The Advocate July/Aug 2022
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Where Are 1.5 Million Missing Black Men?

Where Are 1.5 Million Missing Black Men?

One and a half million black men are missing. For every 100 black women between the ages of 25 and 54 living free in the United States, there are only 83 men. By contrast, for every 100 white women from that age group, there are 99 white men according to a recent study conducted by The New York Times using data found the 2010 Census.

The gender gap stretches back at least 50 years, but it took on new dimensions in the 1980s when deindustrialization, deurbanization, and the War on Drugs gutted the economic coherence of black communities and turned black men in America into what the Times calls an “underclass,” lacking sufficient opportunities for employment and operating under an expectation of criminality.

“Obviously some of those missing men are also a part of [the gay] community,” laments Mister Wallace, a member of the Chicago-based artist collective Banjee Report. “If they were here it would mean more black gay men making art and holding positions of leadership, more magazine covers featuring black artists, more black writers writing articles, more opportunities for a black perspective to influence the gay community.”

Approximately 600,000 of these missing men are behind bars, the majority of whom are serving time for nonviolent drug crimes. Of the remaining 900,000 missing black men, it is impossible to state with certainty how many have died, but it is without a doubt a very large number. Many were claimed by violence: Homicide is the leading cause of death among young black men in America. And many more will be claimed by heart disease, respiratory infections, and complications related to HIV, all of which black men are both more likely to acquire and to be killed by than either black women or whites in America. The Times study has surprisingly little to say about HIV, considering that of the 1.1 million people living with the virus in the United States, more than 506,000 are black. Though the black community makes up 12% of the national population, it suffers 44% of new infections, 49% of AIDS diagnoses, and nearly half of HIV-related deaths.

“One in three black gay men will contract HIV,” says Alex Garner of the National Minority AIDS Council. This is despite evidence that black men — and especially gay black men — are more likely to have fewer partners, to use a condom with those partners, and to have gotten tested within the past year than their non-black counterparts. “Compare that to the one in six white gay men who will become infected,” Garner continues. “The high rates of infection among black gay men are because the incidence within the community is so high. It’s been left unchecked for decades.”

Knowing and understanding numbers like these are important early steps in addressing the HIV crisis, but they can also contribute to the stigma against black men that already hangs all too heavily over both the digital and real-life spaces where gay men congregate to meet and cruise. “Statistics about black men being more likely to be infected by HIV make black men less desirable,” notes Wallace. “Black boys growing up want to date other black boys, but when 1.5 million black boys are missing, interracial dating becomes a necessity.”

Gay culture is, at its best, a space where many seemingly contrary ideas and identities intersect, mingle, and find some measure of harmony. It’s a space on the Venn diagram where each of America’s varied regional, racial, and religious subcultures intersect; the gay bar, the Pride parade, even the bathhouse present opportunities to interact with people who come from backgrounds that many of our straight siblings will never have the privilege to experience. At our best, these encounters teach us compassion and empathy for those born into different tribes. Sadly, with every victory the gay rights movement wins, it has begun to feel that we get a little further from that ideal.

Does mainstream acceptance come at the cost of queer compassion?

Oakland-based artist Brontez Purnell isn’t sure. “I want to say that the gay world is a place where all of that shit could be fixed or worked on, but I don’t know. I’d like to believe that your average gay is less likely to harbor racist feelings, but I feel like we’ve become estranged. That’s the only word I can think of which fits.”

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