My heart sank right to the floor of my hallway, I couldn't even get mad. I felt empathy for this very uneducated man. “Really, in this day in age, you still think a person can get HIV through saliva,” is what I wanted to say. But that would have been futile because I knew that he was being sincere and he believed himself to have demonstrated his acceptance of my HIV status. I just simply explained how his information was incorrect and he listened attentively. When I finished, he simply said, “WOW, I had no idea.” Grandmama used to say, “You can get more with sugar than with shit.” I believe that to have been the case here. But it didn't make me feel any better. And this feeling in the pit of my stomach only got worse.
#RTLEvent to pay attention. He had seen a tweet about Michael Jackson and since he loves Janet, he followed the trail, it being the one year anniversary of her brother’s death. The tweet led him to a blog that gave 10 reasons why you should love Michael Jackson. They were cute, no doubt, but on a closer read, scrolled across Michael's picture, there was something of a different sort, and his point of contention. Knowing the blogger, without even hearing it, I loosely defined her by saying, “Her blog is meant to be funny and full of satire.” But he failed to see the humor and when he told me, and neither did I. It said:
“(Michael) Eats KFC fried chicken buckets with Magic Johnson and remains AIDS free.”
My mouth dropped open. I couldn’t believe it, but that is exactly what it said. I played it over and over in my head trying to understand it’s intent. But I failed to see the humor in it all. Even though I was outraged, saddened and even hurt, I was also paralyzed, unable to respond in any fashion. I have been holding this blog in the pit of my stomach for a couple of weeks. I didn't want to have to defend what I was feeling nor did I want to be attacked. I’ve never really backed down from a fight, but this was more then a fight, this was personal and it reached deep in my heart. I had to believe that no malice was intended.
tweet last night.
International AIDS Activist Hydeia Broadbent, a woman living with AIDS her entire life, tweeted:
“Watch the jokes about HIV/AIDS you never know one of your friends might be living with and not telling anyone for fear of judgment!”
She had struck a cord with me and given me my power back. Thank you, Hydeia.
Yes, I tried to make sense out of it all. I know that this blogger knows that you cannot get HIV from eating with someone. On one level, saying that it didn't happen was implying that it could happen. On the other, saying that it didn't happen could also say it couldn't happen. I get it. But I wonder how people will view this glass, half full or half empty. I would argue that it depends on the knowledge you already have. My neighbor would have said, “Boy, was he lucky.”
Discrimination has been real in my own life. It was only a few years back that I was denied a tattoo in an African-American owned tattoo parlor because of my HIV status. And the owner was just like my neighbor, he thought his discrimination of my rights was justified, rooted in what he thought he knew. Despite the standard protocol all tattoo parlors are required by law to follow. Then last week, I spoke at the Danny Clark Foundation and when I said that I had AIDS, a young man in the second row pulled his seat all the way back away from me. I was sad that he didn’t know he couldn't get HIV from me just by being close, but I also was sad for myself, that a person would reject me simply because of my HIV status. I wonder what would this young man have said had he read the comment about Magic.
This is the reality that people with AIDS live with everyday. Not only from strangers, but they live in fear of rejection from their own family members. I've even been to a funeral in recent times where a mother held on to the secret of her child's HIV status because of the shame and stigma of AIDS. Her child’s HIV/AIDS status was buried right along with the body.