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  • Writer's pictureRahem White

Addressing Racism as a Public Health Threat: Part 2 - Stigma and Shame

Today, we continue our exploration of the many ways in which racism manifests in healthcare both broadly and more specifically concerning HIV/AIDS for Black Americans. Valentine's Day, often celebrated as a day of love and affection, holds profound significance beyond romantic gestures and expressions of affection. It serves as a poignant reminder of the power of love, compassion, and acceptance in challenging stigma and shame, particularly within communities impacted by discrimination and marginalization. In the second part of this series, we will explore the role racism plays in upholding stigma and shame.

In a general sense, harmful stereotypes and prejudices against Black individuals include assumptions about intelligence, behavior, and morality. These can contribute to stigmatization and discrimination in various contexts, including healthcare settings. Racist portrayals of Black individuals in media and popular culture reinforce negative stereotypes and perpetuate stigmatization, while misinformation and sensationalized narratives about HIV/AIDS further exacerbate stigma and shame, particularly within the Black community. Structural inequalities and systemic racism within institutions and policies result in disparities in access to resources, opportunities, and social determinants of health for Black Americans, which again compound feelings of stigma and shame and impact health outcomes. Additionally, Black individuals experience interpersonal discrimination and microaggressions in social circles, workplaces, and healthcare settings, perpetuating feelings of shame, self-stigma, and internalized racism.

With regard to HIV/AIDS specifically, the legacy of the epidemic and the intersection of race, sexuality, and morality, contribute to stigma and shame surrounding the virus. Black individuals living with HIV/AIDS often fear disclosing their status due to concerns about social rejection, discrimination, and stigma within their communities, leading to isolation, secrecy, and reluctance to seek support or medical care. Moreover, historical injustices, such as the Tuskegee Syphilis Study, have fostered mistrust of the healthcare system among Black Americans, contributing to delays in HIV testing, diagnosis, and treatment. Additionally, Black individuals living with HIV/AIDS may experience intersecting forms of stigma related to race, sexuality, gender identity, and socioeconomic status, compounding feelings of shame, isolation, and marginalization, and impacting mental health and well-being.

To effectively address racism and HIV-related stigma within Black communities, comprehensive and intersectional approaches are needed. Culturally competent education, community engagement, and advocacy efforts can help challenge stereotypes, reduce discrimination, and promote acceptance and support for individuals living with HIV/AIDS. Additionally, promoting policies that dismantle structural racism, including decriminalizing HIV non-disclosure laws and expanding access to healthcare and social services, are essential steps towards fostering resilience, empowerment, and solidarity within Black communities.

At Arkansas RAPPS, we recognize the urgent need to confront racism and stigma as barriers to HIV prevention, treatment, and care within Black communities. By amplifying the voices and experiences of those most impacted by HIV-related stigma and shame, we can work together to create a future where every individual, regardless of race or background, is treated with dignity, respect, and compassion in the fight against HIV/AIDS.

If you or someone you know is affected by HIV-related stigma or discrimination, please reach out to Arkansas RAPPS for support, resources, and advocacy. Together, we can combat stigma, foster resilience, and build a more equitable and inclusive future for all.

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