Social Factor as a Cause of High rates of HIV/AIDS Infection in the United States of America
The Deep South region of the United States of America—specifically the states of Louisiana, South Carolina, Georgia, North Carolina, Alabama, and Mississippi—are not only known for their robust promotion of slavery during that era but also due to having high rates of HIV infections compared to other regions within the country. The prevalence of HIV infections in the Deep South has been steadily rising and peaked from 2000 to 2003, where statistics indicated that the prevalence rose by 34% (Bonnaci & David). These rates managed to drop through active intervention practices but again re-peaked from the beginning of 2008 to 2014 (Bonnaci & David). 2014 was a phenomenal year in regard to HIV because it marked the Deep South as a region that HIV has mercilessly consumed ever since the break-out of the pandemic back in the 80s. In the same year, the Deep South recorded the highest number of AIDS deaths, more than the number of deaths caused by any other diseases.
Now becoming an issue of concern, the researchers discovered that HIV in the Deep South is mainly steered by social factors and not out of one’s will to lead a reckless sexual life. Well, there may be some truth to these findings. Durkheim’s sociology holds that society has extremely powerful forces to influence people’s behavior (Hurst). These powerful forces constitute social situations, societal norms, values, beliefs, shared understanding, and shared ways of behaving. These forces bind people together, creating social integration. This paper evaluates the relevance of Durkheim’s theory in explaining the high rates of HIV infections in the Deep South region—especially among the African American Men—of the United States of America.
Collective Consciousness: Cultural Enactment Durkheim holds that social ties are formed through collective consciousness. Collective consciousness, according to Mathiesen is, “The condition of the subject within the whole society, and how any given individual comes to view herself as part of any given group.” It is a unifying force within the society and pushes members of the same society to have a similar perspective to moral values, beliefs, and attitudes (Mathiesen). It forces members to abandon their moral perspectives and adopt the perspective formed by the gang. Collective consciousness in relation to the drugs and substance abuse in the Deep South may be used to explain the rising rates of HIV infections.
The crack epidemic is a typical social pressure—as Durkheim would view it—that has led to the escalation of these rates. Over the past two decades, the African American males in the Deep South have grown comfortable with the use of crack, a street name of the hard drug cocaine. They have perceived it as normalcy, a cultural enactment, and behavior to the point that some of them have grown comfortable peddling the drug. As a result, the government started the war on drugs, and many disproportionate African Americans have been affected since. The war on drugs led to the mass incarceration of African Americans, most of them hailing from the Deep South States. The high incarceration rate has been linked to increased rates of transmission of HIV.
According to Adimora, “The loss of African American men from their communities, in part because of excess incarceration and mortality rates and the low ratio of African American men to women, has affected their sexual partnerships and sexual networks in ways that exacerbate sexually transmitted infections and heterosexual HIV infection.” Adimora argues that the mass incarceration in the Deep South has always disrupted sexual relationships, leading to a rise in concurrent sexual partnerships, especially in North Carolina. Also, the incarcerated men resort to homosexuality to quencher the sexual thirst, now that they cannot get female sexual partners while in prisons (Adimora). It is out of their moral perspective of the drug culture responsible for these rates, but not their own choices. Statistics hold that the rates of heterosexuality acquired HIV in the Deep South are higher in women than men. The activity of MSM and women concurrently in the Deep South is also a cause of the rising rates.
Durkheim’s perspective of modernity may also explain the rising rates of HIV infections, especially among the blacks in the Deep South. Durkheim argues that the evolution of society changes the solidarity of the members of the society from mechanical solidarity to organic solidarity (Hurst). For simpler societies, people tend to have mechanical solidarity. Nothing connects them further apart from social institutions like religion and family. Therefore, they tend to have limited options in life. For modern societies, their solidarity extends beyond what social institutions offer. They are connected by their reliance and need to improvise their socio-economic and cultural situations (Hurst). This perspective gives a clear picture of why African Americans are highly marginalized in the Deep South. Living in a region where slavery was prevalent and was its major economic activity, the blacks didn’t have much of an option but to live at the mercy of the whites. They have never evolved since. Most of them were pushed to the rural areas (Doherty et al.).
Rural areas mainly consist of simple societies. Therefore, the majority of the blacks in the Deep South are connected by their social institutions. Findings from researches conducted by Doherty also reveal that the rural regions of the United States of America are neglected in terms of distribution of resources (Doherty). Therefore, such areas are deprived of healthcare attention, education, political consideration, employment opportunities, medical care, decent housing, and infrastructural resources. Majority of Americans in the Deep rural South—mainly blacks—lack viable jobs or resources to pull their people out of extreme poverty. Such areas are associated with vices such as high rates of crime. For instance, South Carolina tops the states with the highest crime rate compared to any other state (Doherty). Besides, these are the regions where reckless behaviors like crack peddling and use and prostitution are rampant. According to Ellerbrock TV (2004), most citizens resort to these behaviors due to poverty and see them as means of survival. These high-risk behaviors are associated with HIV transmission.
Social Structure and Systems: The Issue of Race and Ethnicity
Racial and ethnic considerations also play a vital role in the high rates of HIV infections in the Deep South (Doherty). This social fact is closely related to Durkheim’s concept of organic solidarity vs. mechanical solidarity. Note that Durkheim’s point on mechanical and organic solidarities is vital in explaining why HIV infections among African Americans in the Deep South are high. Durkheim further claims that organic solidarity has several benefits over mechanical solidarity, which majorly describes the association of the African Americans in the Deep South with and among each other. Durkheim states that in rural societies, people tend to be self-sufficient; hence requires little to no cooperation or any other form of help that may help to keep the society together.
In modern societies, people tend to get close because of the need and cooperation that comes with labor division (Hurst). In the process, they become interdependent and include each other inter the struggle for survival. People within the organic solidarity can easily establish their amenities without the government’s need for help or advance. Their association can help them pull sufficient resources to transform their space (Hurst). Another vital point that Durkheim brings up is the role of religion in both mechanical and organic solidarities. He states that people under organic solidarity use religion as a unifying factor and moral sustainability, while people under mechanical solidarity use religion for individual advancement (Hurst).
Durkheim’s perspective is an accurate illustration of the rural life of the Deep South, where the majority of African Americans reside. The blacks were racially segregated, and the majority of them live in the rural; according to USCB, about 42% of the total African American population living in the Deep South are in rural establishments. They are independent of one another, and most of all, lack vital resources to pull medical services of their own (TSD). This means that they hardly get medical attention. According to Ellabrock, “The deep South states are ranked at the bottom of nearly every national health index, including diabetes, stroke, infant mortality, and STIs” (Ellabrock). Again, while there, they lack the resources to establish organic solidarity; hence, they resort to HIV high-risk behaviors for survival.
The racial and ethnic considerations are also forms of structural barriers that promote HIV in the Deep South. Due to rampant segregation in these regions, the blacks perceive HIV as a target sent to them by the government. They believe that the high rate reports are reported because the government plans to demean them as they did in the Tuskegee Syphilis Study years ago. This perception of HIV prevents many blacks from admitting that they are infected (Doherty). As a result, they hardly go for testing for early diagnosis. This false belief is steered by racial and ethnic considerations, a structural system that makes many blacks end up denying the existence of the disease.
This paper analyzes the social facts linked to the rising rates of HIV infections in the Deep South—especially among the minority races—as per Durkheim’s sociology/theory. Durkheim argues that some social factors influence behavior, norms, culture, values, and beliefs, and people end up doing things not out of their liking. The comprehensive discussion of these specific social factors helps describe and understand HIV infections in the Deep South.
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