A survey of about 1,000 black church members in five cities found that more than one-third of them believe the AIDS virus was produced in a germ warfare laboratory as a form of genocide against blacks.
Another third said they were “unsure” whether AIDS was created to kill blacks. That left only one-third who disputed the theory.
The findings held firm even among educated individuals, said one of the survey’s authors, Sandra Crouse Quinn, a health educator at the School of Public Health at the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill.
Rumors that AIDS was created to kill blacks have circulated in black communities for years, and the belief is endorsed by some leaders.
The surveyed group was not necessarily a representative sample of America’s black population, and the findings cannot be applied to blacks as a whole. But the researchers were surprised by the prevalence of such beliefs.
“They don’t trust our public health data,” said Quinn, who is white.
The belief that AIDS is a form of genocide has serious health consequences, Quinn said: “If they believe AIDS is a form of genocide they are less likely to get tested, less likely to use condoms and less likely to participate in clinical trials.”
Although she has not surveyed whites on the genocide question, Quinn said, “I think most whites would say this sounds bizarre.”
The wide disparity in world view between blacks and whites recalls the racial chasm in the reaction to the O.J. Simpson verdict, she said.
Charles Hamilton, a political scientist at Columbia University, agreed.
“You have to put those attitudes in the context of general disaffection about the effectiveness of the system to deal with problems,” said Hamilton, who is black.
“We still see this in response to why drugs are so prevalent in the black community: ‘It’s a conspiracy. If it weren’t that, police departments would crack down on it.”’