Skip to main content

AIDS

Heart of Darkness: AIDS, Africa, and Race

Race, as much as science, has been central to the growth of medicine and public health as professions in America. Nineteenth-century physicians distinguished themselves from their competitors in the healing business, cornering the market in part through their embrace of scientific approaches to cure; today, similarly, the medical profession holds off competition from alternative therapies by indulging in “evidence-based medicine.” But, from early on, one of medicine’s less publicized attractions was its capacity to tender rationales for our obsession with race. White people’s suspicion that blacks were morally inferior was perfectly satisfied by prominent physicians’ assertions that African Americans had a greater propensity for disease, imaginary as that propensity turned out to be.

 

The Underground Economy of AIDS

In 2001, a group of scholars at University of California, San Francisco came up with a scheme that they hoped would protect African women from HIV. They had been working in Zimbabwe, a poor, politically troubled nation in Southern Africa, where the epidemic had killed more than a million people over two decades. Virtually everyone in Zimbabwe was aware of AIDS. The country had been exposed to anti-AIDS media campaigns since the 1980s and a school-based AIDS education program since 1994. Nevertheless, by 2001, around a quarter of all Zimbabwean adults were infected with HIV, and the virus was spreading rapidly, especially among teenage girls. It was urgent for researchers like them to come up with a solution.

 

Whitman Now

To contemplate Walt Whitman now, at the dawn of a new millennium in an America so deeply troubled by division and hypocrisy—almost the antithesis of the great nation of inclusion and tolerance he envisioned in Leaves of Grass—is intensely ironic indeed.

Pages