Don't Make Me Over: Blacks and AIDS Part 2

Ours are drastic times. Drastic words and actions are in order. Especially drastic actions. Writing a column about black folks and AIDS and taking black ministers/churches to task for sleeping on th

Mar 8, 2001 at 2:06 pm

Ours are drastic times. Drastic words and actions are in order. Especially drastic actions. Writing a column about black folks and AIDS and taking black ministers/churches to task for sleeping on the genocide wreaked by rampantly unprotected sex between black folks was, on my part, apparently a drastic stroke. (See "Doing It to Death: Blacks and AIDS," issue of March 1-7.)

I didn't think so, but to Sheldon Black, an organizer of the Black Church Week of Prayer (BCWOP), last week's column was drastic. Abrasive even, he said. Speaking frankly about AIDS and the responsibility it's laid at the feet of our ministers struck a nerve. Sort of like a social root canal.

Yes, I agree that black ministers are a sensitive lot.

Dragging many of them in to the 21st Century is no easy task.

Really, that's not my job. Who called for a week of collective prayer and meditation? That's your job. Mine is to speak on the hiccups and hurdles that keep us from ourselves. I am the seer and the teller, not the spook who sat by the door.

Irresponsible sex, drug abuse and death? Those are indeed hurdles.

More hurdles loom. Like the real reason black preachers can't fully embrace AIDS in their midst: They'd much rather demonize their gay parishioners. Yet they can't fully ostracize them. After all, who would sing in the choir, pass the collection plate and teach Sunday School?

It's easy to damn what looks so heinous. At the same time, I don't see lung cancer sufferers being damned for smoking all their lives. I don't see adulterers being weaned off sex. If homosexuality is indeed the sickness the collective black church has for decades painted it to be, aren't all human fallacies in the same stinking, sinking boat?

Homosexuality in the black neighborhood — there is no black community, haven't you heard? — ain't nothin' nice. It's the last secret, the final bastion of evil. And to speak truthfully about AIDS and gays — not, of course, the sole source of HIV or AIDS — in the church is to call out members from the usher board to the choir stand and every auxiliary and committee in between.

But none of that is really the point of this. The point is to correct and comfort Sheldon. He was incorrect in assuming that my opinion has anything to do with the week's events. Nor does my opinion carry the heft necessary to sabotage the progress of the week of prayer for the healing of AIDS.

Sheldon, if you think that's the case, your group's plan of attack needs an overhaul.

Further, if you have to spend, really waste, time placating and appeasing black ministers just to get them to participate in prayer for a group of people they're supposed to, by virtue of their job descriptions, already love and care for, then do you really need them on your team at all?

Matthew 25 says that "Whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me." Really, what would Jesus do?

I would like to wrap the entire thing in a big, pink, warm fuzzy sweater and write about how great it is that all these people are "coming together" for a common good. In and of itself, I suppose that's a good thing. But isn't this the work we should be doing, anyway? And, again, isn't AIDS an ongoing concern?

Sure, special weeks and months highlight what we'd like them to, but what about when the revelry has subsided? Who helps the AIDS-infected single mother when she becomes too sick to care for her children, and who'll knock the sexually overactive brotha upside his hard head to get him tested?

AIDS Volunteers of Cincinnati (AVOC) walks an incline doing outreach in black neighborhoods where we spend time outside of our homes. To some, though, even that's not enough.

I agree with AVOC Executive Director Vickie Brooks that it's time to "take things to the next level." A great part of that is to cease and desist with the in-fighting and pettiness keeping all the disparate groups from working together.

AIDS is AIDS is AIDS. It doesn't care whose life it ruins or ends. For my part, I plan to hang out with an AVOC outreach worker to see what that kind of trench work is like. For the BCWOP, I suggest, as I did last week, that they keep praying even after the week's organized events have ended.

So, Sheldon, the previous column was never meant to be a commentary on your events or tactics. It was just a shower for the dirty ones among us.

Enough explaining. Let's get to work.