Cover image for The boundaries of blackness : AIDS and the breakdown of Black politics
Title:
The boundaries of blackness : AIDS and the breakdown of Black politics
Author:
Cohen, Cathy J., 1961-
Personal Author:
Publication Information:
Chicago : University of Chicago Press, [1999]

©1999
Physical Description:
xv, 394 pages : illustrations ; 23 cm
Language:
English
ISBN:
9780226112886

9780226112893
Format :
Book

Available:*

Library
Call Number
Material Type
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Status
Central Library RA644.A25 C575 1999 Adult Non-Fiction Central Closed Stacks
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Summary

Summary

Last year, more African Americans were reported with AIDS than any other racial or ethnic group. And while African Americans make up only 13 percent of the U.S. population, they account for more than 55 percent of all newly diagnosed HIV infections. These alarming developments have caused reactions ranging from profound grief to extreme anger in African-American communities, yet the organized political reaction has remained remarkably restrained.

The Boundaries of Blackness is the first full-scale exploration of the social, political, and cultural impact of AIDS on the African-American community. Informed by interviews with activists, ministers, public officials, and people with AIDS, Cathy Cohen unflinchingly brings to light how the epidemic fractured, rather than united, the black community. She traces how the disease separated blacks along different fault lines and analyzes the ensuing struggles and debates.

More broadly, Cohen analyzes how other cross-cutting issues--of class, gender, and sexuality--challenge accepted ideas of who belongs in the community. Such issues, she predicts, will increasingly occupy the political agendas of black organizations and institutions and can lead to either greater inclusiveness or further divisiveness.

The Boundaries of Blackness , by examining the response of a changing community to an issue laced with stigma, has much to teach us about oppression, resistance, and marginalization. It also offers valuable insight into how the politics of the African-American community--and other marginal groups--will evolve in the twenty-first century.


Summary

Last year, more African Americans were reported with AIDS than any other racial or ethnic group. And while African Americans make up only 13 percent of the U.S. population, they account for more than 55 percent of all newly diagnosed HIV infections. These alarming developments have caused reactions ranging from profound grief to extreme anger in African-American communities, yet the organized political reaction has remained remarkably restrained.

The Boundaries of Blackness is the first full-scale exploration of the social, political, and cultural impact of AIDS on the African-American community. Informed by interviews with activists, ministers, public officials, and people with AIDS, Cathy Cohen unflinchingly brings to light how the epidemic fractured, rather than united, the black community. She traces how the disease separated blacks along different fault lines and analyzes the ensuing struggles and debates.

More broadly, Cohen analyzes how other cross-cutting issues--of class, gender, and sexuality--challenge accepted ideas of who belongs in the community. Such issues, she predicts, will increasingly occupy the political agendas of black organizations and institutions and can lead to either greater inclusiveness or further divisiveness.

The Boundaries of Blackness , by examining the response of a changing community to an issue laced with stigma, has much to teach us about oppression, resistance, and marginalization. It also offers valuable insight into how the politics of the African-American community--and other marginal groups--will evolve in the twenty-first century.


Author Notes

Cathy J. Cohen is assistant professor of political science and African and African-American studies at Yale University


Cathy J. Cohen is assistant professor of political science and African and African-American studies at Yale University


Reviews 6

Booklist Review

Cohen's intent in writing this book was, among other things, to expose the processes used to determine what issues affecting substantial numbers of African Americans can be called "`black issues,' deserving of attention, resources, and action on the part of other black people." She specifically looks at why AIDS has been a neglected issue in the black community and why traditional black leaders have remained silent about the disease. Cohen doesn't seek to indict, but to provoke discussion about the nature of black politics. Because blacks have been so marginalized by American culture, internal fragmentation has produced crosscutting issues that have strained the traditional political framework. Traditional civil rights groups and the black church are too centered in a middle-class ethos to take up an issue that appears to impact other marginal populations--homosexuals and drug users. Beyond the AIDS issue, Cohen looks at a new generation of leaders, more inclined or better able to incorporate the more marginalized groups within black America. --Vanessa Bush


Publisher's Weekly Review

Yale professor Cohen combines rigorous research and fresh sociological insights to build her argument that a black political agenda based solely on race promotes exclusionary practices. Cohen tracked responses to AIDS by black civic and church leaders and media in New York City (where, since 1990, AIDS has infected more blacks than any other racial or ethnic group), finding that they have espoused an understanding of racial identity that privileges middle-class, heterosexual males, while using code words "to designate who was expendable." Starting at the beginning of the AIDS crisis, she compares coverage by network television news and the New York Times with that of black newspapers and magazines. Cohen attributes the failure of black media to focus on AIDS at the beginning of the epidemic to homophobia, classism and sexism, resulting in the extreme stigmatization of the most disempowered members of black communities. She finds that in the 1980s, the black political response to AIDS came largely from black lesbians and gays. In recent years, women and children of color have come to be most at risk, while the black media focuses on alternative treatments and new heterosexual dating patterns in response to AIDS. Although Cohen's analysis is encumbered by academic jargon, it is astute and eye-opening. (Apr.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved


