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Theses and Dissertations

Name:Corliss D. Heath
Professor:Nancy Romero-Daza

Not on My Street: Exploration of Culture, Meaning and Perceptions of HIV Risk among Middle Class African American Women


Black women remain at a higher risk for HIV infection than women of any other ethnic group. Of all new infections reported among U.S. women in 2010, 64% occurred in African Americans compared to 18% Whites and 15% Hispanic/Latina women (CDC 2013a; CDC 2014b). While the literature on HIV risk among African American women is extensive, it mostly focuses on low income, low education subgroups of women or those involved in high risk behaviors such as drug use. Very little has been done to understand the risk for HIV among college educated, middle class women who do not fit into traditional "risk categories."
Based on extensive fieldwork in Atlanta, GA, this study illustrates how middle class African American women's attitudes, beliefs, perceptions, and behaviors related to HIV risk are influenced by their social and cultural norms. This research employed a womanist framework to examine the intersection of race, gender, and class and the way these factors interact to shape HIV risk in middle class African American women. Whereas some middle class African American women perceive their HIV risk as low based on social class, structural factors associated with experiences of being an African American woman in Atlanta, GA (e.g., gender imbalance, geographic location, sexual networks) weaken the protective influence of class and put them at risk for HIV. Thus, findings from this study will help inform prevention strategies to focus on African American women who fall outside of "traditional risk groups."