African-American conference speakers debunk the "down low" phenomenon
March 03 2005 12:00 AM ET
Speakers at the National Conference on African-Americans and AIDS in Philadelphia on Tuesday denounced the so-called down low phenomenon among black men and instead urged African-Americans to stop playing "the blame and shame game" and take more personal responsibility in fighting the spread of HIV, The Philadelphia Inquirer reports. Media reports have suggested that some African-American men are fueling the spread of HIV among blacks by secretly having unprotected sex with other men on the "down low" and then infecting their female sex partners with the virus and other sexually transmitted diseases.
"Rather than play the blame and shame game, we must support every segment of our community," speaker Phill Wilson, executive director of the Los Angeles-based Black AIDS Institute, told the conference attendees. Wilson says no evidence exists to support claims that such behavior is driving the HIV epidemic in African-American communities, and warns that the scenario portrays women as "powerless victims unable to protect themselves from HIV-infected men." Speakers instead said it is the responsibility of all African-Americans--men and women alike--to insist on condom use to prevent the spread of the virus.
The Reverend Jesse Jackson, speaking Monday at the conference, urged African-American leaders to promote HIV antibody testing to help identify the scores of blacks who are infected with HIV but unaware they carry the virus. "Why can't ministers and high-profile athletes and high-profile television people take the test to remove the taboo?" asked Jackson, according to the Inquirer. "Suppose these high-profile athletes took the HIV test on TV. It would make taking the test cool, a culturally acceptable thing to do."