Commentary Strange Fruit

In an interview with Today’s Matt Lauer, Charlie Sheen revealed earlier this week that he’s HIV positive. But in the days leading up to that, media outlets were already reporting his status. And according to Sheen, other people in his life had been blackmailing him for years to keep his secret.

The headlines feel like they were ripped from the early days of the AIDS crisis:

Similar covers, thirty years apart.National Enquirer

Similar covers, 30 years apart.

To make some sense out of the way people are talking about HIV in the wake of Sheen’s announcement, we turned to health policy analyst and friend of the show Preston Mitchum.

Mitchum says Sheen’s revelation has sparked reckless national conversation about the disease, including shaming and stigma. He says drawing parallels between illness and a behavior leads to playing respectability politics (the idea that behaving in a certain way can protect someone from systemic injustices).

“There is no person who deserves HIV,” Mitchum says. “Not sex workers, not someone who’s only had sex once, not someone who’s had sex with 500 people, not drug users. No one deserves HIV.”

Sheen’s statement also included a hefty dose of shame for sex workers, calling them “unsavory and insipid types.” Mitchum said this is problematic, too, because it operates under the stereotype that sex workers all have HIV and never practice safe sex.

“We can criticize Charlie Sheen’s statements blaming sex workers, and also critique people who are shaming Charlie Sheen for sleeping with sex workers,” Mitchum says.

Later in the show, we learn about an upcoming book that will document an important part of black history in Louisville. The Louisville Story Program has been compiling photos, stories and oral histories for its upcoming book, “I Said Bang! A History of the Dirt Bowl.”

Darcy Thompson, the program’s director, joins us to talk about the project. And West Louisville native Ravon Churchill, featured in the book, talks about growing up attending the Dirt Bowl — an annual amateur basketball tournament in Shawnee Park.

“It’s kind of like a rite of passage for people in the community,” he says. “I went and saw my father play. My son went and saw me play. I took my grandson to see other people play.”

Books are available for pre-order here.

Laura is the producer of Strange Fruit, a weekly talk show focusing on race and gender, and oversees WFPL's Curious Louisville project.