G.L.Piggy [at] gmail.com
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The Root has an exclusive with Obama adviser Valerie Jarrett who wrote on HIV/AIDS in the black community:
Conclusive research shows that African Americans do not engage in riskier behaviors than other Americans. So why are HIV rates so high in our communities? One main reason is the lack of access to health care. As many as 22 percent of African Americans with HIV do not know that they have the virus. Of new infections among youths, 60 percent are among black Americans, and more than half of all HIV-positive youths were unaware of their infection.
Whatever the causes might be, it is clear from this data that blacks engage in riskier sexual behavior than whites and Hispanics. This isn’t to pile on blacks; it’s just a factual rebuttal to Jarrett’s false statement. To note: there is bound to be overlap in some of those categories. Many of the people who have had sex with more than five opposite sex partners are going to be included in the “sex for money or drugs” category.
Blacks also have a higher number of lifetime sex partners on average than whites or Hispanics. According to the US Census Bureau 30% of blacks have had more than 15 lifetime partners compared to 20.9% of whites and 19.1% of Hispanics (and some quick analysis by Half Sigma)
Jarrett doesn’t even have the wherewithal to couch higher rates of sexual risk-taking among blacks in other confounding variables like poverty or education. That’s how other outcome gaps are usually explained away: “black people take more sexual risks because they are poorer or less educated.” But Jarrett outkicks her coverage.
There’s also the genetic argument. From Mother Jones:
New research shows that Africans and African-Americans bear a gene variant that helps protect them from malaria, but also makes them more vulnerable to HIV infection. The variant increases susceptability to HIV by 40 percent, says the San Francisco Chronicle.
The genetic trait is found in 90 percent of Africans and 60 percent of African-Americans. Thus far, it has protected against malaria by disabling a protein that some strains of malaria use to enter red blood cells. However, that same protein that’s disabled in Africans to prevent malaria can actually protect against HIV by soaking up virus cells before they can invade white blood cells. With this sponge-like protein disabled, Africans lose a key pre-infection barrier.
This seems pretty commonsensical. It is one reason (of other possibilities) that among the poorest countries in the world, it is those in Africa that have the highest rates of HIV infection. Ignoring these genetic differences causes health organizations to freak out and call for policies like universal male circumcision that might benefit Africans and other blacks but are less effective for other races.
The best thing for someone in Jarrett’s/Obama’s/any politician’s shoes is to call for more money to be thrown at the problem. Keeping the focus on institutional rather than personal failures or on just plain mean old Mother Nature is not a winner for pols.