In my many hours of internet browsing i do not actively participate in comment sections. This is for fear of getting into internet fights, which I definitely did over Black Panther, that eat up your life for no goddamn reason! However on December 8th 2018 on running into an article published on Blavity on the HIV AIDS epidemic in Atlanta I had to say something.
The headline of the article read, “ CDC Compares Atlanta’s AIDS Epidemic To That Of Third World Countries: ‘Downtown Atlanta Is As Bad As Zimbabwe’
Let’s talk about this article
First of all, I love Blavity! To be the hugely successful black media empire that they are is amazing and I am here for it! My inbox is all blavitized and I get my Blavitea everyday to let me know what’s what in the world of #blackexcellence. However I was highly disappointed in this particular article for peddling a tied narrative of “ third world countries” in their short and inadequate mention of my country, Zimbabwe.
The article chronicled the continuing epidemic of HIV/AIDS in Atlanta, which as part of the south holds the highest incidence of HIV infection in the country, 52%, and according to someone from the CDC, “Downtown Atlanta is as bad as Zimbabwe or Harare or Durban.” The same esteemed CDC person was also quoted saying, “We should not be having an epidemic of that proportion in a country like ours.”
These 2 statements are problematic for a lot of reasons but most of all it has to do with storytelling.
I am in the business of story telling myself, and dedicated to reclaiming African narratives. I am inspired to write my stories because for so long, my home, Africa, has been painted in a one dimensional light,as a place of poverty, hunger, disease and the rest of the tired stereotypes about us. People like me then show up at an American college campus and it’s a wonder to my classmates how I feel apparently wearing shoes for the first time! A whole generation of Africans on the continent and in the diaspora has risen up to correct these narrow minded views of us, in all forms of art, from literature, to painting to runways to music. However now and again, I come across writing like this and I roll my eyes to the back of my head, here we go again!
I grew up in Zimbabwe as part of a generation dubbed, “ the HIV/AIDS generation.” When I was in high school, the statistics said 1 in every 3 of us was HIV positive and with a life expectancy of 34 for women, high school was basically my midlife crisis. The prevalence of HIV in Zimbabwe at the height of the epidemic was 30% and I lost a lot of friends and family to the illness. TB defeated one of my close friends Jackie, before she could take our last high school exam. That was the 2000s and we have come a long way since then.
I wrote about some of this in my article, The HIV/AIDS Epidemic in Southern Africa, and the fact of the matter is Zimbabwe is one of the success stories regarding the HIV/AIDS epidemic. HIV is no longer the death sentence it used to be, because people have access to testing, counseling and anti-retroviral drugs( 84% ARV access coverage). We also did a lot of cultural behavior change education to address the cultural factors that drive HIV/AIDS. HIV infection in Zimbabwe is driven by unprotected heterosexual sex and it has a lot to do with the misogynoir that is embedded in our culture where women have diminished agency to demand the use of protection in their relationships and men, married or not, having many sexual partners is a super mainstream idea. When I date African men, I always have to ask them/research about their other families because these negroes be outchea trippin!
In any case the HIV/AIDS epidemic in Zimbabwe looks a lot different than it did when was 19 and I am proud of us for it. For whatever reason, the writer of this Blavity article neglected to give context to the comparison being made between ATL and Zimbabwe and that is very damaging to our narrative. What ATL is going through is hard and as a public health educated professional myself I highly empathize. However instead of name calling Zimbabwe as the country you don’t want ATL to be, perhaps take some notes and learn from our experiences with this epidemic.
As a writer I took on the responsibility of telling African stories, but I am only from one of them. Every single time I write about experiences that are not mine, I take care to be faithful to them through careful research; internet, and through my friends whose stories I write about and it has been an educative journey for me. If you are going to co-opt other people’s narratives into your story you best tell it right. It is your responsibility, and Blavity as a publication that claims to represent black narratives super failed with this article. Africans are hella tired if this nonsense, It’s gona be a no from me dawg!
Now here is a link to Chimamanda Adichie’s ted talk, “ The danger of a single story” to help you further process this piece.