Antarctica against the war

White folks is where it’s at, pt. 34

I just got back from San Francisco, where yesterday I was reading the San Francisco Chronicle and came across an interesting story. It was about the test of an experimental AIDS vaccine, with unusual results — it shielded two-thirds of the Black, Asian and non-Latino minority subjects, but didn’t work at all on whites or Latinos.

Weird, huh? But what struck me was the headline:

AIDS vaccine mostly a failure
It helps some groups but
doesn’t work across the board

I dunno — if I were a black headline writer, I’m not sure I’d have called that experiment “mostly a failure” just because it didn’t protect whitey.

Now, before all the anti-PC hordes descend upon me, allow me to point out that I’m not actually accusing the headline writer of being some racist freak. This is San Francisco, after all, a city so berserkly left-wing that I endured an enormous lecture by the airport van driver about why the New York Times was a right-wing menace and how he needed to get “more phosophorous in his system to rebalance his energies.” I strongly doubt the headline writer is showing up to work in a white cowl. But it is kinda interesting what sort of language can still seem appropriate in a newspaper, isn’t it?

Even more interesting given that Chronicle itself reported a few days later about the massive mistrust that American blacks have for the medical establishment:

Suspicion of medical research runs deep among many blacks, they say, and the reason can be summarized in one word: Tuskegee.

In the Tuskegee Syphilis Study, conducted by the federal government between 1932 and 1972, researchers withheld medical treatment from poor, black men in Macon County, Ala., for experimental purposes. The men were not told they had syphilis, and weren’t treated for the disease even after penicillin became available. By the time the study was exposed, 128 men had died of syphilis or related complications.

More than 30 years later, the damage done by that study still lingers, black activists say — even hindering efforts to halt the AIDS epidemic.

“Many African-Americans are suspicious of the health care system and suspicious of doctors and scientists because there’s a legacy of mistreatment,” said Phill Wilson, executive director of the Los Angeles-based Black AIDS Institute.

“Even though people may or may not know the specifics of the Tuskegee trials, they know that there are health disparities and that blacks often get inferior treatment based on race.”

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I'm Clive Thompson, the author of Smarter Than You Think: How Technology is Changing Our Minds for the Better (Penguin Press). You can order the book now at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Powells, Indiebound, or through your local bookstore! I'm also a contributing writer for the New York Times Magazine and a columnist for Wired magazine. Email is here or ping me via the antiquated form of AOL IM (pomeranian99).

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