A recent Newsweek cover story has helped bring national attention to the HIV/AIDS epidemic among African-American women. Unfortunately, its superficial and biased coverage is itself evidence of the scope of the crisis on which it reports.
Newsweek leaves the impression that traditional values, rather than being part of the solution to this problem, contribute to its cause; that men are helpless victims and responsibility lies exclusively with women; that choice and responsibility play a minimal role in sexual behavior, and that we can think about this problem independently of the general cultural state of affairs of the country.
HIV/AIDS has migrated into the heterosexual community, and women now account for 26 percent of newly diagnosed AIDS cases, quadruple the incidence among women since the 1980s. Black women account for well over 70 percent of these cases. Last October, Gwen Ifill jolted listeners to the debate between Vice President Cheney and John Edwards when she pointed out that "black women between 25 and 44 are 13 times more likely to die of the disease than their counterparts."
AIDS is now the No. 1 cause of death among African-Americans between the ages of 25 and 44.
Joseph Lowery, the former president of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, once said, "When America gets a cold, black America gets pneumonia."
The "cold" that America has in this case is the ongoing politicization of our society and the breakdown of the traditional values that have been the glue that has held together the American family and our society. The symptoms of this "cold" are obvious: skyrocketing divorce rates and illegitimacy rates, declining test scores that result from a politicized and bureaucratized public-school system and politicization of our legal system that reflects the detachment of law from its moral foundations.
Whether we are talking about breakdown in family, education or law, the symptoms of this cold are more intense and protracted in the black community than in other communities. But it's important to retain perspective that black social problems are symptomatic of a national problem. Irresponsible sexual behavior has no racial boundaries. The rate of out-of-wedlock births among whites today exceeds the rate among blacks 40 years ago.
Health professionals are trying to get a handle on the precise channels through which the HIV virus is being transmitted to black women, and the picture that is emerging is complex. But the themes, drug use and sexual promiscuity, are clear.
It is also clear that in a world of abstinence, monogamy and sex exclusively within the framework of marriage, AIDS and sexually transmitted diseases in general would be rare.