I Am My Sisters’ and Brothers’ Keeper

An Open Letter from Positive Women’s Network – USA in Observance of National Black HIV/AIDS Awareness Day (NBHAAD)

February 7, 2017: From the moment the winner of the 2016 U.S. presidential election was announced, many of us of African descent have experienced disappointment, anger, outrage, and anxiety. A communal reaction to what some have dubbed a referendum against the human rights and dignity of people of color left some of us in physical shock, while confirming what others already knew to be true: This country, built on the genocide and enslavement of our ancestors and elders, continues to be plagued by deeply entrenched racism.

Now, three weeks into an administration that is quickly transforming the nation into something more closely resembling a neo-fascist totalitarian state than a democracy, 45 has made good on campaign promises by waging war on immigrants, Muslims, women, and poor people in a rapid-fire succession of assaultive policies intended to distract and create an environment of “shock and awe.” This traumatic environment, characterized by unbridled intolerance and suppression tactics, have left some folks confused and resigned to a seemingly daily assault on institutions, policy advances, and programs that have at times supported our journey from “bondage” to “freedom.” Yet our survival during this time, as always, depends on our ability to resist, love, and protect each other. We cannot stop now.

Black Vigilance

We must prepare. Within hours of taking the oath of office, 45 signed an executive order reaffirming his commitment to repealing the Affordable Care Act, which has provided access to life-saving care and treatment to millions of people living with HIV. The health policy agenda of congressional leadership is being driven by efforts to reduce federal funding for Medicaid and other social safety net programs and curtail reproductive rights. As we prepare our response, we must be cognizant of the implications of these proposed changes, and we must get ahead of the curve. More than ever, eyes and ears need to be put to good use. We need to know when public programs will be purged, which funding and services will be slashed, and who will be impacted. Those of us who need key vital services such as food, housing, healthcare and other services to maintain our health and wellbeing must continuously check in with these programs to ask what changes will be made and when. As resources become constrained, there will be attempts to pit communities of color against each other.

We call on our community to remain vigilant regarding these divide and conquer tactics; notice them; and call attention to them.

Black Resistance

To be forewarned is to be forearmed, but make no mistake: knowing is only half the battle. As people who live in a democracy, we have a responsibility to challenge harmful policies, language, and harmful politicians who wage open war on our very existence. Joining the ranks of those united in resistance is a critical next step in channeling our feelings of disappointment, anger, outrage and anxiety into focused actions of resistance.

We call on our community to stay the course.

Black Joy and Health

Even as we resist, we must find ways to take care of ourselves and find joy. We must rebuke the normalization of explicit bigotry and fear-based rhetoric that dominated the 2016 presidential campaign. We must continue to speak a nurturing language of love rooted in compassion, empathy and fortitude to each other and to ourselves. We must continue to do things that bring us joy, be it spiritual, physical, artistic or intellectual, understanding this is critical to surviving and rising above hatred and keeping us steadfast in our belief that we will win.

We call on our community to take care of ourselves and each other the best we can, paying attention, staying alert and listening; remaining aware of our surroundings and of what’s happening in our communities.

Whether protesting or preparing, here is some informative and inspirational reading for your consideration:

The Hudlin Manifesto: 10 Things Black People Need to Do Now, by Reginald Hudlin (June 5, 2015)

From #BlackLivesMatter to Black Liberation, by Keeanga-Yamhatta Taylor
The inequality produced by American capitalism effects nearly everyone, but black oppression is at its core. Which is why the Movement For Black Lives is a hopeful step towards liberation for all.

Racecraft: The Soul of Inequality In American Life, by Karen E. Fields and Barbara J. Fields
Racism isn’t an emotional or mental state, but a social practice that, through “racecraft,” becomes lived reality. The Fields sisters dive through sociology, history, and science to reach the material truth: races are a product of racism, not the other way around.

No Shortcuts: Organizing for Power In The New Gilded Age, by Jane F. McAlevey
Veteran labor and community organizer Jane McAlevey provides a series of case studies that detail exactly what successful organizers do.

Black Joy Project

Register for the first Vision For Black Lives Webinar: Building Political Power (tomorrow, February 8, 2017–more webinars will be happening later as well)

Please consider donating to Michael Johnson’s legal defense fund in honor of NBHAAD. He is fighting a conviction under unjust HIV criminalization laws in Missouri and needs a private attorney to ensure adequate representation.

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