Historical Account of the AIDS Epidemic
Douglas Crimp’s article, “”Before Occupy: How AIDS Activists Seized Control of the FDA in 1988″” details how the members of the organization ACT UP created an agenda that manipulated the media, in order to receive proper medicine for the AIDS virus from the FDA. Cathy J. Cohen’s Contested Membership, Black Gay Identities and the Politics of AIDS, details how blackness is defined and how that definition affected the community’s beliefs and actions towards the AIDS epidemic. While each article focuses on independent topics, they both exhibit different sides to a grave issue that killed an abundant amount of people due to the negligence of the U.S. government and community leaders.
Douglas Crimp’s article titled, “”Before Occupy: How AIDS Activists Seized Control of the FDA in 1988″” recaps how ACT UP used the media to push out information to the public regarding how people with AIDS were being treated not just socially but medically as well. The organization “”prepared an FDA handbook (Crimp 2) that was filled with information and “”sold to the media in advance. The selling of this handbook allowed the organization to control the narrative of the story being told in the media. ACT UP activists also appeared on radio shows and tv shows nationwide in order to tell their own personal accounts. Doing this allowed the media to report the story, “”with a degree of accuracy and sympathy that is, to say the least unusual. (Crimp 2) In addition to selling the right story, ACT UP’s main argument was that they felt as though testing and finding effective medicine for this epidemic was that it was an innate right. For example, the author states, “”ACT UP’s fundamental contention was that, with a new epidemic disease such as AIDs, testing experimental therapies is itself a form of health care and that access to health care must be everyone’s right. (Crimp 3) The difference between ACT UP and pharmaceutical companies, in the stipulations to get the drugs and therapies tested and on the market were ACT UP thought it was a health care right while pharmaceutical companies reasoning was primarily profit-driven.
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In the article, the author informs the reader the steps in which ACT UP took in order to get people who had the AIDS disease proper medication in order to survive, after people were dying at a high rate to the epidemic with little to no diligence from the United States government. The article explains how valuable the media is especially when utilized correctly by a group of people with a problem that needed a resolution. The demands the organization had for the FDA were, “”Shorten the drug approval process. “”No more double-blind placebo trials. “”Include people from all affected populations at all stages of HIV infection clinical trials. “”Medicaid and private health insurance must be made to pay for experimental drug therapies. “”The FDA must support rather than harass community groups working to keep community members alive. (Crimp 3-4) This was important because the organization included not just white gay men, but people of color, and women in their movement. The article made me think of how powerful a tool the media is and other organizations and movements that have directed the media in order to get their information out in my generation.
The article, Contested Membership, Black Gay Identities and the Politics of AIDS, Cathy J. Cohen focuses on identity and rhetoric in the Black community. Specifically, the idea of shared identity by a marginalized community, how the shared identity influences political attitudes, and the behavior of community leaders and its members on the subject of the AIDS epidemic. The author’s claim is that the idea of “”blackness plays a role in if particular community members get certain resources, services, and support in times of need. The author details this saying, “”This examination of the intersection of AIDS, black gay identity, and indigenous construction of “”blackness provides us with an empirical example of the importance of group membership and group resources for marginal group members, as well as the dangers of identity politics. (Cohen 48) It’s not that the Black community completely ignored the AIDS epidemic, there was a response in the community but it was “”less pervasive, public, and effective. (51) The reason for this response was 1. Community leaders saw AIDS as a disease that devient and irresponsible individuals contracted. The author mentions this in the quote, “”For most in black communities, AIDS is still a disease of individuals, usually “”irresponsible, immoral, and deviant individuals, some of whom happen to be black. (Cohen 51) 2. Black communities have fewer resources and did not have the manpower to respond to the AIDS crisis befittingly. (51) 3. The Black community suffers from various ailments and crises and believed they deserved more attention than AIDS. (51)
Cohen brings a new perspective in the reason that Black community leaders and institutions didn’t speak up during the AIDS epidemic; due to the people being affected not fitting the traditional mold of “”blackness. The author expresses “”blackness is often defined and redefined stating, “”indigenous definitions of blackness, while of course building on dominant ideas or definitions of who is black, employ a more expansive, but at the same time often less inclusive, understanding of black group identity. (Cohen 46) As a Black woman, I can attest to this affirmation due to growing up in a community that has often dismissed people who did not share similar upbringings, tendencies, or interests. Any Black person that doesn’t fit the mold of the “”regular Black person is casts out of the community. The author’s explanation of this is, “”And it is through the process of public policing, where the judgements, evaluations and condemnations of recognized leaders and institutions to their constituents. (Cohen 47) If a Black person doesn’t fit the image of the acceptable Black person that the community wants to portray, then they are often disregarded. It was Black people’s self “”policing and assimilation that made Black leaders shun public homosexuality because they believe it was a threat to the place they have in society that they fought for. Essentially the images associated with AIDS wasn’t the image of blackness community leaders wanted to put out. Cohen made me think critically about my idea of “”blackness versus what I was taught and how that disenfranchises people of my community that don’t fit the standard of being Black.
In the articles, Before Occupy: How AIDS Activists Seized Control of the FDA in 1988″” and Contested Membership, Black Gay Identities and the Politics of AIDS, discuss how different groups dealt with the AIDS crisis. Douglas Crimp’s article examined how ACT UP utilized the media to bring about necessary change via medicine for those affected with the disease. Cathy J. Cohen’s article debates the definition of blackness lead to people affected by the AIDS crisis being ignored due to them not being welcomed into the community because they didn’t fit the respectable image the Black community wanted to portray.