The Globe and Mail published a story about the findings of one US academic today: according to researcher Michael Worobey, it is possible to trace the initial cases of HIV in the United States to Haitian immigrants, rather than a US sex tourist returned from a vacation on the island. This article, and the research in general, is a punch in the face for those working to reduce the racial stereotyping that comes along with the pandemic.
During the initial stages of the pandemic in the 1980s and 1990s, Haitians suffered stigma and stereotypes, even to the point of being blamed for ‘causing’ the disease’s appearance in America. Needless to say, attributing such a devastating illness to one ethnic group (or one sexuality) leads to racism, as well as a variety of other ‘isms’, and it’s taken significant efforts to mitigate the damage done by this Haiti-Aids association. In his book, Aids and Accusation: Haiti and the Geography of Blame, Paul Farmer tackles this issue and anthropological perspectives of health head on.
By publishing this study, the Globe and Mail risks bringing those out-of-date stereotypes back to life, and for what purpose? It seems to me that the US’s desire to firmly release themselves of blame (it wasn’t one of their citizens that brought the virus to America after all) is counter productive to attempts to ensure that every individual makes efforts to protect him or herself, regardless of their (or their sexual partner’s) origin. While this type of research may be important for disease epidemiology, it also works to “distance” those who feel they don’t fit into the victim profile—formerly, Haitian or homosexual, currently, African.
I’d rather see the opposite, a ‘proximity’: understanding the role that we all have in relation to HIV/AIDS- protecting ourselves, and helping to remove barriers to prevention and treatment for others.
Upcoming Development Events:
Saturday, Nov. 3: Hope in the Balance
Nov 4-17: UN Exhibit "Lessons from Rwanda" (UofT Multifaith Centre)