"The reason I'm HIV negative is because I don't mess with Haitian girls," New York radio DJ Cipha Sounds recently said on air. He's apologized and has been suspended, but he's reopened some very painful wounds.
The station's parent company has suspended him indefinitely and ordered that he undertake sensitivity training about "the challenges the Haitian community has faced in terms of the HIV epidemic."
First things first: If it still needs to be said, the way you stay HIV-negative is by engaging in safe sexual activity, regardless of who your partner is. (Or, of course, not engaging in sexual activity at all). Period.
But Cipha Sounds, whose real name is Luis Diaz and who is of Puerto Rican descent, had to be aware of the minefield that he was walking into. In addition to the ever-mounting tragedies experienced on Haitian soil, since as well as before the earthquake, Haitians abroad have been subject to particular discrimination. And that includes among other Caribbean communities — the effects in the Dominican Republic, for example, are well-documented — as well as in the United States, where Haitians were historically discriminated against, from teenagers using Haitian as an insult in some communities all the way up to U.S. migration and refugee policies.
Panic of HIV and AIDS is a big part of that discrimination. As The Root points out, "Sounds' comment also opened old wounds stemming from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's 1983 list of HIV risk groups banned from donating blood, which included Haitians, hemophiliacs, homosexuals and heroin addicts. After years of dealing with that stigma, New York Haitians led a pivotal march in 1990 to protest the unproven CDC claims."
There's also the belief, which began as a conspiracy theory in the 1980s and then was arguably substantiated in a 2007 scientific study, that AIDS came to the US via Haiti. As Haitian-American activist Marleine Bastien told The Sun Sentinel at the time, "Haitians historically have been used as scapegoats." The belief that Haitians all had AIDS "had a devastating impact. Haitians were fired from employment. They were denied access to housing. Calling someone Haitian became the worst curse."
Unfortunately, that attitude hasn't disappeared at all.
Hot 97 DJ Suspended Over Comment Linking Haitian Women To HIV [CNN]
DJ's Quip Linking Haitians And HIV Sparks Outrage [The Root]
DJ Cipha Sounds Apologizes After Saying He Avoids HIV By Not Hooking Up With Haitian Women [NYDN]
Related: Haitian-Americans Fault AIDS-Spreading Report [Sun Sentinel]