The significant minority of African Americans who believe conspiracy theories that HIV was created by the government to destroy the black population are motivated by entrenched distrust of the government, aidsmap reports. Jacob Heller, PhD, a sociologist at the State University New York at Old Westbury, published a qualitative study of various forms of media in the American Journal of Public Health, addressing HIV or AIDS conspiracy theories and rumors. He also conducted six focus groups in which the participants were either all white, all black or all Latino.  

From the media reports, Heller found that many notable African-Americans have espoused HIV-related conspiracy theories across the decades, including Spike Lee, Louis Farrakhan, Will Smith, Bill Cosby and Steve Cokely (an aide to the mayor of Chicago who lost his job in 1988 for claiming that Jewish physicians were deliberately infecting black babies with HIV).

The members of the white and Latino focus groups rarely mentioned HIV-related conspiracy theories, but such ideas often came up in the African-American groups. Heller theorized that beliefs that HIV was created as a deliberate means of destroying certain populations were borne of “distrust combined with high social anxiety,” rather than ignorance. Such emotions are arguably the result of blacks’ long history of disenfranchisement throughout American history, beginning with the horrors of slavery and continuing through the ongoing struggle for civil rights. Other contributing factors include the infamous Tuskegee syphilis study, as well as the disproportionate rates of HIV among the African-American population.

To read the aidsmap story, click here.

To read the study abstract, click here.