The Boundaries of Blackness: AIDS and the Breakdown of Black Politics Paperback – Apr 30 1999
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From Publishers Weekly
Yale professor Cohen combines rigorous research and fresh sociological insights to build her argument that a black political agenda based solely on race promotes exclusionary practices. Cohen tracked responses to AIDS by black civic and church leaders and media in New York City (where, since 1990, AIDS has infected more blacks than any other racial or ethnic group), finding that they have espoused an understanding of racial identity that privileges middle-class, heterosexual males, while using code words "to designate who was expendable." Starting at the beginning of the AIDS crisis, she compares coverage by network television news and the New York Times with that of black newspapers and magazines. Cohen attributes the failure of black media to focus on AIDS at the beginning of the epidemic to homophobia, classism and sexism, resulting in the extreme stigmatization of the most disempowered members of black communities. She finds that in the 1980s, the black political response to AIDS came largely from black lesbians and gays. In recent years, women and children of color have come to be most at risk, while the black media focuses on alternative treatments and new heterosexual dating patterns in response to AIDS. Although Cohen's analysis is encumbered by academic jargon, it is astute and eye-opening.
Copyright 1999 Reed Business Information, Inc.
Cohen's intent in writing this book was, among other things, to expose the processes used to determine what issues affecting substantial numbers of African Americans can be called "`black issues,' deserving of attention, resources, and action on the part of other black people." She specifically looks at why AIDS has been a neglected issue in the black community and why traditional black leaders have remained silent about the disease. Cohen doesn't seek to indict, but to provoke discussion about the nature of black politics. Because blacks have been so marginalized by American culture, internal fragmentation has produced crosscutting issues that have strained the traditional political framework. Traditional civil rights groups and the black church are too centered in a middle-class ethos to take up an issue that appears to impact other marginal populations--homosexuals and drug users. Beyond the AIDS issue, Cohen looks at a new generation of leaders, more inclined or better able to incorporate the more marginalized groups within black America. Vanessa BushSee all Product Description
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Cohen’s work adds to the marginalization and “cross-cutting” issues faced within Black studies through the lenses of the AIDS epidemic and its impact upon the Black community and Black politics. What I find to be relevant is the attention that Cohen plays to those groups that are marginalized specifically by AIDS: gay Blacks and IV drug users. I appreciated her analysis of the shaping of the discourse surrounding the AIDS epidemic by the CDC, the national media and Black media outlets. By shining an academic light upon the struggles of those marginalized Cohen is able to examine the impact of AIDS upon a broader swath of the Black community. Another point I believe to be relevant is that, as Cohen points out, there is no one monolithic Black story. I also appreciated her attack on this very narrative as being defined by Magic Johnson and Arthur Ashe’s story of resistance because theirs was not one of “deviant” behavior. This brought me to a bigger question: who defines deviant or queer behavior? Or, as the case may be, who defines “respectability”? Because there is no one monolithic Black community than how do these terms respectability, deviant and queer apply to Black studies?
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