Haiti, AIDS, and Donald Trump in Context

President Donald Trump was reported to have stated in a meeting that all Haitians “have AIDS” and, although the White House denies that the statement took place, this is being quoted again in light of Donald Trump’s comments about Haitians and Africans being from “s—thole” countries. In order to understand why Trump would say that Haitians have AIDS, America must face a reality that is a stain on its past in dealing with the HIV/AIDS epidemic back in the 1980’s. In the early years of the virus spreading throughout the country, there were risk groups set up to streamline diagnosis and treatment until they were able to find more easily identifiable markers. Doctors called them the “four H’s” which stood for hemophiliac, homosexual, heroin addict, and Haitian.

Why is this important to note? Donald Trump is a relic of the past, he is stuck in a world that in modern America was being pushed into the shadows until November 9th, 2016. Although the majority of people in this country are pro-immigration, the underbelly of racially-charged immigration paranoia has run long and deep in this country and President Trump has found a way to speak for those individuals. Although there were other groups labeled as being at high risk, Trump does not seem to have any issues with the other groups. Of course, one group has not suffered systemic injustice or discrimination so I cannot speak for his position on hemophiliacs. However, Trump has had many homosexual friends, attended Elton John’s wedding, and touted his support of marriage equality for years prior to his decision to run for office. Although not much policy has been set in motion, the president has repeatedly expressed his sympathy for those who struggle with opioid addiction as well, which is the class of drug that heroine falls under.

This fits into the pattern of narrative with this president and it does not have to be overtly racist to have racially charged overtones. Stereotypes have a way of embedding themselves into our subconscious, almost like a word association game that results in the knee-jerk reactions that all humans have toward cultural subgroups that they may not understand. Studies show that although individuals may not consciously understand that their expectations of one’s abilities may be based in stereotypes, people often make decisions based on those stereotypes subconsciously. This is important because of the conflicting information that has come out about this administration and the quotes that the White House has denied repeatedly since January of 2017. We do not need to hear it from them directly if we pay attention to the historical patterns in this country and analyze Donald Trump as a whole person rather than judging him solely from the day he announced his candidacy.

The “four H’s” were set up and recognized by doctors in 1982 and experiments for diagnosis and treatment began. In the 1980’s Donald Trump was actively attempting to force his rent-stabilized tenants, many of whom were senior citizens, out of their homes by refusing to maintain the building. He had also cut their heat and water off, which was listed among their complaints when they sued the Trump Organization and clearly demonstrates his focus on dollars and cents above and beyond all sense of humanity. In 1989, Donald Trump spent exorbitant money and time creating a campaign against the Central Park Five and to this day has never apologized. Ten years prior to the risk pools for HIV/AIDS being set up, Donald J. Trump kicked his career in the real estate business off by being sued for racially discriminatory practices. Does the Donald J Trump of the 1980’s really sound like someone who would resist absorbing a damaging stereotype about a specific immigrant group of color?

Given what we know about the president’s own examples of prejudice, and what we know about America’s history of stigmatizing Haitian immigrants with the AIDS diagnosis, why is it such a stretch of the imagination for Trump supporters to believe that he said it? Is it simply an example of George W. Bush’s phrase, “the soft bigotry of low expectations”? It is, in fact, worse than that. It is a pattern of American race relations in being afraid to confront the uncomfortable. The reality is that most white Americans are beginning to stand up to comments like the recent comments of Trump and acknowledge that he is not the only one who feels this way. He actually represents a seedy underbelly of the American population, and we will never be able to eradicate these stereotypes from the racially charged subconscious of American culture without more of white Americans standing up not only to Trump’s statements, but also to the underlying root of stereotypes in general. In a discussion with The Washington Post after the horrors of the neo-Nazi march in Charlottesville, Yale University social psychologist Jennifer Richeson stated, “People learn to be whatever their society and culture teaches them….The truth is that unless parents actively teach kids not to be racists, they will be.” She goes on to say, “This is not the product of some deep-seated, evil heart that is cultivated. It comes from the environment, the air all around us.”

With the Trump administration’s repeated fumbles, Trump’s tweets, and the world questioning if this is what America stood for in secret all along, our window for healing race relations is evident but closing quickly. It is time for the Republicans who stood against slavery and McCarthyism to steel their spines and speak truth to power. Enough with the double talk, stand firmly on the foundation of your integrity and we will stand with you.

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