AIDS is a war against humanity. We need to break the silence, banish the stigma and discrimination and ensure total inclusiveness within the struggle against AIDS. If we discard the people living with HIV/AIDS, we can no longer call ourselves human.
(Nelson Mandela July 12, 2002)
Breaking the silence represents a call to action, namely to not allow culture, race, ethnicity and gender to blind us from the epidemic that has affected our human family. At long as we believe that HIV is something that happens to someone else, we blind ourselves from many faces of HIV, we fail to take collective direct action to address the HIV crises in our communities.
In this section I will address several areas of literature, including understanding the other, a summary of critical hermeneutics, social and medical considerations of HIV in women and social stigma often associated with having HIV. The purpose of the Review of Literature is to highlight the nature and importance of understanding the other by providing background about the events and conditions that inform the experiences of my conversation partners.
Understanding the Other
Throughout the course of history and specifically in the study of anthropology, there has been a quest to understand the other. Many times the ‘other’ has been seen as a group of people, a culture, or a race that appears to be an anomaly because it does not value whatever the current paradigm of a majority culture may be. It often becomes unusual to seek a relationship with the other and thus uncommon attributes are treated too often with distrust.
As such, the other often becomes marginalized along with certain actions and attributes that are associated with them. This same way of thinking has often been the case with HIV. When the epidemic first emerged, it was associated with white gay men. As the epidemic grew, this paradigm expanded to include sex workers and intravenous drug users. Whatever the classification, the paradigm attributed HIV to a certain type of person rather than acknowledging the behaviors that were associated with HIV (i.e. unprotected sex, exchanging of needles).
The generalization of certain attributes to a marginalized group has unfortunately become a part of our collective history. In the early 1900’s, for example, racial bias was rampant. Many early anthropologists working with groups from races different than their own gathered information in a biased way and were quick to offer theories regarding the nature of human beings based on their prejudicial analyses. During this era, anthropologist Franz Boas began to introduce the idea of incorporating methodology into anthropology. His work posits that it is only after the collection and examination of empirical evidence that we can begin to formulate a theory about human beings, thus laying the groundwork for a more productive paradigm with regard to HIV. He also stresses the importance of recognizing that the theories that anthropologists develop are works in progress and it is essential for the theorist to remain open to his or her biases (NNDB Tracking the Whole World 2008 Franz Boas. Electronic document, http://www.nndb.com/people/861/000097570/, accessed October 29, 2008.).
Boas holds that to understand a culture it is imperative to examine myriad aspects of that culture such as religion, taboos, marriage customs, physical appearance, diet, how they gather food, and more.