Preventing HIV by Creating SISTA Strength: An Analysis of One U.S.-Sponsored Intervention into Black Women's Health Public Deposited

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  • March 20, 2019
  • Schlobohm, Allison
    • Affiliation: College of Arts and Sciences, Department of Communication
  • The United States’ modes of intervening into HIV/AIDS are inextricably sutured to contemporary understandings of blackness. In this dissertation, I explore these articulations by rhetorically examining one state-sponsored intervention into black women’s health—the SISTA HIV prevention program. I use a rhetorical lens to examine this program’s texts and its conditions of emergence, variously focusing on SISTA’s unique materials and the larger cultural, political, and economic forces that give it meaning. Specifically, I trace SISTA’s redeployment of some already-existing tropes of blackness and neo-liberal subjectivity, and I find that the intervention’s attempts to help black women avoid contracting HIV/AIDS are unfortunately complicit in regimes of anti-black oppression that foster the differential impacts of HIV/AIDS it is responding to. I begin my analysis by tracing the historical relationship between public health intervention in the United States and the strategic exclusion of black Americans from state support. I follow this relationship over a period of more than 100 years, highlighting key moments when U.S. public health policy underwent significant change as well as the sordid history of racist legitimation of black suffering. I then use this history to situate SISTA’s particular deployment of tropes of blackness, including the tropes of pathological and Afrocentric blackness and the trope of the strong black woman. Ultimately, I argue that SISTA attempts to help black women become strong, empowered subjects of neo-liberalism, but in doing so it reinvigorates centuries-old logics in the United States whereby the racist expulsion of black Americans from structures of state support is authorized by narratives of black irresponsibility and inadequate self-management.
Date of publication
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Rights statement
  • In Copyright
  • Lubiano, Wahneema
  • Parker, Patricia
  • Watts, Eric
  • Blair, Carole
  • Saunders, Barry
  • Doctor of Philosophy
Degree granting institution
  • University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill Graduate School
Graduation year
  • 2016

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