In the early 1980’s, AIDS became a serious epidemic worth discussing in the U.S. In 1985, AIDS became so worth discussing that former President Ronald Reagan addressed the disease publically for the first time. In 1991, the Red Ribbon awareness campaign was launched to inform people of AIDS and help prevent the disease. Even with these efforts, a whopping 37,600 people contracted HIV in 2014, just four years ago (hiv.gov). During the year 1985, a new form of awareness and prevention was created, one that would bring light to the epidemic in a positive way, one that used art and creativity to spark a change: The NAMES Project Memorial Quilt was created. The NAMES quilt contains thousands of pieces dedicated to individuals from all over the world who lost their battles with AIDS. In these pieces, we see features that represent the many aspects of the lives of the individuals honored in each piece. One of the pieces of the AIDS NAMES project quilt, is one depicting Gil Scott-Heron, the famous musician, poet, and civil rights activist who was famous in the 1970’s. Gil Scott-Heron is arguably most well-known for his song “The Revolution Will Not Be Televised”, a song about the rise of black individuals in a society that was oppressive and remained oppressive for decades. Like Gil Scott-Heron’s music, his quilt piece was largely Pan-African inspired and contained colors and images popular in Pan-African culture. Gil Scott-Heron fought for equality among African Americans and white people for years. Ironically, the things he fought for included better conditions in order to prevent things such as AIDS, which was what brought his time to an end. Gil Scott-Heron was a living representation of how heavily AIDS affected low income, poorly educated, and largely oppressed black communities filled with Pan-African culture in the U.S., and this is one of the truths that causes Gil Scott-Heron and other Pan-African supporters to fight for a change through activism in literature.
African Americans have been the most largely affected group by AIDS in the United States. African Americans account for much of the impoverished population in the United States, and most times, these African Americans live in the ghettos. So much of American ghetto communities are made up of African Americans, that the term ghetto has been appropriated to often represent mainly black communities in the United States. In these communities we find that disease, malnutrition, crime, and drug abuse is widely present. African Americans make up 44% of the HIV/AIDS affected community (hiv.gov). Most of these African Americans are the ones living in communities and ghettos in the United States which are products of oppression and neglect. Gil Scott-Heron, through his music and poetry, raised these issues to attention and fought to stop them. There is a verse from Gil Scott-Heron’s song “The Revolution Will Not Be Televised”, which is found on the quilt piece. This verse reads, “The revolution will not be televised, will not be televised, will not be televised, the revolution will be no rerun brothers, the revolution will be live.” This excerpt and song, is one of Gil Scott-Heron’s many examples of political activism. This aspect of the quilt piece resembles a sort of irony. Because of the oppression and lack of resources and systematic injustices, African Americans everywhere are affected by things like drug addiction, crime, and HIV viruses.
Based on the evidence above presented from HIV.gov, the government’s HIV awareness sector, and BIS.gov, the Bureau of Labor Statistics, it is clear that African Americans are systematically oppressed. Because of this reality, Pan-African pride and African American equality has been of huge presence in American society. African Americans often turn to Pan-African culture to learn and implement the principles of equality that they don’t see in America’s current society. Many people use their unique platforms such as music, poetry, art, and media to voice their opinions on the systematic injustices in the United States. Gil Scott-Heron was one of those people who tried to influence society through his music and poetry. Unfortunately, HIV affects many of the individuals in this subgroup. In impoverished and systematically oppressed communities, we find that resources are extremely lacking. This means often times in these communities, the topic of HIV is neglected and therefore the disease has a persistent presence. There is a multitude of factors that help restrict ghetto communities from being less prone to AIDS viruses (aidshealth.org). These factors range from medical care, insurance, education, and living conditions. Truthfully, at one point in history, white Americans in power consciously chose to oppress black people for decades, and while progress has been made, we now find that African Americans are facing the after effects of slavery, Jim Crow, and oppression. Because of the systematic oppression that followed these atrocities, African Americans found themselves being pushed into projects, often times because their pay and treatment weren’t equal. This meant that African Americans were making far less for the same jobs white people did, and often times they were denied access to housing in areas they wanted to live in so that segregation remained a reality, which contributed greatly to the creation of “the projects”. Once African Americans heavily populated these areas, the government neglected them, offering poor educational systems with little to no luxury, little to no substance control efforts, little to know quality in healthcare, and little to no infrastructural improvements. Overall, these areas do not see government investments like other wealthier areas do.