Choice Review

This book is a result of Cohen's efforts to remedy a lack in many of the seminars that constituted her graduate education in political science, namely, to work on issues directly tied to the daily survival of individuals and their communities. This goal is directly related to questions about experiences and life quality of marginalized individuals and groups in society. Cohen tries to understand why traditional black leaders seemed to do nothing (or very little) when faced with a disease (AIDS) that was threatening significant numbers of African Americans. This led to her investigation of fundamental relationships between power, status, and action within African American communities and an exploration of the intragroup, as well as intergroup, relationships that structure opportunities and information and that correspondingly influence the responses of groups and communities to crises. Cohen examines the acts of dominant actors and institutions that inhibited mobilization, but also the indigenous norms, attitudes, and practices that influence the participation and mobilization of those concerns about AIDS in African American communities. Specifically, she discusses how differences in perceived respectability, as defined by both dominant and indigenous norms, were related to power within African American communities. Upper-division undergraduates through faculty. J. M. Howe AIDS Information Center, VA Headquarters (DC)


Booklist Review

Cohen's intent in writing this book was, among other things, to expose the processes used to determine what issues affecting substantial numbers of African Americans can be called "`black issues,' deserving of attention, resources, and action on the part of other black people." She specifically looks at why AIDS has been a neglected issue in the black community and why traditional black leaders have remained silent about the disease. Cohen doesn't seek to indict, but to provoke discussion about the nature of black politics. Because blacks have been so marginalized by American culture, internal fragmentation has produced crosscutting issues that have strained the traditional political framework. Traditional civil rights groups and the black church are too centered in a middle-class ethos to take up an issue that appears to impact other marginal populations--homosexuals and drug users. Beyond the AIDS issue, Cohen looks at a new generation of leaders, more inclined or better able to incorporate the more marginalized groups within black America. --Vanessa Bush


Publisher's Weekly Review

Yale professor Cohen combines rigorous research and fresh sociological insights to build her argument that a black political agenda based solely on race promotes exclusionary practices. Cohen tracked responses to AIDS by black civic and church leaders and media in New York City (where, since 1990, AIDS has infected more blacks than any other racial or ethnic group), finding that they have espoused an understanding of racial identity that privileges middle-class, heterosexual males, while using code words "to designate who was expendable." Starting at the beginning of the AIDS crisis, she compares coverage by network television news and the New York Times with that of black newspapers and magazines. Cohen attributes the failure of black media to focus on AIDS at the beginning of the epidemic to homophobia, classism and sexism, resulting in the extreme stigmatization of the most disempowered members of black communities. She finds that in the 1980s, the black political response to AIDS came largely from black lesbians and gays. In recent years, women and children of color have come to be most at risk, while the black media focuses on alternative treatments and new heterosexual dating patterns in response to AIDS. Although Cohen's analysis is encumbered by academic jargon, it is astute and eye-opening. (Apr.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved


Choice Review

This book is a result of Cohen's efforts to remedy a lack in many of the seminars that constituted her graduate education in political science, namely, to work on issues directly tied to the daily survival of individuals and their communities. This goal is directly related to questions about experiences and life quality of marginalized individuals and groups in society. Cohen tries to understand why traditional black leaders seemed to do nothing (or very little) when faced with a disease (AIDS) that was threatening significant numbers of African Americans. This led to her investigation of fundamental relationships between power, status, and action within African American communities and an exploration of the intragroup, as well as intergroup, relationships that structure opportunities and information and that correspondingly influence the responses of groups and communities to crises. Cohen examines the acts of dominant actors and institutions that inhibited mobilization, but also the indigenous norms, attitudes, and practices that influence the participation and mobilization of those concerns about AIDS in African American communities. Specifically, she discusses how differences in perceived respectability, as defined by both dominant and indigenous norms, were related to power within African American communities. Upper-division undergraduates through faculty. J. M. Howe AIDS Information Center, VA Headquarters (DC)


Table of Contents

Preface
Acknowledgments
1 The Boundaries of Black Politics
2 Marginalization: Power, Identity, and Membership
3 Enter AIDS: Context and Confrontation
4 Invisible to the Centers for Disease Control
5 All the Black People Fit to Print
6 Conspiracies and Controversies
7 Unsuspecting Women and the Dreaded Bisexual
8 Willing to Serve, but Not to Lead
9 Women, Children, and Funding
10 AIDS and Beyond
Notes
Bibliography
Index
Preface
Acknowledgments
1 The Boundaries of Black Politics
2 Marginalization: Power, Identity, and Membership
3 Enter AIDS: Context and Confrontation
4 Invisible to the Centers for Disease Control
5 All the Black People Fit to Print
6 Conspiracies and Controversies
7 Unsuspecting Women and the Dreaded Bisexual
8 Willing to Serve, but Not to Lead
9 Women, Children, and Funding
10 AIDS and Beyond
Notes
Bibliography
Index

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