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Commentary: Obama, McCain should help fight black AIDS

  • Story Highlights
  • CNN.com headline: "1 out of 2 with HIV in U.S. is black," grabbed Martin's attention
  • Silence played a vital role in so many white, gay men dying in the 1980s
  • We knew less then than we do today, so our silence in 2008 is more shameful
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By Roland S. Martin
CNN Contributor
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Join Roland Martin for his weekly sound-off segment on CNN.com Live at 11:10 a.m. ET Thursday. If you're passionate about politics, he wants to hear from you.

Roland Martin says AIDS resources need to be redirected to help educate the black community about the disease.

Roland Martin says AIDS resources need to be redirected to help educate the black community about the disease.

(CNN) -- I initially wanted to write about Sen. John McCain's double-talk on the issue of affirmative action. Based on his various statements, I'm not sure where in the heck he stands. Another potential topic was the silliness over getting a new press release each day about Sen. Barack Obama canceling a visit to troops in Germany. Another potential topic was the vice presidential picks of each candidate.

But after logging onto CNN.com Tuesday and seeing the bold headline: "1 out of 2 with HIV in U.S. is black, report says," nothing else really mattered.

And as I thought about that startling fact, it only reminded me how little attention has been paid to this health crisis during this election cycle. It has been mentioned in two or three of debates -- on both sides of the aisle -- and that was only in passing.

I shouldn't be surprised. Who can forget 2004 when PBS host Gwen Ifill asked Vice President Dick Cheney and then-Sen. John Edwards about AIDS affecting black women, and both of them spent more time discussing the problem on the continent of Africa, instead of Alabama, Georgia, North Carolina and other states.

Cheney even said: "I have not heard those numbers with respect to African-American women. I was not aware that it was -- that they're in epidemic there, because we have made progress in terms of the overall rate of AIDS infection," he said.

While Sens. Barack Obama and John McCain go back and forth over who didn't visit troops in Germany; the impact of Obama's overseas tour; and who is best positioned to deal with the crumbling economy, critical domestic issues like AIDS goes unnoticed. iReport.com: AIDS in Washington's older population

Then again, we've been here before. Silence played a vital role in so many white, gay men dying in the 1980s. But the reality is we knew less then than we do today, so our silence in 2008 is more shameful than anything that took place during the Reagan administration.

Now it's time to make it front and center.

This is not an issue that will be addressed solely by politicians. It is a national health crisis that will kill a number of people and cost untold millions in healthcare. Sitting on the sidelines simply isn't an option.

Obama and McCain should speak specifically to this issue when they attend the annual conference of the National Urban League conference next week in St. Louis. Don't bother just talking about growing black-owned businesses and creating educational and economic opportunities. If black communities are decimated by AIDS, there won't be folks there to run those businesses.

Yet they aren't the only ones with some homework to do.

Black religious leaders must stop sticking their heads in the sand and speak forcefully, truthfully and compassionately -- from the pulpit -- about AIDS. If they are against homosexuality and men and women having sex outside of marriage based on biblical reasons, I understand that. But the reality is that women are dying in the body of Christ, and they are being infected mostly by men. Ignoring the issue because it makes us uncomfortable is not Christ-like.

There has to be a serious reallocation of resources, and that means organizations that have targeted gay white men must share those dollars where the need is the most. I have heard from countless black AIDS activists who say the door is routinely shut in their face when they try to move the dollars for training, education and testing to largely black neighborhoods. There is an economic and political battle, and it's time to squash that to save much-needed lives.

And then there is the personal responsibility. It was sickening to watch the young lady in Soledad O'Brien's "Black in America" documentary fret about the results of her AIDS test. But what was horrible was realizing that she suspected her man of cheating, yet chose to have unprotected sex anyhow. These folks need to be hit between the eyes with common sense. You can have all the flyers, e-mails, Web sites and PSAs you want, but if the two people laying in bed together, or even the IV drug user, don't do their part, we're just wasting time and money.

HIV and AIDS are 100 percent preventable. No one has any excuse today not to know what safe sex means. We must have the courage to say what needs to be said, even if it's painful to our sisters, brothers, friends, frat brothers, sorority sisters and church members.

I'd rather have someone scare me straight today than face an early death tomorrow due to something I could have easily prevented.

Roland S. Martin is an award-winning journalist and CNN contributor. He is the author of "Listening to the Spirit Within: 50 Perspectives on Faith." Please visit his Web site at http://www.rolandsmartin.com/.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of the writer.

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