We are all afraid of something. Yet it seems that aside from common phobias of spiders and snakes, Americans are generally plagued with a fear of the unknown, which stems from an ignorance of the facts and results in prejudice and fear—a fear that cannot, or will not, be called to the forefront.
In the early 1980s, AIDS and HIV became prevalent. Terrified, America put forth a ban that prevented HIV-positive foreigners from entering the United States. Just two months ago, the ban was lifted. It has been removed as part of the latest aid package, and the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) is working to revise the rules in accordance with the “spirit of the law.” However, due to the deliberative rule-making process, the HHS hasn’t come out with a finalized protocol, and foreign citizens diagnosed with the virus are still unable to enter the country.
So what is the reasoning behind revoking the ban? Could it be a safety precaution or a way to prevent vicious discrimination against both foreigners and those with HIV/AIDS? Although it is a combination of both, the root of the problem lies in America’s inability to comprehend and mend problems that are alien to us.
On a purely conceptual level, the ban is good because it is potentially beneficial to the greater population of the U.S. and those who visit. With less people entering the country who are diagnosed, there is a slimmer chance that citizens and tourists will come into contact with the disease itself. Furthermore, those who have HIV/AIDS are more susceptible to common sicknesses, so there are fewer chances for citizens to catch an ailment. Still, the way the ban was executed is controversial and lacked proper thought.
In light of this, the bigger issue concerns America not dealing with its own fear and ignorance. According to the Washington Post, the amount of money required to lift the ban is around $83 million. If this amount of money is being spent to pick up the pieces, imagine how much money was spent enacting the ban. The money should have been put toward HIV/AIDS research. My apologies for the cliché, but in this case, “knowledge is power.” The cure for HIV/AIDS, which is the ultimate finish line of this race against time, could be within our grasp. Besides, the $2 billion federal allocation to study the virus is chump change compared to pork-barrel spending elsewhere, the money wasted fighting the war in Iraq and other shady shenanigans occurring on Capitol Hill.
Aside from money and the knowledge we have yet to acquire, our views of foreigners, foreign policy itself and our so-called “Homeland Security” are skewed. America, as a whole, has not had an impressive track record when it comes to prejudice. The ban just brought forth a new type of bigotry: one that was not necessarily based on race, sexual orientation or religious preference. Suddenly, we found ourselves dealing with a kind of prejudice that attacks the sick.
As a relatively xenophobic country, we find ourselves perceiving most outsiders as just that: outside of our comfort zone and therefore not an issue to be touched upon. What the writers of this ban did not admit was that it wasn’t just a fear of more people getting HIV/AIDS, it was also apprehension toward what could happen if the wrong people stepped onto U.S. soil.
Perhaps it is ridiculous and idealistic to think that if more time, effort and money were spent building bridges between countries instead of burning them, we wouldn’t be stuck with problems such as these. We are so scared of another 9/11 or more terrorists setting foot in our country that we fail to teach the next generation the principles of peace and acceptance.
America is also, quite frankly, behind. The fact that it took us almost 28 years to repeal such a ban speaks volumes. Why have we had such an anachronistic law on the books for this long, a law only practiced by “failed states” such as Libya and Sudan? The United States, it seems, has an ironclad stagnation when it comes to renewing our policies.
Nelson Mandela, a prominent member of the African National Congress, was just recently taken off America’s Terrorist Watch List, according to CNN. Mandela, a symbol of freedom and justice, was even awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1993. What is a man like this doing on the Terrorist Watch List? Why is the United States so slow in making adjustments when it comes to these predicaments? The fact that an advocator of peace was put on a list among terrorists and was just removed reveals our lag when it comes to changing our policies.
The ban – and the fact that it was repealed only recently – further shows our progress, or lack thereof. If we are as scared now as we were in the 1980s, when will the advancement toward modern science, understanding and knowledge begin? Less time should be spent trying to skirt the issue, and more time should be spent trying to create foreign ties and advocating for knowledge and research that eventually will lead to the cure for HIV/AIDS.
Maxine Wally is a first-year literary journalism major. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.