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Melissa Harris-Perry on Expanding the Definition of Blackness

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Melissa Harris-Perry gave a moving keynote speech at the United Conference on AIDS, tying connections between Black Lives Matter and the fight to end the HIV epidemic (watch below).

Going beyond the obvious intersections, Harris-Perry called for expanding the definition of "blackness" to include all "problematic" bodies; and suggested that people with these bodies are treated like an infectious disease threatening to overtake America. Finally, she concluded that these issues cannot be solved with pharmaceutical solutions, and called on all of us to continue the struggle. 

Harris-Perry is the Maya Angelou Presidential Chair at Wake Forest University, the Executive Director of the Pro Humanitate Institute, and founding director of the Anna Julia Cooper Center. Editor-at-Large at ELLE.com, Harris-Perry hosted the award winning MSNBC morning show Melissa Harris-Perry and authored the award-winning Barbershops, Bibles, and BET: Everyday Talk and Black Political Thought, and Sister Citizen: Shame, Stereotypes, and Black Women in America.

Watch her speech here or scroll down for her complete remarks:

"We keep thinking heath is in our bodies. Status is not an individual matter. HIV status is a collective matter.

The most exciting social movement I see existing right now is movement that is making an empirical claim and claim on resources. That is Black Lives Matter. But do we know what black means? How does it feel to be a problem? Everyone has problems. There is no privilege that will keep you from having problems. But W.E.B. Du Bois says to be black is to be a problem. See the distinction between having problems and being a problem? To have your actual physical self be seen as the problem, as infectious?

Expand your definition of blackness to all those bodies with a uterus, all those bodies that present with one gender but want to use a different body. All those bodies that need access-problems. Queer body-problems. Undocumented bodies-problems. Black Lives Matter if we expand blackness to a Du Boisian understanding that begins to encompass a broader understanding of health. When we think of Black Lives, what matters, we see a social movement that includes a question and definition of a much larger set of structures. Race and health are linked.

So when you say HIV infections are not random but track on the exact same zip codes, on precisely the same vulnerabilities, as all of these other illnesses in our democracy—whether they are those we recognize as health disparities, whether they are in the health of our children’s capacity to breathe clean air and drink clean water and go to reasonable schools and walk down safe streets, or find an officer who does not perceive them as a threat. What I’m saying to you is I don’t believe that we’re at a point of convergence because I don’t think you can fix these problems with pharmaceuticals.

Here is the good news. The struggle continues. Nobody promised you would get to live during the part of the revolution we when we were winning. Maybe you’ll get to see wins you never even imagined. You might get some good wins, you might also be there for the inauguration of Trump. Nobody promised you would get to be there during the winning part. You are promised that people worked hard before you. Your responsibility is that during your part you take the baton. You do not have to do it alone.

You engage with it, you ask hard questions. If you have the same analysis as everyone else then you do not have analysis, you have a whisper campaign. Go ahead, be bold, fail, work really really hard on something you don’t expect to win in your lifetime. Write a sentence that is better than who you are. When Jefferson said all persons are created equal he was looking at a field of enslaved persons. He wrote that anyway. You do somethingbigger and better. Dream a bigger thing."

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