Blacks have been disproportionately likely to get AIDS through male/male sex, intravenous drug use, and heterosexual transmission. In spite of the long history of black mobilization, there has been little mobilization around AIDS, even though collective effort could reduce the extent of HIV spread, provide care and services for sick people who now die in isolated loneliness, and create a voice in budgetary and policy decisions that have so far failed to deal adequately with AIDS among minorities. Attempts at black AIDS mobilization in New York City are described and assessed on the basis of field research conducted in 1987-88. Reasons for the failure of these attempts to produce sizable mobilization include socially structured divisions among blacks; ideological paralysis of key actors such as churches and politicians confronted by an epidemic spread by risk behaviors they oppose; poverty; the inherent contradictions of attempted mobilization by elites whose interests differ from those of the threatened population; and the weakening of organizational ties and experience from the 1960s.

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