This piece originally appeared in Counterpunch.
George W. Bush-the master of fabricated distractions-as
with the false pretense invasion of Iraq-has turned the national
television news media away from the United States.
So it was a sobering reversal of direction to watch
ABC's August 24th Primetime Special Edition "Out of Control:
AIDS in Black America." It marked the 25th anniversary of the
first reported cases of AIDS and the last documentary that the late
Peter Jennings worked to put on the air.
13 percent of the U.S. population, black Americans constitute over
50 percent of all new cases of HIV. This infection rate is eight
times the rate of whites. It gets worse. Almost 70 percent of new
female cases of HIV-positive women are black women who are a stunning
13 times more likely to be diagnosed with AIDS than white women.
Black women get AIDS overwhelmingly through heterosexual contact,
the documentary reported.
Terry Moran, who did a fine job as anchor, interviewed
black leaders working on AIDS and infectious disease specialists
to find out why, in very candid exchanges.
(1) infection comes more heavily to the black community
due to high rates of HIV-positive men coming out of prison,
(2) drug addiction and the widespread use of dirty
(3) the taboo against talking about the problem of
homosexual-related AIDS transmission in many black religious circles
(4) the absence of any comprehensive AIDS prevention
and treatment programs that reach the netherworld of community-wide
poverty, despair and lack of information.
Still, the attentive viewer would want to know more.
Moran obliged. He asked Jesse Jackson and others why prominent black
leaders do not highlight this disaster more than they do, or as
they do for the AIDS epidemic in Africa. One reply was that there
are so many disasters afflicting black America that attention to
one takes away from the other.
Moran then showed a clip of a sermon by well-known
Rev. Calvin Butts of the Abyssinian Baptist Church in New York City.
"You can't sleep with everyone you want to sleep with,"
bewailed a tormented Rev. Butts.
It is not as if whites are much less drug-addicted.
But there is a disproportionate percentage of black men in jail
where homosexual contact is the HIV transmitter. Moran pointed to
studies from the Universities of Chicago and North Carolina which
conclude that black men are more than twice as likely as white men
to have multiple female partners.
Still, the disproportions noted in "Out of Control"
are so vast between blacks and whites that a deeper condition must
be at work here. Call it another vast disproportion. A sub-society
of deep poverty, unemployment, despair, street drugs, documented
discriminatory law enforcement and prison incarceration rates, the
absence of neighborhood public health facilities skilled in addressing
the triple needs of testing, prevention and treatment are all incubators
without portfolios. A vicious cycle of infection is out of control
in these environments.
The social services, such as health coverage, that
have restrained the AIDS epidemic among whites are not proportionately
there among black communities.
The ABC documentary may be crying out in the wilderness
or it may be a wake-up call with its own multiplier effect. Don't
count on the Bush regime, bogged down in the Iraq quagmire and looking
for other wars, to take notice. The lead burden will be on black
community leaders and an aroused public health profession to turn
around our country's priorities in Congress, the White House, state
and local governments, and prod more media attention. On the local
and national television news, there is certainly enough trivia to
You may wonder what the fatality count among blacks
is each year. Over ten thousand black Americans died from AIDS last
year. The family agonies and deprivations are not compiled in these