I think it is safe to say that herpes is the funniest venereal disease. A sexually-transmitted infection that is mortifying but not mortiferous seems tailor-made for the age of Failblog. On the other hand, many are unaware that herpes rarely can be fatal. A mother can transmit herpes to her infant at birth. The consequences of this neonatal herpes infection can include meningitis, pneumonia, and death. A herpes infection can also facilitate HIV transmission. Medication can manage genital herpes, but no cure exists because the virus hides in the nervous system.
Such an indelible marker risks spreading forbidden knowledge about human behavior and population differences. One mantra of the collection of clichéd falsehoods collectively named “political correctness” is that sexually transmitted diseases do not discriminate. However, if The Man injected most black women with a drug that caused itchy genital sores, would it not be fair to accuse The Man of discrimination? Well, the US Centers for Disease Control reported last year that the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) results showed that herpes is so racist that almost half of black women and girls aged 14 to 49 have it. To be exact, 48% (with a 95% confidence interval from 44.1% to 52.0%) of these women are seropositive for herpes simplex virus 2 (HSV 2) genital herpes. In contrast, only 15.9% of non-Hispanic white women have it.
Now, as funny and relatively benign as this incredibly common condition usually is, I would not want to engage in a discussion that seems to mock anyone’s actual serious suffering. I feel compassion for those with this disease and truly hope for a cure and a vaccine. Nevertheless, the reaction to the NHANES results is instructive about the meaning of the word stereotype and left-wing resistance to science.
Take the reaction of The Root, which was started by Henry Louis Gates, Jr., the black Harvard professor who infamously accused a police officer of racial profiling because the officer wanted to ask him some questions after Gates broke into his own residence. Writing for The Root, Sheree Crute quoted Dr. David Malebranche of Emory “whose research focuses on STDs in African Americans” as saying, “This means that they have been exposed to the herpes virus, but it does not mean that these women have actually developed the disease or have active herpes. In fact, they may never develop active herpes.” What brilliant medical advice! Yes, ma’am, you have been exposed to herpes, but you do not have the disease. The virus is inside your body. You can infect others. Fortunately, you only have the disease at the various times that painful blisters appear on your privy parts. Feel free to live life as if nothing happened. Actually, Dr. Malebranche, two previous small studies determined that 56% of genital herpes transmissions, in one, or 69% in the other, occur without active symptoms. A person who contracts the herpes virus without yet having symptoms sheds the virus and has a 20% chance of being contagious at any given time. More than 4 out of 5 cases of genital herpes caused by herpes simplex virus 2 are undiagnosed possibly due to a lack of symptoms, according to the CDC study.
Dr. Malebranche’s dubious logic feeds a black community that is hungry for denial. Danielle Canada, writing for “HipHopWired,” repeated his quotation and added that “people were shocked and outraged” by what the CDC report “seemed to say.” This forced the CDC to write to “HipHopWired” directly, saying, “We at CDC want to make it clear that CDC has not changed its position…” and “We also want to make it clear that Dr. David Malebranche … is not a CDC physician or representative…” Another delusion was offered by a British black woman named Susan Onyejiuwa, who noted that “the report actually says that 16 percent of the total American population have herpes, and of these 16 percent, 48 percent of people fall under the African-American female category.” The “false report” that 48% of black women have herpes worries Onyejiuwa because it conveys a sense that “it would be best to keep away” from black women, she says. If she were correct that 48% of the 16% of Americans with herpes are black women, then the percentage of the black women in the study who have HSV2 genital herpes would be much higher—63%. Based on her delusion, Onyejiuwa started an online petition against the CDC study. Think of all the lives that we could have saved if we had only thought to petition against epidemiologists when the AIDS epidemic began in the 1980s.
These people are all partly right in that it is not true that 48% of black women have herpes. This is because the CDC study only examined the prevalence of genital herpes caused by herpes simplex virus 2. Genital herpes is also caused by herpes simplex virus 1 (HSV1), the cold-sore virus. Thus, the true percentage of black women with genital herpes, an incurable sexually transmitted infection, is considerably more than half. Doctors tend to associate HSV1 only with cold sores of the mouth, but as oral sex has become more common, so has genital herpes caused by HSV1. Between 1992 and 2006, the percentage of new incidences of genital herpes in straight women attributable to HSV1 rose from 31% to 45%. There is sparse and contradictory evidence regarding the proportions of HSV1 and HSV2 in black people. A study from Seattle found that white people with herpes were almost four times more likely than “nonwhite” people to have herpes caused by HSV1, and black people in a 1998 study were less likely than white people to report having had oral sex. However, nonwhite people in Seattle are more likely to be Asian than black, and data on herpes infection rates among Asian Americans are nowhere to be found. Also, a 1992 study of unmarried adults in high-risk San Francisco neighborhoods found that both HSV1 and HSV2 were more common in black people than white people, especially HSV1 with 76% of black women being HSV1 positive compared to 43% of white women.
Black denialism of unflattering science is, of course, not limited to the herpes epidemic. Among African Americans, conspiracy theories about HIV and AIDS have become mainstream with deadly consequences. In spite of the recent shocking revelations about US involvement in the deliberate infection of 1,300 Guatemalan prisoners and mental patients with syphilis and gonorrhea and the failure of the Tuskegee syphilis study to offer African Americans penicillin when it was identified as the standard of care, black denialism of science is ignorant and belaboring such scandals probably kills far more than those actual transgressions by encouraging conspiracy beliefs about HIV prophylaxis and treatment. A 2005 survey determined that 48% of black people think HIV is a man-made virus, 53% think a cure exists that is being kept from the poor, 16% think the US government created AIDS to control black people, 7% consider HIV treatments to be poison, and 4% of black men believe that doctors intentionally infect condoms with HIV. Having AIDS-related conspiracy beliefs makes black men significantly less likely to consistently use condoms.
Ironically, when black activists or liberals decide to reject science that makes them feel uncomfortable, they often accuse it of being “pseudoscience,” regardless of the poverty of scientific evidence in support of their own dogma. One is reminded of the quarrel that arose when then-Harvard president, Larry Summers, tried to explain some possible reasons why Harvard math and science professors are less likely to be women. One reason, he offered, was that men have a higher standard deviation that results in more men among the very high and very low ability levels. National Organization for Women President Kim Grady characterized this notion as suggesting that “women are inferior.” MIT biology professor Nancy Hopkins expressed a similar misunderstanding that he meant that women have a genetic predisposition against math and engineering. I cannot quite remember whether I first learned about standard deviation in high school or middle school, but for these women to reveal their math ignorance in their attempts to defend the mathematics skills of women betrays just the sort of thoughtlessness and lack of self-awareness that seems particular to political correctness.