Girls, we need to talk.
Let’s start with some facts:
- There are about 40,000 new HIV infections in the United States each year
- Even though black people only make up 13% of the population, 45% of ALL of those 40,000 new diagnoses belong to us
That’s right honey, our people. I know a lot of us see or hear about HIV and automatically think what we’ve been conditioned to think – that’s something that ‘those’ people get? Well who are “those people?” I hope the answer you came up with is “our brothers, sisters, our sons, daughters, our cousins, our best friends, our fathers, our mothers.” I hope the answer you came up with is US. People like me, and if you’re reading this….people like you. If it’s not personal for you yet, here are some stats that resonate with me the most:
- 1 in 880 White women will get HIV in their lifetime
- 1 in 48 Black women will get HIV in their lifetime
YES. YOU READ THAT RIGHT! Simply being a black woman in the United States makes you 18 times more likely to get HIV than Becky. Still not pissed yet? Don’t worry. I’ve got some more for you:
- 48% of all new HIV infections in 2015 among heterosexual people of any race were in….*drum roll please* black women
But you don’t hear the news talking about the “HIV Epidemic” much anymore do you? TLC isn’t dancing and singing about safer sex any more. There are no longer droves of people marching in the streets, raising awareness in OUR community. Why not? Are we the generation enlightened enough to preach equity for women and people of color but treat HIV like it’s something that Voldemort tried to give Harry Potter? Are we the generation outspoken enough to reject an entire administration because of its oppressive policies but won’t call out stigma in our own community that causes the people we love to feel ashamed and afraid to be themselves. Are we the generation that proclaims BLACK LIVES MATTER….but Black Sex Lives don’t?
I refuse to be that generation.
How are we, as black women, the most educated demographic in America, getting infected with HIV at such high rates? I’m young. I’m black. I’m smart. I’m sexually active…and yet…I never felt like HIV was something that I ever had to worry about. Because I’m smart, right? I ‘choose’ my lovers carefully. I don’t sleep around. I’m a “good girl.” I’m in a relationship. And then I realized, that I was putting the burden of my health on the people that I was involved with. Tuh! Why wasn’t I taking charge of my own health? It’s not our job to make sure some man is safe enough for us be with. It’s our job to make sure that we do everything we can to be safe no matter who we’re with. We shouldn’t assign a higher ‘safety value’ to college bae just because he be looking right in those slim fit pants and blazer with the clean fade and fresh lining. *bites lips* NOR should we give thug bae extra ‘risk points’ like “I’m gonna need two condoms, a full doctor’s report, and 17 amoxicillins before we get it in, capice?” It’s that kind of thinking that gets us in trouble! We need to protect ourselves at all times – not just when we think there is something to protect ourselves against. We also need to not let our guard down just because we think a man is “safe.”
Maybe it’s just me that thinks like that. Maybe there are women out here that think that they can’t get HIV if they’re in a monogamous relationship with a straight man. Tuh.
I want answers ladies. Why are we so disproportionately affected by HIV? Why is it that black women only make up 13% of the female population but 61% of new HIV infections among all women? Is it because trapper bae did time for moving product and we held him down for 2 years and when he got out he came home and said “I just want to feel you?” Is it because we had a lil too much and Mr. FWB was looking right a few hours before he sent us that ‘come thru’ text? Is it because the love of our life and us decided that we were both safe and then one day he came home looking at you like…
We take care of the people we love every day, and every day we put ourselves last. It needs to stop.
So where do we go from here? I don’t know. I definitely don’t have all the answers, but I do have a new policy. I call it: “Prove you’re HIV free, or I don’t want the D,” also known as “Know your HIV stat, and I just might throw it back.” Whatever you call it, it’s time to use that P***Y power we all know and yield at will. Tell your bae or your boo, your boyfriend or your friend with benefits, your hoe-tation or your husband…GET TESTED or I. AINT. GIVIN. IT. UP.
“Honey, I get tested every 30 days, because I am a responsible black woman.”
So, just like when you used the box as leverage to get bae to run up to Dairy Queen for that double chocolate fudge sundae, he’s going to groan and complain and then he’s going to get his ass together and go. And you don’t have to leave him hanging, go together! Show him you’re in it with him. Either way, when he brings you that paper that says NEGATIVE cause he’d rather have YOU than not take 20 fricking minutes to own his own damn health and protect you in the process you can sit back with your Bodak Yellow playing in the background like…
And you should! Cause your health should be more important to you than his comfort. Period. And he should want to protect you just as much as you want to protect yourself. And if he doesn’t…
Shut it down.
“But what if the test doesn’t come back negative, Ms. Pharmacy Lady? Do I still need to shut it down?” Not necessarily. The other beauty in getting tested is that if someone knows they have HIV and take medicine for it, it’s pretty much impossible for them to pass the virus on to someone else. Don’t believe me? Facts on Facts. Yes, it is less risky to have unprotected sex with someone who has HIV, knows their status, and is taking medicines like they’re supposed to be than to have sex with someone who hasn’t been tested and could possibly have the virus but doesn’t know it. So honestly, making sure your partners get tested isn’t just for your benefit, it’s for theirs too, and any of your friends or play cousins, (or… play brothers) they may be sleeping with other than you.
As a future pharmacist I feel strongly about bringing all of my beautiful women of color together to protect our health. In our world, sometimes we feel helpless. Sometimes we feel like everything is out of our control. But making sure you’re not another damned statistic is something we can all do together. In a world where not much gets done for our community, this is something we can very easily do for ourselves.
And ICYMI…NERD ALERT: There is a gotdamned pill out here blocking HIV like it’s a personal little vaginal secret service agent (or rectal. Whatever you do booboo.) Somebody come lookatdis:
Have you heard about this!? We out here taking a pill everyday to prevent kids and cramps but this is that new-new. The scientist in me likes references, so if you’re that kind person, click here, here, here, and here.
I know this isn’t the right option for everyone. But this could be the right option for a lot of women, especially for a lot black women, and what’s scary is that the women who do need it probably don’t even know that they could be protected. There is a certain freedom and empowerment that could come from something like this. Like the lady said, it doesn’t protect against those other things that go bump in the night, but imagine not having to worry if you’re going to be number 40,001. Ladies I’m not saying don’t trust your men. I’m saying put yourself in the position to love them without the fear of putting your health at risk. A large number of HIV infections come from someone who doesn’t even know they have it. So talk to your doctor, talk to your pharmacist, talk to your favorite nurse, or your favorite med tech at your doctors office. And if they don’t know about it, educate them! Somebody out here has to have our backs, and if it’s not us…who else is going to do it?
The Curl E. Headed, Doctor of Pharmacy Candidate
Sources: CDC, AidsMap