It Broke My Heart

Like many of you, I watched the weekend’s events unfold in Charlottesville with great sadness and disbelief.  White supremacists believe that the color of their skin gives them a privilege in our society.  They hold on to symbols like the swastika and the confederate flag to reaffirm their false narrative that being white makes them superior.

Most of us understand that these beliefs are wrong, vile, and un-American.  Yet the consequences of America’s racial divide are very real.  We are fighting an epidemic where black women are 20 times more likely to get HIV than white women.  Gay men of color, particularly black gay men, are the largest number of people living with HIV in America.  Eighty percent of transgender women diagnosed with HIV were African-American or Latina. Diagnoses among Latino MSM increased 13 percent from 2010 to 2014.

We understand that your skin color does not make you superior, so why and how does your skin color impact your health outcomes?

Our movement talks about the social determinants of health as a way to tiptoe around discussions about race.  Maybe it’s easier to talk about poverty, unemployment, or a lack of education.  NMAC believes those conditions exist because of racism.  Until we address race, racism, and its impact on our nation’s health, we will never end the HIV epidemic in America.

Dr. David Williams from Harvard University will speak at the opening plenary of this year’s United States Conference on AIDS.  Dr. Williams has done some of the definitive work on race and health.  NMAC also invited the People’s Institute to present their ground-breaking teachings on Undoing Racism.  In fact, there is a whole pathway on race.   It’s not enough to be culturally sensitive; the movement needs to understand race and privilege and their impact on health.  It’s time to get rid of our fear of talking about race by talking about race.

We must not shy away.  Whether we want to have it or not, this conversation is happening and sometimes in very destructive ways.  Our movement must lead on race in order for us to end the HIV epidemic.

Yours in the struggle,

Paul Kawata