The Gay-Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD) has gone hard against ABC and "The View" about recent comments made by host Sherri Shepherd and guest host D.L. Hughley. On the show, which aired June 22nd, Shepherd and Hughley linked the high rate of HIV among straight women in the black community to black men being on the "down low" or those who have sex with other men in private.
"When you look at the prevalence of HIV in the African-American community, it's primarily young women who are getting it from men who are on the down-low," Hughley said. He mentioned this while discussing the recent FDA ban on gay and bisexual men donating blood.
"[African-American men] are having sex with men, and they're not telling their girlfriends or their wives that they're gay," said Shepherd.
In response, GLAAD, the National Black Justice Coalition and the Black AIDS Institute have put out full-page ads in Variety, stating that the information shared on "The View" is inaccurate.
"The Centers for Disease Control has publicly disproven this myth. And since June 22nd, thousands of people have written to ABC, asking that 'The View' provide correct information to viewers," the ad reads. "Unfortunately, those requests have been greeted with silence from both ABC and 'The View.' When 'The View' talks about these kinds of issues, people listen. And there's a responsibility that comes with that."
Members of the scientific community are also backing the viewpoints of GLAAD and other groups that have protested:
Dr. Kevin Fenton, director of the CDC's National Center for HIV/AIDS, Viral Hepatitis, STD and TB Prevention, told NPR back in October 2009, "You need to look at the risk factors, which are far more prevalent in the community: having multiple sexual partners with unprotected sex with heterosexual partners, injecting drugs. Those are going to be factors which are far more prevalent in the population and are driving risks."
I've jumped all over D.L. Hughley in the past for engaging in incredibly ignorant commentary on national television. I remember the CNN show Hughley had ("DL Hughley Breaks the News"), where he engaged in a bunch of incredibly unfunny and stereotypical jokes about what it would mean to have a black president - you know, barbecue chicken, pimps, and all that other stupid stuff.
While politically incorrect commentary certainly has its place in nightclubs or Def Comedy Jam, it had no business being on CNN. Although CNN did the right thing and shut down Hughley's show after just one month, much of the damage had already been done. Obama was close to being nominated for president, and the show demoralized millions of Americans who'd become excited about Obama's candidacy. It was also quite telling that while African Americans can't get CNN to hire one single black host for its nighttime shows, it is all too willing to hire a comedian like D.L. Hughley to embarrass us.
I met Sherri Shepherd for the first time last month when she was a guest on my show, "Dr. Boyce Watkins on Aol. Black Voices." I can confirm to everyone reading that Sherri is incredibly sweet, humble and down to earth. She loves to kick it with a degree of realness that is far too rare among modern-day celebrities.
While I am one to give Sherri every accolade in the world, I also have to tell the truth: Sherri is a comedian and not necessarily someone equipped to do social commentary on critical issues that affect black America. The truth is that on this HIV/AIDS issue, having two black comedians discussing the results of scientific studies makes as much sense as Steve Harvey telling black folks how to manage their relationships. The point is that Sherri and D.L., being comedians, may not be the best in the world at dancing over delicate and impactful issues like this one. They are entertainment.
By simply making HIV/AIDS into a gay issue (and it certainly is a serious problem in the LGBT community), we are letting the rest of our community off the hook. Irresponsible sexual activity among heterosexuals (i.e., athletes, like former NBA player Winston Bennett, who had sex with as many as 90 women per month) has also led to the spread of disease throughout our community.
The tainted idea that you can sleep with as many people as you want as long as you wear a condom, well, perhaps we should think that one through as well. Our personal decisions eventually become chickens coming home to roost, and irresponsible choices almost always have long-term consequences.
Trying to say that AIDS is spreading because every other black man is on the down low is an Oprah-created myth that plagues every single black man in America. Perhaps we are shooting at all the wrong targets, which is why HIV continues to spread so rapidly.
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Dr. Boyce Watkins is the founder of the Your Black World Coalition and a Scholarship in Action resident of the Institute for Black Public Policy. To have Dr. Boyce's commentary delivered to your e-mail, please click here.