Archive for the ‘discrimination’ Tag

How not to express disagreement with an issue

I have not come across many causes that stir up so many fervent emotions as some of the issues in public health: reproductive rights, vaccines, and HIV/AIDS among those. When I tell people that I plan to study public health, they speak about the need to help sick people in the world in an abstract manner with little consideration for the nuts and bolts of public health. Speaking about health can be just as controversial as the typically taboo topics of politics, religion and sex because you find all three have a role to play in communication and interventions.

Alanna Shaikh highlighted five of the more contentious issues in public health. I have had a couple incidents involving opposing viewpoints regarding vaccine safety and efficacy and the cause of AIDS. My previous post about my change.org idea prompted an anonymous  comment that attacked me personally and included no scientific evidence to support claims that vaccines do more harm than good. I will repeat again that controversy over vaccine safety is largely a product of faulty communication, NOT faulty science. The development of vaccines represents one of the greatest successes of 20th-century medicine, making immunization of its own success.

My encounter with AIDS denialists that participated in the change.org Ideas competition echoed some of the vehement reactions seen on change.org’s Global Health blog regarding the recent tragic death of Christine Maggiore. As a person living with HIV who publicly questioned the link between HIV and AIDS, Maggiore was a controversial figure who helped to perpetuate misconceptions about HIV and ARV therapy. I had an exchange with the author of the idea aiming to question the link between HIV and AIDS after he left a comment on my idea that questioned my intentions and motivation. I left a response on my wall and have copied it below just in case you are curious to read it.

I would like to let any future commenters know that disagreement is appreciated and encouraged. Just don’t resort to attacking me personally and then to proceed to not back up your argument with some valid, factual pointers.

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Are we in a post-racial age?

I ask this question because of a conversation that I had this past week. I went to observe my organization’s after school mentoring program last week for the first time. The program takes place in the rec room of an apartment complex in southwest Houston where many refugees and immigrants live. Most of the kids there were from Spanish-speaking countries, Turkey and a few African countries. The kids all knew each other fairly well and speak English pretty well. When I arrived, they were at the table talking about how much they disliked school.

After reading and an arts and crafts activity, I sat down with the kids while they were playing with blocks with a high school volunteer. As the kids started fighting over the blocks, one of the Turkish boys said that he did not like black kids and that he only liked white people. The other volunteer and I were literally speechless because the child was six. The other volunteer pointed out to him that he was playing with a Congolese boy at the moment and he also played with another black student at school. I asked him why he said that and he told me that one of the black students was mean to them so he did not like black people.

After Senator Obama began President-Elect Obama, there has been a lot of writing and talking about the post-racial age that we are in. But as the passage of anti-gay marriage bans in three states and my conversation with a six-year old about race shows, people are still supporting and at least implicitly teaching intolerance. This experience made me wonder which adults in his life taught him the stereotypes that he now believes.

Striving for a post-racial age seems to miss the mark. Ignoring our cultural backgrounds is impractical. Our cultural differences exist and impact our lives, so why should we ignore them? Shouldn’t we be striving for an age of tolerance?

What are we fighting for?

This post’s title is not meant to be absurdly philosophical. I asked myself this question today as I mired through hundreds of foundation profiles to find grant opportunities for PAIR. I do love my job. But working on a Sunday is less than ideal, and working with the fundraising part of my job is not my favorite part. It was moments like today that I wonder why all of us working in social change do what we do and what gets us through the less glamorous and enjoyable parts of our work.

I have been trying to follow some of the news coverage of the backlash to the gay marriage bans passed in three states. I think the measures’ success in California, Arizona, and Florida took everyone by surprise for how much progress still needs to be made. The use of democracy as a tool to curtail rights only makes it more pernicious. Blaming minorities for passage of these ballot measures only obscures the real problems of ignorance and discrimination. Using the best charm offensive may help reduce ignorance on an interpersonal level, but changes on an institutional level will require a different strategy.

So I was really inspired to read Andrew Sullivan’s The Daily Dish as he captured photos and readers’ account of the protests this Saturday through The View From Your Protest. Here in Houston, about 600 people gathered together in support. It’s incredible to hear about so many people fighting for something because it is the right thing to do; it makes all the frustrating moments worth the struggle.