Monday, November 7, 2011

African Americans: 20 Years after Magic; what have we learned?

First off, growing up, I was a huge Jordan fan; if you didn’t think Jordan wasn’t the greatest basketball player on the planet, you couldn’t tell me a damn thang (yes I said thang). Growing up in the Midwest, it was a no-brainer! However, I can’t lie, the “Showtime” Lakers were a sight to see. I – like most teenage boys at the time playing basketball at that – tried to throw every pass with my eyes closed, behind my back, and with my arms and legs flinging in one direction attempting to have the ball go in another; usually this resulted in a turnover. I think it goes without saying, but even for the staunchest Jordan fan, there was no denying the influence that Magic Johnson had on the game of basketball and the black community. So, twenty years ago today – November 7, 1991 – when Magic retired from basketball (for the first time) due to AIDS, I was devastated!

Of course I had HEARD of AIDS, but at that time I wasn’t… um…“active”… and it wasn’t really talked about in concrete terms. You “kinda” knew it was out there… but it was like this boogieman that if it caught you it had you… so the idea was to never let it catch you… you had to stay away from “The Boss.” Hell, the best sexual education and prevention at that time came from BBD … and I BARELY understood what THEY were talking about (apparently, I was a late bloomer):

That was twenty years ago! I don’t know about you, but that scared the s*** out of me. The first time I did actually…um…become…um… “active,” I was wrapped tighter than the girdle of a Baptist’s minister’s wife (Hi Mom!!!) and was PARANOID for days after!!!! I prayed that 1.) I didn’t just create a baby, and 2) that I didn’t catch “The Magic.” (Is this TMI???)

My point? After twenty years, where are we? Sure, you ask someone who is 25 years old or younger about Magic, they may be able to tell you about his Movie Theaters, but they may not be able to tell you about the “Hard Court Houdini” and the impact felt during his announcement 20 years ago today. Even still, they know that he AIDS is real. If you look at the numbers, as I’m sure we all know, they are STAGGERING:

  • African American men have eight times the rate of HIV diagnosis as white men
  • African American woman are infected at a rate 19 times more than their white counterparts
  • African American’s represent 12% of the U.S. population and near 50% of all new HIV/AIDS infections
  • In 2007, African American’s accounted for 57% of all HIV/AIDS related deaths
  • HIV/AIDS is the 4th leading cause of death for African American men and 3rd for African American women

The list LITERALLY goes on; the statistics are astounding! Twenty years after an icon in the African American community made his announcement, we’ve gotten worse as a community, not better.

Twenty years since Magic made HIV and AIDS “real” to the African American community – and sixteen years after Eazy-E made it real to the Hip Hop community – the most our community has seemed to get out of it is that brothers on the “down low” are bad. I’m being flippant, but you see my point (maybe).  Don't get me wrong, this post isn’t meant to be me preaching to anyone – Lord knows I have NO room to talk – but maybe this “anniversary” (of sorts) gives as yet another opportunity to discuss HIV and AIDS in the black community.

I don’t know if I can buy “lack of education” as an excuse anymore. Twenty years after Magic, we know what it is, we know how we get it, and we know how to prevent it. But we can have the conversation about the other contributing factors: prison; access to health care; poverty disparities; drug use; sexual perception - the role of Hip Hop; and the views on homosexuality in the African American.

I don't think we can talk about the issue enough.  Anything to bust through the wall of ignorance that seems to be pervasive in our community.  Let's ask the questions over and over again until we start to find answers and the seriousness of the issue sinks in:

Why are we engaging in high risk activities?  
Are we ignorant to homosexuality? Do we perpetuate the stigma?
Are there negative influences of Hip Hop?  Does Hip Hop encourage promiscuity?
Why are we (especially African American men) too "proud" for routine medical check ups?
Why aren't we more politically active supporting health care and economic changes?
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