3 min

Sexism, racism and HIV

The other day I went to the barbershop in Hamilton. You’d think a trip to the barber would be all about getting your hair cut. No. Not, apparently, if you’re black and you live in Hamilton.
I should clarify. This barbershop specializes in fades, cutting and styling black hair. My barbershop is multicultural. But for the City of Hamilton Public Health Services I guess it registers as a black barbershop.
Hence the visitors.
As I approached my usual chair I noticed two attractive young women seated directly opposite me. They were public health nurses. Beside them was a basket of condoms and a bunch of pamphlets. Behind them a slide show was projected on a TV screen. They were talking about HIV and AIDS.
Call me a loudmouthed brat, but I just couldn’t keep my trap shut. I asked them if they were aware of the criminalization of AIDS. They didn’t know what I was talking about. I reminded them that recently Johnson Aziga, a 48-year-old Ugandan-born Canadian man and Hamilton resident, was convicted of “murdering two women by fatally infecting them with HIV” (according to Hamilton Spectator columnist Susan Clairmont) and deemed a dangerous offender.
I mentioned another HIV-positive Hamilton black man, Vinroy Audley Spencer. The Hamilton police are now hunting for him. I suggested to them that – since the two highest-profile STD carriers in Hamilton are black – perhaps racism was involved. 
One of the public health nurses, who happens to be black, said, “Well, wouldn’t you want to be protected from such a man?” I told her that my understanding is that condoms – not the legal system – are the best form of protection against AIDS.
“It seems to me that adult women should be able, in a consensual sexual situation, to insist on condoms,” I said. “If the man refuses to use a condom and forces the woman to have sex with him, that is rape, which is another issue.”
Then she raised an interesting idea. She said that in African cultures it can be difficult for women to confront men and ask them to wear condoms.
Well, I had always assumed that demonization of Aziga and Vinroy Audley Spencer were connected with racism. But in fact, the high-profile media attacks on these two black men may also be connected to a misplaced desire on the part of judges to deal with issues of multiculturalism through the law. In other words, if African cultures are perceived as essentially sexist, then one way to save black women from the unsafe sex is to put black men in jail. The Crown attorneys persecuting (sorry, I meant to write prosecuting) Aziga were certainly impressed by the power of African male sexuality. They proclaimed through newspaper headlines that “Aziga’s libido is lethal.”
Aziga’s persecutors (there I go again; of course, I meant prosecutors) are in good company. There is a strong web presence of those who warn us of the dangers of African immigrants. For instance the website  warns the citizens of a town in Idaho that “Kanay A Mubita –- age 31 – is a citizen of Zambia Africa.” It also reads that “Africa exported him and the AIDS virus” as well as “an AIDS terrorist is as dangerous as a suicide bomber!”
No doubt sex offenders like Manay, Spencer and Aziga are the type of people Tim Hudak – who is now running for Ontario premier – would be sure to warn you about if they happened to move into your neighbourhood.
I beg to differ. What has been imported from Africa to Canada is not AIDS but a particularly virulent form of sexism. But it’s important to stress that the best way to deal with sexism is not by putting African men in jail for spreading HIV. Instead, we need to teach African Canadians – and all immigrants – that our culture is not a sexist one, and that it empowers women to speak for themselves, and if need be, confront men. That would save many more lives than laws imprisoning so-called AIDS terrorists.