Black Men, Manhood and Mercy: Their thoughts on HIV and AIDS

Social Activist Cleo Manago

In February 2011 I began a project asking 200 Black men “What comes to mind when you think about HIV and AIDS?” Ages 18 to 60, participants hailed from L.A., Baltimore, DC, Oakland, Detroit, Atlanta, New York, Miami and Chicago. None worked in the health field or HIV industry. Responses to the question varied, but not by much. A typical reply was “I think of homosexuality,” said one 30ish gentleman, waiting at Atlanta's Hartsfield airport for a flight to Dallas. “That’s mostly who has it. Right? That’s what I heard.” I then asked, “If that were true what would you do about it?” Suddenly, he was speechless. Conspicuously, I anticipated his reply. “What can I do about that?” he finally said. I asked, “Is that a real question, because you care, or was it rhetorical?” Appearing to second guess himself, he responded, “Man, I gotta catch my flight. It was cool talking with you. Peace.”

An 18 year old at a Newark train station said, “I don’t think about AIDS at all. It doesn’t affect me.” “Why not?” I asked. “Because I ain’t no “f--!” “Do you know any young Black men who are homosexual?” “Yeah, I do.” “Would it concern you if they got HIV?” “They are making a choice.” “Do you imagine that they face painful challenges for being who they are?” “I know they do. People be calling them “f—s” and making jokes.” “Do you do that?” “No!” Smiling to ease any tension, I said, “I think you do.” “Why?,” he asked. “Because in response to my first question you said, I ain’t no fag!" "Maybe there’s more to this than choice.” I added. “Maybe painful challenges or jokes affect their ability to always think clearly about protecting themselves.” “Yeah. I never thought about that.”

A 40-ish minister at a Baltimore restaurant replied, “God has a plan.” “What part do human-beings play in it?” I asked. “To abide by God’s word, and he will be merciful.” “Do you ever see a doctor?” I asked, “Yes. I‘m blessed with a great doctor.” “Why do you go?” “For my health.” “Why don’t you just rely on God’s mercy?” As if irritated, he asked, “What’s your point?!” “Maybe it’s our responsibility to be proactive, and not just rely on God’s grace. Maybe fewer people would need mercy if we were more merciful to each other.”


The rate of new HIV infection for Black men was 6 times as high as that of white men, nearly 3 times that of Latino men, and twice that of black women. Black men who have sex with men (MSM) represented 63% of new infections.. More new HIV infections occurred among young black MSM (aged 13–29) than among any other age and race. At some point in their lifetimes, 1 in 16 Black men will be diagnosed with HIV infection, as will 1 in 32 Black women.

To help reduce HIV transmission and risk among Black women and men we must encouraged Black men to practice compassion and critical thinking. We have to make these traits a part of our manhood.

BMX is the nation's oldest and largest community-based movement devoted to promoting healthy self-concept and behavior, cultural affirmation and critical consciousness among same gender loving (SGL), gay-identifying and bisexual African-descended males, and allies.