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Chapter 4 72 Cathy is a dynamic woman in her mid-forties whose family relocated to the Bay Area from Topeka, Kansas, when she was in high school. She has worked for the security company that her parents own for as long as she can remember , and owns a home in Oakland with her soon-to-be husband, a high-profile retired football player. HIV-negative, she nonetheless has close proximity to the epidemic, having lost several of her best gay friends to the disease. She describes hearing about HIV for the first time, raising her theories about HIV origins as inherent in this moment: “It scared me. I go, ‘What kinda disease is this that will kill you?’” She continues: “They were saying that it was the army, they experimented and then they started usin’ people for guinea pigs to test it. And they had a cure. I really do think so. Just like Magic Johnson, he had it [HIV]; now he don’t have it. He got money so he don’t have it no more. I mean they have a cure for it but you have to have money in order to get cured. And they makin’ a lot of money on these people by givin’ them these drugs, which helps them because it’s making them live longer you know.” Cathy raises an almost universal story that came up in these interviews, that of the existence of the cure for HIV. The logic? Witness Magic Johnson— he is cured. Since his “shocking” disclosure that he was HIV-positive in 1991, basketball legend and Lakers team co-owner Magic Johnson has become, perhaps unwittingly, a public face of HIV/AIDS for the Black community. He planted these humanizing seeds immediately in his public announcement of his HIV status: “I’m here saying that it can happen to anybody, even me, Magic” (Girard 2006).1 Most recently, he has used his superstar status and wealth to open HIV clinics across the country that bear his name, and his Crazy Talk The Conspiracy Counter-Narrative in the Black AIDS Epidemic Crazy Talk 73 pumped-up body to sell HIV antiretroviral medications for pharmaceutical company Glaxo Smith Kline.2 And yet, the continued circulation of such certainty that Magic has been cured indicates that his efforts to humanize his HIV status are based on a false assumption that Blacks will in fact relate to this multimillionaire basketball hero as one of them. His efforts to ignore the profound role that his economic privilege holds in the minds of those in the Black community whom he hopes to reach out to, and to rely instead on messages based solely on race/ethnicity have, for better or worse, just not worked. To the contrary, the findings of these interviews suggest that Magic Johnson provides perhaps the ultimate embodied evidence for people’s theories that HIV is, at its core, an epidemic based on economics. Most of the individuals in these interviews (almost three quarters) raised social theories that HIV is man-made or a eugenic plan, specifically involving the intentional creation and targeted spread of HIV in Black communities. These stories of the conspiratorial arose as men and women reflected on their first knowledge of HIV or as they struggled to understand HIV’s disproportionate impact on Black communities. As the stories reveal, these narratives of social power are productive of sexual bodies and communities. In these moments of meaning-making, what I call the conspiracy “counter-narrative” emerged organically as a structural intimacy articulating racism and social class inequalities underlying sexualities in the AIDS epidemic. Men and women often invoked their strong belief in the existence of a cure to support their theory of HIV’s man-made origins. If science has the condition, it has the cure; and, conversely, with the presence of the cure must come the presence of the condition. Underlying the belief in the cure is an economic analysis of the epidemic: there are those who can buy the cure, and those who cannot. In the meantime, the government will continue to profit from the epidemic at the expense of the poor, making money from those medications that they keep giving you just enough [of] to keep you coming back for more. Cathy continues to draw on the cure to elaborate her economic understandings of what she articulates as a man-made epidemic: “If you poor you can forget it. You just have...


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MARC Record
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