Last Monday, in order to coincide with the 20th anniversary of World AIDS Day, media outlets around the globe reported on the disease's latest trends. AIDS statistics are AIDS statistics -- alarming numerical reminders that we're still far away from eradicating the deadly but preventable illness -- but for black Americans, the news was particularly grim. In Washington, DC, where the number of women with AIDS has jumped 76 percent in just six years, nine out of 10 of those new female patients are black. In fact, AIDS is the leading cause of death in black women between the ages of 25 and 34. Among Manhattan's middle-aged black men, the HIV/AIDS rates are comparable to those of sub-Saharan Africa. If none of that is jarring enough, consider this: more African Americans than Botswanans or Haitians are now infected with the AIDS virus, and both Botswana and Haiti receive funding from the President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief. "AIDS in America," says Phill Wilson, executive director of the LA-based Black AIDS Institute, "is a black disease."
If Wilson and the numbers are to be believed, blacks in the United States are at a flash point in their struggle with AIDS. Battle the disease dutifully, and it's very possible the number of African American AIDS patients will dwindle; ignore it, and its corrosive power, moving like the virus itself, will continue hollowing out black communities from coast to coast for decades to come. Now is the time to invest in the fight against AIDS in black America. If only multi-million dollar American companies agreed.
Beginning on Thanksgiving of this year, Starbucks joined Hallmark, Gap, American Express, Apple, Converse and others in the Product Red campaign, Bono's benevolent brain child. Until January 2, the coffee giant is donating five cents from every sale of specific, holiday-themed beverages to help end AIDS in Africa. It's a sure-fire charitable windfall, the kind that has kept Product Red's coffers full since its inception in 2006.
Already, the U2 front man's well-publicized crusade has raised $112 million, money that's then filtered through the Global Fund organization, ultimately going to provide medication to hundreds of thousands of patients afflicted with HIV and AIDS. In almost three years, not a dime of those millions has gone to combat stateside AIDS cases. Over at the Global Fund Web site, amid the facts and figures about illness in places from Afghanistan to Zimbabwe, there's not a single mention of the the problem in America.
Really, it's not surprising that so many of our domestic corporations prefer to see their donations go abroad. Not only is donating to stop AIDS in Africa an easy way for an otherwise faceless brand to say both "we think globally" and "we're not racist," the AIDS problem in America's black ghettos is just plain ugly. For instance, a 2005 CDC study showed that part of the reason African Americans suffer disproportionately from AIDS is because they have both a higher number of sex partners and a higher chance of maintaining concurrent sexual relationships, meaning they are more likely to be sleeping with several people rather than going from one monogamous relationship to the next.
Research also shows that young black girls in America are more likely than their white counterparts to sleep with older men. It's not a rash of bad blood transfusions that's spreading AIDS around black communities like a raging house fire, it's dangerous sexual proclivities. Imagine a sign proclaiming "five cents from every cup goes to help end dangerous sex in poor black neighborhoods" in your local Starbucks window.
And yet millions in charity goes to fighting AIDS in Africa, where unsafe sex has also ensured a proliferation of the disease. Why is that? What makes African patients more worthy of the money? I theorize that it's because Africa is out of sight and frequently hapless. Thus, to many Westerners, it's pitiable, forgivable and forgettable, a perfect place to send checks to make oneself feel better around the holidays. Reckless African American teenagers having unprotected sex in the worst parts of our nation's capital, where some of the world's brightest people congregate, hits a bit too close to home in more ways than one.
I'm not a jingoist who believes American companies should only donate to American causes, and I think it's quite important to continue educating and maintaining the health of the African nations. I would just like to see some major American companies begin to invest in the straining black communities that exist in their own backyards, the same black communities whose money they've had no problem taking for years and years. It's high time people in positions to use millions for good show the African American AIDS patients who are dying anonymously throughout the country that they, too, are worth a fight.