Friday, March 21, 2008

Responding to Michael Crowley: Wright AIDS

In response to Michael Crowley, The New Republic

A Nagging Wright Question

As a scholar of bioethics and law, I am sorry to report that notions of a "white conspiracy" to unleash AIDS on the black community are extremely widespread among African-Americans (and some Africans as well). Such accusations find a ready audience in light of the awful history of abuse of black subjects and patients by medical researchers and physicians. Tuskegee is, of course, the most well-known instance, but it is far from the only one. Rev. Wright's image of "chickens coming home to roost" is all too appropriate in this context; African-Americans have abundant historical reason to be suspicious of the medical establishment.

There are a number of variants of the AIDS conspiracy in circulation. . Some of them--including use of African primates for testing polio vaccines decades ago--have a certain surface plausibility, although the scientific community finds little evidence to support them. . But it is not clear to me that these theories are more lacking in evidence than assertions that autism results from mercury-based compounds in various vaccines--which is not race-related and is far less subject to popular ridicule. And blacks have a lot more reason to be suspicious than middle class parents of children with autism.

Let me be clear: I do not believe that HIV and AIDS are the result of a racist conspiracy, and I have nothing positive to say about the perpetuation of this idea by Rev. Wright, or by anyone else. It feeds suspicion and hatred, and makes no contribution to efforts to control this epidemic. (I understand that Rev. Wright and his Church have been extremely active in responding more positively to the challenges of AIDS in the black community and beyond. I am personally "challenged" to understand how these pieces fit together.)

I do believe that this episode more generally illuminates the vast gulf in understanding between white and minority communities, and the ignorance among many whites as to the mores of many black churches. This AIDS business is perhaps the least understandable element overall.

There has been no better effort to understand and explain the complexities of these issues to a broad public than Obama's speech on race in America. The continuing pounding he is taking on his relation with Rev Wright bespeaks bad faith and an unwillingness to engage in civilized adult discourse.

March 22, 2008

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