While it seems like the reasons for poor conditions in African American communities is a product of systematic oppression, there are instances of clear injustices that lead to the poor conditions in black communities. In 1932, a study began that would determine the effects after preventing healthcare from 400 African American men in a community. This study was conducted in Alabama for 40 years until 1972. “This study has become to many, a classic and historical case of blatant governmental racism against African Americans and is one of the major reasons why so many African Americans’ distrust the health care system” (Vol. 14, Iss. 2, B. Kennedy, C. Mathis, A. Woods). This very example represents how difficult it is for African Americans and Pan-African supporters to gain the proper health care needed to prevent disease.
These impoverished communities receive some type of funding that they can dedicate to their basic needs, but studies show that of all the spending an impoverished family does for basic needs, only “7% of it is set aside for medical spending” (Bureau of Labor Statistics). 7% of an impoverished family’s income is not nearly enough to fund the treatment of AIDS at most hospitals, and with a portion of money set aside for healthcare spending, condoms and other means of STD prevention such as screenings, are less than likely a priority to these individuals.
Often times people claim that the root to the world’s problems starts with a lack of proper education. While this hyperbole may not seem directly connected to the AIDS epidemic and its victims and counter attackers, Pan-African civil rights activists, education has a huge impact on this connection. One of the most effective ways to prevent AIDS, is to educate the public of how to prevent it and the consequences of failing to prevent it (hiv.org). This includes educating children and sexually active individuals on how to have protected sex, where to find the tools for protected sex such as condoms, and what to do in case of an infection/how to identify an infection. Education spending in black communities is known to be less proportional and far less transparent. For example, according to a study conducted by Matthew M. Chingos and Kristin Blagg, Baltimore City in Maryland receives $15,663 in cost adjusted funds. Baltimore City has a size of 84,700 students, and the poverty rate is the largest in Maryland at 31%. If we then take a much smaller county for example, such as Queen Anne’s County, which has less than 8,000 students, and a poverty rate of 10%, we find that they receive $14,116 in cost adjusted funding (urban.org). These numbers show exactly how unproportioned education spending is among impoverished and financially stable communities. The $15,663 that Baltimore City receives is not nearly close to what the county needs to sustain proper educational opportunities for students coming from impoverished areas. Statistics show that lower educational standards lead to more crime, more poverty, and more diseases like AIDS. This is just another truth that supports the fact that systematic oppression prevents progress in communities such as Baltimore City, which leads to a cry for civil equality and a surge of support for Pan-African pride.
While claiming that black power and aids are correlated is controversial and problematic, what we find is that many black communities are tainted by some of the horrors of society. Many black people were pushed into slums and exposed to drugs and unprotected sex, and now it is difficult for people in these communities to branch out (as you may find evident in many of the lyrics of rappers who sing about making it out of the hood) and leave the horrors behind (CNN.com). Gil Scott-Heron, like many other rappers, uses his music to inform people of the realities of those individuals such as himself who grew up in “ghetto” communities, with Pan-African pride and activism constantly on the mind, face daily. AIDS happens to be one of these realities which resulted from systematic oppression, following a history of slavery and Jim Crow.
While these statistics give insight on the situation in African American majority, impoverished communities, these affects are directly correlated with Pan-African nationalists because they are the people experiencing these injustices, which causes them to react with activism. With the help of a specific type of setting and all the factors that resemble the neglect of this setting, it is evident that those who are found in these places, whom are often times those who fight for civil rights and support Pan-African movements, are affected by AIDS in a way that reminds society of exactly why activism and Pan-African pride are necessary. The correlation between the affect on AIDS and this specific subgroup is almost interchangeable, or rather cause and affect based.
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