Social media sites were abuzz recently with photographs that Destiny Jones (daughter of rapper Nas) posted to her Twitter account. One photograph revealed a bedside box of condoms the teenager keeps, I assume, for moments of pleasure. Unsurprisingly, there was accompanying commentary suggested that Nas “get his daughter” and touted Destiny as a “Black girl lost”- obviously borrowing from the title of a song off of Nas’ career solidifying album “It Was Written”.
As I perused my Twitter timeline I recalled disheartening statistics from the CDC that suggests that while making up only 14% of the population in 2009, African Americans account for nearly 44% of newly reported HIV cases. A further look at these statistics reveals even more troubling news. In 2009, Black women accounted for 30% of the estimated new HIV infections among all blacks. Most (85%) Black women with HIV acquired HIV through heterosexual sex. The estimated rate of new HIV infections for Black women was more than 15 times as high as the rate for White women, and more than three times as high as that of Latina women.
Beyond the ever-present risk of contracting HIV, a new conversation is taking place in the medical community concerning the dangers of the most common (and often undetectable) STD, HPV- which affects women most severely and is linked to cervical (and other) cancer(s). Also worth noting: “African-American women develop cervical cancer more often than white women and are more than twice as likely to die from it.” (more on that here) Although condom use may not prevent the spread of HPV, using condoms from the beginning to the end of sex acts reduces the spread of the virus significantly. A further contemplation of condom use surrounds constant assaults from conservatives concerning women’s reproductive rights and access to birth control and abortions- cases where condom use may prevent a dependency on such services, which is important to acknowledge and discuss.
Black women are at war, we are fighting with out bodies, and sadly, we are losing. I would argue that Destiny Jones may be behaving as a Black girl FOUND instead of a Black girl lost- taking her health into her hands and making smart decisions. As someone who has worked as an advocate for and counselor of women living with HIV and AIDS, I can attest that many infected women admitted to not being comfortable with carrying condoms and/or demanding that their partners use them. We have to determine what message we are sending young women like Destiny when be admonish them for desiring to practice safe sex.
When we stigmatize safe sex, when we tell women that they should feel shame for carrying/keeping condoms, we are signing death warrants. We can make that fact as pretty as we would like, but the dressing up makes it no less true. Yes, we would prefer to, and possibly should instruct young women to practice abstinence- or in the least to make informed, good choices about who they share their beds with- but not including (and encouraging) condom use in that conversation is dangerous. We must ask ourselves which is more important, upholding antiquated memes about Black women’s sexuality, or saving Black women’s lives. As for me and my house, I hope that there are stadiums more of young Black women keeping condoms on their nightstand. Maybe we can prevent stadiums of Black women suffering with incurable, deadly diseases and difficult parenting scenarios that result from unwanted pregnancies.