Yesterday, over in my personal blog, I shared a tidbit from my dissertation. (Note: In the future, I will share more from my research, after the dissertation has been published — what I’m sharing here is already public information, and is easily verifiable.)
“In the United States in 2007, 1,108,374 new incidences of chlamydia were reported to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), with females reported at 825,660 new cases and males reported at 280,337 new cases. The numbers from 2007 are a 6% increase in chlamydia transmission from 2006, a 24% increase from 2002, and a 47% increase from 1997…” […] “Further, Black female teens contract chlamydia eight times more frequently than White female teens, and Hispanic female teens contract chlamydia more than three times more frequently than White female teens.”
I want you to read the above very carefully. Then I want you to consider the following…a story from my own personal life experience…before I dive fully into my thoughts — and questions — this morning.
I was 22 years old, a single mom in the process of my first divorce. My oldest child and I were living with my mother and grandmother in San Antonio, Texas. I was working one full-time job and two part-time jobs. My son was on Medicaid, and even with all of my jobs, we qualified for state benefits like food stamps. Did I mention I was in the process of a divorce? It was a particularly nasty one, at that.
My full-time job was as a secretary/registrar for an international organization…you may be familiar with it…as it provides disaster relief services around the U.S. and around the world. Because of my particular position within this particular organization, I interfaced frequently with the public and on many different levels. One of those levels happened to be courier services, and one of the couriers was a young, attractive man who, for some odd reason, had a cute little crush on me. I was mildly interested, but not enough to actually act on that interest. Stress from the divorce process and all that…
This guy and I talked semi-regularly, so I got to know a little about his life and he got to know a little about mine. All in snippets, of course, since he and I both had jobs to do.
One day, I was particularly stressed out…and he was solicitous as to what was bothering me. My stress had to do with the child support facet of the divorce, and how tight funds are when a single parent works as much as I was working just to make ends meet. I remember with a degree of uncanny clarity what he said to me in “support”: Why don’t you change your last name to Hernandez and apply for welfare?
I looked at him, only initially shocked, and said flatly, My maiden name is Alvarado, you *****, kindly leave and don’t grace me with your presence again.
I didn’t say it quite so nicely as that, mind you, but I won’t speak to everything that I actually said…or thought…at the time. I was disgusted and appalled.
I have shared the above story for different reasons with different people in different contexts…but the thrust is, I have –my entire life– lived in White skin. I do not and cannot speak directly to the lived experiences of People of Color (hereafter, simply referred to as POC, for those who are unfamiliar with the term). I will never be able to speak to the lived experience of any POC. What I can speak to is what it is like to live in White skin, the privilege associated with that, and the displeasure of being the recipient of “insider commentary” of White privilege. I was raised by a man who is 1st generation American of Mexican parentage. The father of my eldest child is half Mexican.
I do not abide White privilege with ease or comfort, and at my current age, I am better equipped to speak to it bluntly and boldly. At 22, I was not quite so at ease in my own skin. In fact, I wound up remarrying, and enduring a 12-year relationship with a racist, sexist, homophobic emotional abuser before finally recognizing that much of my discomfort within my own skin was both directly and indirectly related to societal dysfunction regarding racial stereotypes. I came through those things…safely to the other side where I am today…and I won’t say that I came through unscathed, but I am here. Both proud and humbled…and stronger for having endured those experiences.
It is, however, with caution and care founded in deep respect for my fellow human beans, that I come here today with the topic of sex education, STI prevention, and demographic statistics related to sex education realities and STI information. I shared the above tidbit from my own life to make clear that I’m not attempting to usurp anyone else’s lived experiences…AND because the statistics are tragic. Those statistics need to be addressed forthrightly with unflinching honesty, because POC are disproportionately affected by STIs, and not just chlamydia. Different segments of the population are affected by different STIs…and racial differences are notable, in terms of trending.
Here is one thing I want to make very clear, because I have had people attempt to assert this (and I’ve heard strains of such commentary in various media)…the differences within racial categories are not about “promiscuity”. In other words, Black people and Hispanic people are not more promiscuous than White people; Asian-Americans are not less promiscuous than other demographic categories in the United States. This is not an issue about promiscuity at all…and the implications of such assertions are insidious in the subtle cruelty that only serve to increase our already crippling societal dysfunction.
There are several societal patterns that, when researched, clearly contribute to different racial categories having increased occurrences of STI incidence — and that is a topic that I will delve into on a later date, because it is critical to understand if we wish to have any hope of containment and reversal of those numbers. That is not the purpose of today’s entry.
Today, I would like to reach out and ask for your thoughts. What do you perceive to be some of the reasons for the differences in demographic disparities with respect to STIs? And for readers who are POC, I really would like you to share your thoughts, because your voices MATTER.