By Rhonda E. Frost
Usher, I am sure this is likely one of the hardest things you’ve ever had to endure. Confessions must pale in comparison. The past two weeks have had to be hell for you and your family. To have a deeply personal incident with your medical privacy violated and a previously settled lawsuit plastered all over the news, on social media, blog posts and gossip outlets, is unfathomable. My heart breaks watching it unfold.
I read one of the first stories to get the gist of it and then I saw the memes that were meant to be jokes, pour in on my social media feed. I read one or two of the comments with tears in my eyes. I simply couldn’t read them anymore.
I am ashamed that people turned this life altering situation, involving real people and a real disease into something entertaining. For that, I apologize to you. I apologize for the judgement, harsh words, the jokes and insensitivity. This story hurts my soul on many levels.
On behalf of our people, I am sorry.
I am sorry that its unfolding like this. I am sorry that someone gave herpes to you. I am sorry for the woman(or alleged women) who you exposed to it (knowing or not). I am sorry you couldn’t find the courage to tell them. I am sorry that now they want your money and that you will likely pay the hefty price for that secret. And I am sorry for the millions of people who have herpes and other STD’s that they have to live with, and who fear what you are going through.
Too many black folk in particular find this situation joke worthy. I apologize that our community finds humor in disease and in stories that hurt others. I am sorry that we have become disconnected to the point where we don’t stop to think before we pass along hurtful memes, videos or news clips that expose our people suffering. I apologize that basic humanity is no longer present in this social media, disconnected world that we live in. It’s all about the “comments”, “likes” and the “check” one can potentially get from a story.
Do the sharers of this news not realize that 1 in 6 Americans have herpes and that anyone can have it and not know because they are asymptomatic? Do they not know that statistics show almost forty percent of African Americans have this disease and that almost fifty percent of black women have it? Someone else gave it to these people too. Do they not realize that if these numbers are true(and apparently they are), that when they post these articles and jokes on their page, they are shaming and making fun not just of you, but also some of their own friends and family members who are also suffering? These millions of sufferers didn’t get a million dollar check when it was given to them, they simply had to keep it moving and figure out how to live with it. The lack of connection is mind-boggling.
And although not the same circumstance, I am reminded that just a week or two ago our people did the same with the Maia Campbell situation. Some clown(for lack of a better word) made a video recording of her at a gas station here in Atlanta, exposing her in one of her low moments. In the video, she is seen talking to the man recording and she tells him she wanted some “crack”. She looked disheveled, she was missing a tooth and was in a bra and panties(shorts?) at a gas station. It was painful to watch. The “brotha”(dubbed a “male friend” in one article), added further insult to injury and said to Maia, “pump my gas” in pimp-like fashion, disparaging her further while continuing to record and mock her broken state. This black man thought it necessary to post this event on social media, I suppose in an effort to become relevant. The video went viral. It was shared thousands of times amongst our own. People thought it funny. According to reports, she has a crack addiction and suffers from mental illness. How the f*ck is addiction and mental illness funny? Shame on us! Shame on the man who made the video. And shame on everyone who shared it to get a “like”. But I digress…
The callousness in our people at times is baffling. Did slavery, Jim Crow, lack of opportunity, lack of education, lack of nurturing and poverty make us into insensitive human beings? Can we blame those real conditions on our current spirit? As if we don’t have enough issues and obstacles to fight, we have to deal with our own village frenemies as well. These are the same people(your fans), same magazines and news papers that applaud your music and talent, that showcase your success as an artist, your love as a father and who have honored you as a member of the black community. And poof! Just like that, you are reduced to simply a story line, and your business is all in the streets. Oh, what a fickle world we live in!
Social media can be like shark infested water, all they need is a little “chum” or for someone to fall off the boat, and the mindless feeding frenzy begins. Black folks in particular feed off of this kind of thing. We always have. We are the kings and queens of tear downs, demonstratively hateful gossip, and finding ways to shame one another or point out our brothers and sisters mistakes and missteps. I believe it gives those telling someone else’s news, a moment where they don’t have to think about their own misery, ugliness, vulnerability or pain.
Confessing an incurable disease is risky for anyone, but exposing it as a celebrity has to be the scariest thing ever. It’s another level of risk. People pay money for that kind of news story, whether you’ve infected someone or not in today’s “sell a celebrity story to TMZ for a check” climate. I am not excusing failure to disclose, I am simply pointing out the obvious. All of that aside, disclosing isn’t an option.
Living with disease, navigating dating and relationships with a diagnosis and trusting someone with that information has to be the highest level of risk out there. But to be clear, numbers don’t lie. Others are also keeping the secret for whatever reason and by doing so, are infecting other people in our community at an extremely high rate. We cannot continue like this! We have to find the courage to share the news. We have to talk about it openly and do forums that help ease the stigma and that provide a way to share the news safely. Millions of people carry this STI. You, Usher, have an opportunity, like Magic Johnson did back in the day with his HIV diagnosis, to make people aware of the disease and impact lives. The conversation has already started. It’s a wide open opportunity. You have this difficult moment to reflect and teach. Use it to be brave, to stand up and to create something meaningful. I will be happy to help you.
The good news is, herpes is not life threatening. All involved will find a way to keep going forward. You and all involved will bounce back and keep living. You must. Life surely goes on. The victims in your case will be a little more financially secure at your expense and though that doesn’t fix the life long condition, it certainly makes life a little easier for them. Again, millions upon millions of people have it, who never were given money to ease the pain or shame or give them the means to buy medications, pay bills or take a vacation to clear their head.
The statistics with STD’s and it’s impact on our community are real. We have to care enough about each other to have the honest discussion. We have to get tested. We have to set aside our own discomfort to protect others. And we have to hold those discussions in confidence on both sides. We have to care enough about our bodies to use protection especially, if we aren’t brave enough to talk about the elephant in the living room or ask for test results. We also have to do better at becoming caring human beings and not using these stories to bolster our own numbers(“likes”, “friends”), or to gain notoriety by furthering the pain.
The moral to the story is: if you have a disease and you don’t tell someone, you put them at risk, and they don’t get to decide on the act or relationship with all the facts. That is a costly decision. And this applies to every aspect of our dating lives, not just STD’s. We have to have the conversation(s) about things that aren’t pleasant as well. It’s the only way to know if what you share is real. It’s what grown people who care, do.
At the end of the day, this story will give way to the next big news story. Soon and very soon, it will become just another blurb in the social media news spectrum and the sting of the jokes and the headlines for this will fade. Let this be a wake up call about dating, relationships and our sex lives. This isn’t so much about you as a celebrity, as it is the cost of not speaking up and the reality of how hard it is for us to talk about issues to our own people.
And for the people with all the comments and jokes, let this be a reminder to return to compassion and to remember that just because something hasn’t affected us yet, doesn’t make us exempt and that we need to be mindful that even though we may not be impacted, we might have a friend, or family member who is(go back and look at the statistics then look at how many “followers” you have, it’s a given that some of them have it). Words are powerful. Use them to uplift, to improve your people, to offer guidance and advice, to make positive change, not to be the antithesis to that. We have enough mess in our community to overcome, let’s not add to it by jumping on the popular mean-spirited bandwagon.
Usher, my sincere hope is that you will rise from this moment better than you were before, to care more about the people in your life, to protect women and to be open and honest. My hope is that you and the women involved in this unfolding story will all be able to live happy and full lives and that when it’s all said and done, our people will do better.
Let this be our Magic Johnson moment of truth on this topic. Let us be brave enough to keep the conversation at the forefront in an enlightening and honest way and let us be better for it.