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Challenges and Rewards of HIV Research

Posted on January 16, 2008

Darrell P. Wheeler (bio) talks about how racism often does not get addressed in HIV research.


Challenges and rewards of doing HIV research or research with African-American men, LGTB communities in the 21st century, going into the 30th anniversary of HIV and AIDS in America. Boy, one of the major challenges is that the pie is shrinking around the dollars for HIV research, and it's much harder to get funded. And it's much harder to identify unique and novel approaches.

And so I think again, it goes back to our earlier discussion. That's why it's even more important to connect to community early on. Because I think the unique interventions are waiting for us if we're willing to listen and spend time working with community to understand what is going to make a difference, not what we want to make a difference.

There are any number of social barriers still existing. With HIV and AIDS there is still a lot of stigma around that. There's the unaddressed issues of racism that shroud a lot of what we do.

I do a lot of work again with African-American men who have sex with men, and one of the classic examples in recent times of the racism that exists in this kind of work is the application of a term called men on the down low. And many of us have heard that term, but we've recently had senators from Idaho and governors from New Jersey who engaged in the same behavior, and nobody has ever called them down low.

So again, there is an implicit racism that goes along with this research that gets applied, but never gets examined. And so when I say it, people get, "How could he say that?" Well, if you don't say it, then we're just contributing to the status quo, and then I get - one of the challenges is, am I willing to be a pariah in that experience?

And my answer is yes, at this point, I am because I'm not willing to contribute to the way things were, that in order to move forward, we have to call a thing that which it is. And these are prime examples of some of the dilemmas.

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Excerpted from interview with researcher in September 2007.


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