W. Jeffrey Campbell: Perhaps Poverty, Not HIV, is the Conspiracy

By: W. Jeffrey Campbell
Prevention Development Director

On January 26, 2012 I attended the launch of a Faith Leaders Symposium in Houston, TX hosted by Metropolitan Interdenominational Church Technical Assistance Network (MICTAN). I was most inspired by Dr. Mindy Thompson Fullilove’s presentation that addressed systematic poverty in America. As a result of the research presented I began to ask the question: Is HIV or Systematic Poverty our greatest enemy?

Dr. Fullilove opened by discussing how Dr. John Snow’s research about the devastating effects of cholera in London led city officials to remove the handle from the Broad Street pump. Many believe that cholera was in the water and was spread to individuals who drank from that pump. Snow found that the deceased lived, went to school or worked near that pump and drank from it. At the height of the outbreak London officials began to sell clean water with only the wealthy being able to afford it and leaving the poor at risk to the disease. However, the rich were still impacted by the disease because many of them employed members of impoverished communities that surrounded the pump who carried the disease with them to their work place.

Next Fullilove presented research on impoverished communities in Bronx, New York in the 1970s. These communities had a high presence of poverty, crime and intravenous drug use. In an effort to remove the ills of the community there was a systematic closing of businesses and services with fire houses being the last service to be removed. With the fire houses removed the community was left to burn to the ground scattering the poor, the criminals and the drug addicted. According to Fullilove, research shows that there was a presence of an unknown disease among intravenous drug users in the area that was killing the infected drug users. As these people scattered so did this unknown disease. Research later revealed that this disease was HIV and was present in these areas among the poor long before it was discovered among white gay men in San Francisco, CA.

Fullilove spoke about the government’s systematic method of directing money away from black communities in America. A planned “undermining of neighborhoods” through sub-prime lending, gentrification, racial segregation, red-lining, deindustrialization, etc. More specifically, the Housing Act of 1949 was passed to supposedly eliminate slums. Years after its passage many surmise that public housing and urban renewal programs were “fostering the slums and blight they were meant to eradicate.” As a result Urban Renewal was later dubbed “Negro Removal.”

During the International AIDS Conference in 2010 CDC provided information from a research study that indicated that AIDS is most prevalent among people who are disproportionately poor regardless of race. The research further stated that Blacks are disproportionately poor and therefore are disproportionately affected by HIV.

I have never bought into the thought that HIV/AIDS is a conspiracy to eliminate the Black or gay communities. However in taking a closer look at Dr. Fullilove’s work and the works of others, I am beginning to wonder if poverty in the American Black community is a conspiracy. As Blacks in America we have for generations been living within a society whose leaders have systematically determined who the rich will be and who the poor will be. Do any of the following sound like systematic ways to keep African Americans in poverty?

The fight for the right to vote in public elections;
The fight for the right to integrate the public school system
Poorly funded schools in predominately Black neighborhoods;
Racial profiling;
Stiffer penalties for Blacks found guilty of crimes;

I think that you know the answer to the questions.

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