The Boundaries of Blackness: AIDS and the Breakdown of Black Politics

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University of Chicago Press, Apr 30, 1999 - Social Science - 410 pages
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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.

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About the author (1999)

Cathy J. Cohen is professor of political science and director of the Center for the Study of Race, Politics, and Culture at the University of Chicago. She is the coeditor of Women Transforming Politics: An Alternative Reader.

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