I never really took the time to think about what my HIV status meant to me. Being negative seemed enough; at least for a young black sexually active teen in the early 90s. The most that my friends and I were concerned about was not getting pregnant or folk finding out that we were doing the do; some with multiple partners. The idea of being labeled a “hoe” was more important than not behaving as such. HIV? Even as a young person the face that I associated with HIV didn’t look like me. Nor did the information given about HIV include those who looked like me- black women, black girls. Unknowingly to those outside of the public health realm a shift was taking place with who was becoming infected. This undercurrent seemed to go unaddressed for years. Which begs a few questions: would the rate of infections for African American women be where they are today if they were informed? Would behaviors be differently? Would we still be paralyzed by stigma and shame?
Being HIV negative brings about a myriad of questions and thoughts as I ponder the real significance-the larger context. As educated as I am and as knowledgeable as I am about the disease; I still feel anxiety and pressure rising when I discuss my own status. The fight for my own life is real and has been real.
Will it be my fault if I contract the disease? Am I lucky? Am I better than the woman who is positive? Should I live my life in fear? Will I be the 1 of 32 black women infected with HIV in her lifetime? The infallible/human part of me poses these questions every time I hear HIV/AIDS even though I know I have total control over my body.
And I am quite sure these are some of the same questions many other women who are negative have, yet it does little to change behavior, self reflect, or position them to not become infected. Maybe they are living life much as I many do with the mindset that it can’t happen because it hasn’t happened.
Having a negative status does not make one less vulnerable or any safer. The rules of engagement have changed, inciting fear in some and ignorance in others. It causes some women to be guarded- side eyeing every brother- because he just may be on the down low and we all know they are the reason women get it (insert sarcasm). You see this very ignorance continues to imprison us to the point that it hurts us. Being a society that consumes content –written and spoken, we have to become educated about this disease; we have to begin dialogue with our family, health practitioners, and community. In the words of Frederick Douglass, “If you teach that nigger how to read, it would forever unfit him to be a slave.” The more you know about the disease coupled with the removal of physical and social determinants, things can change tremendously.
Being HIV negative should come with a sense of EMPOWERMENT- a sense of being in charge of your physical, mental, spiritual, and emotional body. So I continue to challenge you- my sista girl to get tested, know your status, know his status, and stay protected!