Most people really don’t give a shit about anything else other than their own shit…which explains why we are where we are.
Darius Clark Monroe
I work in Chelsea: a neighborhood in New York City once brimming with gays, but now yuppie central. With the introduction of the Highline and luxury high-rises, it’s now filled with young breeder couples and Asian tourists. It’s become a hotbed for canvassers seeking money, signatures and sympathy for their causes.
One particular lunch trip to Chelsea Market I was approached by a young Black woman who worked for an international children’s organization. I quickly explained I didn’t have time nor money to help her and went on my way. She decided that wasn’t an acceptable answer and followed me down the street.
At this point I was livid (and hungry). What followed was a twenty minute conversation on the politics of giving.
I explained I also worked for a nonprofit up the street and it wasn’t uncommon for me to run into canvassers from four different organization in a four block radius. On that particular day there were representatives for clean water, women’s reproductive rights, gay rights and child welfare. All causes I care for, but I didn’t have money for all this.
She explained although the black people she approached were usually less wealthy, for her purposes it wasn’t a waste of time because they always gave. The European tourists and other elite (read: White people) didn’t care about social issues.
“That’s not a long term solution!” I yelled. “You have to make those people care.”
But she was unconvinced and asked me to adopt a child. I politely declined again and went about my way. I also took the long way back to work so I didn’t curse her ass out.
I tell this story to say I believe most of the pressing issues facing Black folk aren’t going to get any better because not all of us are pulling our own weight. There’s no greater example of this than HIV/AIDS.
I’ve been doing this work for close to ten years now and it’s the same people at these conferences, same bloggers making relevant posts/videos, same celebrities lending their voices to the cause.
Everyone else is too busy worried about Brandy’s new album and the logistics of a bus driver’s decision to uppercut a disrespectful passenger.
And I’m over it.
This is also true on an institutional level: funding gets cut every year requiring those of us on the front lines to do more with less. We spent the first thirty years of the epidemic putting the brunt of the burden on keeping everyone negative; once someone turned positive they became a statistics and only used for their bodies (to test out new drug cocktails) and their testimonials (to scare other people into having safer sex, or no sex at all).
To be perfectly honest with you I feel the fight was lost when HIV became a Black disease in America. Much like Stop & Frisk, employment discrimination and other issues predominately affecting Black America, there aren’t enough sympathetic non-Black people willing to do the work to turn things around. Which leaves more for the rest of us to do fueling burnout and disillusionment.
Frank Ocean discreetly reveals he used to be in love with another man and everyone raves like it’s the second coming of the Messiah. Hasn’t been much of peep out of him about his (homo/bi) sexuality since.
Meanwhile Jamar Rogers (whom to my knowledge isn’t even gay identified!) has done countless interviews on his experience with drugs/alcohol, the importance of safer sex and taking your medication as an HIV positive person.
And that disappointment is where I think I’m at in the conversation.
I got a degree in sexuality studies to talk about sex and relationships not disease and the decimation of my people. I don’t self-identify as competitive, but I am a results oriented person. And unfortunately I’m not seeing the kind of change I would like to see in the world.
It happens to all of us really: I call it “the moment.” Everyone fighting for social justice starts with the enthusiasm of a child then wakes up one day and realizes their contribution isn’t as impactful as they once hoped. Or maybe you get out into the world and realize just how great the need really is. At that point you can choose to go all in (I was dating him for the last two years) or you can choose to dial back and reassess.
I’m choosing self-care.
HIV/AIDS work will always be a part of my life, but my time in direct services is coming to an end. I don’t have another ten years in me. It’s not like they pay us like kings in the nonprofit world.
I like vacations, I want to travel more.
I like spooning and sleeping in on the weekends, not more work.
I expected the rates to go up (especially in YMSM of color), but I expected there to be more outrage.
I expected Phil Wilson to be retired by now.
I expect when men turn HIV positive to reflect on the decisions they make, not join a porn company to have more raw sex.
I expect parents to raise their own got damn children.
I expect people to pull their own weight.
I was told in my recent evaluation I complain too much, so clearly I expect too much from people in general.
So this World AIDS Day, I begin to plot my escape!