By now, you’ve probably read the story of how former Howard University student William “Reds” Brawner knowingly had unprotected sex while H.I.V. positive. If you want to hear my initial thoughts, check out my discussion with Dr. Boyce Watkins. Since our conservation, I’ve experienced a flood of additional reflections on the issue.
First, as Howard alum who was at Howard when “Reds” entered the Mecca in 1998, my heart goes out to all my sisters who may be learning of Red’s H.I.V. status through online media. That’s not how it’s supposed to happen. It’s not right. Maybe after I graduated in 1999, “Red’s” H.I.V. status became a bit of an open secret, who knows? Either way, “Red” would’ve earned some redemptive good will from me if he had contacted the women directly, before he began taping the documentary. Maybe he did, or maybe he can’t remember all of his trysts, but either way, I hope he made an effort.
Second, I must say that I’m totally floored by the silence among my HU alum on this issue. On my personal Facebook page as well as YourBlackVoices, the silence is indicative that, even among Gen-Xers, there are some lessons which have yet to be unlearned.
What I’m saying is that it’s hard to figure that the same folks who drive the comment count into the hundreds at the mention of Howard homecoming don’t have an opinion on H.I.V. and AIDS. We bison are a vocal bunch and when all sorts of political and cultural discussions erupt, we’re usually on the front lines making our case, protecting the perimeter from rhetorical assaults.
But we bison are also burdened by the same suffocating tradition that motivated our community to bury any mention of molestation or homosexuality deep beneath the black community’s prevailing narrative. For years, the key to the process of protecting our own people was the keeping of our own secrets. Keeping our bit of dirt under lock and key for fear of drawing the cackles of judgment from bigots was employed as a strategy for survival.
Back in the day, an accusation of child rape within the black community that made it outside the black community could’ve been used by racist diehards to make the case that black men were savages. So as a consequence we learned to fix our issues internally. We didn’t allow any internal information to leak out for fear it would be weaponized and used against us during our weakest moments. That, I understand. And I’m still an adherent of the philosophy that we should all be doing much more internally to give each other a hand than what we’re currently doing. Assimilation has never been all it’s cracked up to be.
Having said that, I think it’s time to distinguish between meaningful isolation, or what I’d characterize as incubaterism, and detachment. Huddling up amongst ourselves and brainstorming for solutions is a bit different from ignoring stories that have the potential to damage our legacy, in hopes they’ll go away. Because whether or not an issue goes away depends on how we collectively respond to it. And I don’t think we’re responding well to the news of “Reds” sexual behavior, but luckily for us, there’s still time to change that.
What I’m saying shouldn’t be considered an admonition of my Alma matter, because it’s not. It’s a friendly nudge, as if to say: We’ve got to do better. We are the beacons, and as always, it’s our job to lead the way.