3 Things Whoopi Goldberg Taught me about AIDS

Ileri Jaiyeoba, one of this year's Blogger Fellows, tells us what she learned about the AIDS epidemic from Whoopi Goldberg's talk at the 2017 Social Good Summit.

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On September 17, I attended the 2017 Mashable Social Good Summit where Whoopi Goldberg spoke about the AIDS epidemic.

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Here are three things I learned from Whoopi Goldberg about AIDs:

The first lesson informed me of the unjustified inequality in healthcare access for people of color and people who have AIDS. Before I came to the summit I was aware of the health care inequality debate in the United States. However, I was shocked when I learned that “the CDC notes that black men who have sex with other black men have a 1 in 2 chance of getting AIDs.” I thought about this fact for a moment and what it meant. Why was this happening? I began to think about the disparities within these numbers, and how people of color are disproportionally disadvantaged. Whoopi asked the crowd, “How can we get to the root of this epidemic under the basic human rights umbrella? Because under the umbrella of AIDS you see some -isms.” Whoopi discussed how she became passionate about AIDS advocacy after watching people get turned away from health clinics. She said that it was “what broke [her] heart.”  The fact that racism is tied to healthcare inequality, that people are denied medical treatments because of their race, is horrifying. Whoopi then continued to say that “being black in America teaches you a lot about what can happen, so if you are turned away because you are black you know the reason but, when you see people who are turned away because they are ill it [becomes] another -ism.” The truth is that anyone can contract AIDS because AIDS itself doesn’t discriminate. Whoopi took the words out of my mouth when she said “That [AIDS] is [the] great equalizer [because] the disease doesn't choose.”

The second lesson taught me the importance of proper sex education when it comes to preventing AIDS. Quinn Tivey brought up how AIDS hit people hardest in the southern United States, where abstinence-only sex education is extremely prevalent. Whoopi then explained that to prevent HIV, “Information is key.” We cannot as a society expect the numbers to go down if people are not given all the information they need about sex. Whoopi explained how we must not be “under the impression that we have beat AIDS [because] we haven’t eradicated the disease.” Therefore, it is important that the sex education people receive be accurate and comprehensive. The bottom line is that people of all ages need to learn an appropriate sex education so that when they have sex they are aware of the diseases they can contract. Whoopi stressed the subject of sex education by making the point that “Sex is going to happen whether [or not] you are a Christian [so] if the conversation cannot be had about how to protect yourself from STDs...We are condemning [many] people [to the] possibility getting HIV.”

The third lesson taught me the importance of dismantling the fear we have around AIDS. Whoopi urged the crowd to “never make decisions based off fear. Whether it's in an HIV space or in any other space, [think about the] parallels or some lessons learned or a story that is something personal that you hold onto when you are facing the tough challenges.” This makes me think about the importance of not letting fear impact the way I react to people. It is important to react with empathy before fear and to take on the challenge of getting into a more diverse space so you can rid yourself of the fears, or prejudices, you may have. Whoopi said that when we make ear a big part of our lives as a society, “Fear [becomes] something that people [can] use as a weapon.” If we want to avoid fear being used as a weapon against other people we must learn to empathize.

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