Don’t blame it on our “down low” brothers

As a single black woman, I am getting really tired of folks telling me, “Girl, you better watch out for the men on the DL, ‘cause they have, and spread, HIV.”

In recent years, it’s become common to blame black men having secret and unprotected sexual encounters with other men while simultaneously sleeping with their female partners for the rise in HIV among heterosexual black women. I guess if it’s been on Oprah, it must be true.

Not quite.

Yes, there are black women who have been infected by a man on the low. Yes, AIDS is the number one killer of black women ages 24-35. But if we were to stop, put away James L. King’s book and re-adjust our thinking caps, we would see that blaming this epidemic on men on the low doesn’t make much sense. Especially since we don’t have any proof to back it up.

We have allowed fear, religious convictions, homophobic beliefs and urban folklore to interfere with our ability to reason. And thanks to the mainstream media — which thrives on sensationalism and demonizing black folks — we’ve been further bamboozled.

Sociologist Richard N Pitts Jr found, through looking at over 170 articles between 2001 – 2007, that in the media black men on the low are pathologized and treated as duplicitous men who threaten the black community while white men who engage in the same behaviors are given the Brokeback Mountain treatment: they are perceived as having been victimized and forced into the closet because of the society around them.

Over the years, numerous epidemiological studies have been conducted to find a significant correlation between men on the DL and HIV rates among black women. However the science says it just ain’t so — research released this year suggests that men on the low are not fueling HIV/AIDS.=&

In fact, research has found that African-American men who identify as being on the down low do not affect the high rate of HIV in the black community any more than openly bisexual men who have female partners.

The DL myth is actually detrimental to HIV prevention. By relegating AIDS to a “gay thing”, straight black men may not get tested or practice safer sex because they don’t want to be called gay and/or they don’t think they’re at risk. Translation: some men continue to pass on the virus completely unaware of their positive HIV status.

Ladies aren’t exempt either. The DL gives some of us a false sense of security that we can forgo condoms if a man doesn’t arch his brows or cut his eyes a certain way when he talks. Why are we jeopardizing our lives because of a stereotype?

While HIV is 100 percent preventable, it isn’t a moral issue or a direct result of us not being able to control our sex drives. Past studies suggest that while black women and gay black men are disproportionately affected by HIV/AIDS, we engage in fewer risk factors than our white counterparts. Clearly something else is at play.

In hopes of understanding the why and the what, we should look at the history of racial, economic, gender and sexual oppression that render us more vulnerable. High rates of incarceration, injection drug use, poor health, lack of health insurance and quality health care, disproportionate poverty, and the lack of quality education are all factors which also fuel the HIV crisis. Blaming DL men isn’t the answer.

Moving forward, let’s try a new approach: Turn off the television and turn on your common sense. Demand that comprehensive sex education be taught in schools. Find your inner activist. And most important, educate yourself, get tested and use condoms.

But then again, why do all that? It’s much easier to sit back and blame the queers who go bump in the night.