Early on in the AIDS epidemic, and continuing for some time, scientists, the press, and the public seemed curiously fixated on the origins of the virus associated with AIDS. From the perspective of the black community, interest in HIV’s possible African roots seemed insatiable. Article after article appeared, recirculating identical hypotheses. The discovery of a similar virus in the African green monkey stirred the pot and prompted endless speculation about how it might have traveled from an "animal reservoir" into the human species. When pressed to explain why so much time and energy was being devoted to so marginal a concern, white people usually responded that determining where the virus originated might lead to the discovery of ways to slow it down or eliminate it altogether. Perhaps. Black folks, however, offered a different explanation. We understood in our bones that with origin comes blame. The singling out of Haitians as a so-called risk group simply confirmed our worst fears.
Although the society’s fixation with the origin of AIDS has faded and Haitians are no longer officially viewed as synonymous with AIDS, for us the memory dies hard. Our exasperation and sometimes rage linger just below the surface. Were I to go out tomorrow and speak about AIDS to a black audience anywhere in this country, I guarantee you that once the discussion got going, someone would ask about the disease’s origins. The question "Is it true that it started in Africa?" would quickly become "Why do they keep trying to pin it on Africa?" "Why do they keep trying to pin it on us?" and eventually I would be asked the clincher: "What are they trying to say we did with that monkey?"
More than insult and affront are at issue here. So long as we African-Americans continue to worry that any hint of connection with AIDS will be turned against us, we will remain leery of accepting responsibility for its impact on our community.