, there are black men who are injecting drug users who infect black women, there are black men who are successful businessmen, lawyers, doctors, leaders, etc. who infect black women, there are non-Black men who infect black women. And of course, the important points concerning the complex socio-economic factors which condition the lives of African-American women (in general, inequities). Maybe it’s just me, and me not allowing myself to get past that one sentence. After reading this, I could not get out of mind that (unfortunately) a big chunk of people might read this and think…. Oh, yes HIV/AIDS is high among black women because black men always end up in prison. Inadvertent messages such as this are the danger of statistics.

  2. Hey Susan, thanks for your comment. The prison situation for Black men in the US is out of control. Here are some Justice Dept. stats… “About 10.4% of the entire African-American male population in the United States aged 25 to 29 was incarcerated, by far the largest racial or ethnic group–by comparison, 2.4% of Hispanic men and 1.2% of white men in that same age group were incarcerated. According to a report by the Justice Policy Institute in 2002, the number of black men in prison has grown to five times the rate it was twenty years ago. Today, more African-American men are in jail than in college. In 2000 there were 791,600 black men in prison and 603,032 enrolled in college. In 1980, there were 143,000 black men in prison and 463,700 enrolled in college.”

    I agree that isolating one stat is a dangerous thing, but to overlook incarceration rates is also troublesome.

  3. Sokari

    Kym@ They are here at the WSF and I had them marked as one to attend.

  4. cherynne

    thanks for this post i think it is very informative and very important to raise these issues around hiv. i also found the sister song website very interesting and their work inspiring. i like their heading :” Doing collectively what we cannot do individually” thats what its all about and sharing information is a very important part.

  5. Malik


    Interesting point of view, and definitely one that is overdue

    While I have nothing against MSM, and or people's lifestyles as it relates to their sexual preferences, one has to be realistic about the effect MSM has on female infection rates, especially for African American Women.

    While it seems literature keeps footing around the issue, the reality is that we can run from the truth, but cannot hide the reality.