Du Bois Review: Social Science Research on Race

Active Participants: Resistance to Racism


Black Women, Neighborhood HIV/AIDS Risk, and Institutional Buffers1

Celeste Watkins-Hayesa1 c1, Courtney J. Pattersona2 and Amanda R. Armoura3

a1 Departments of Sociology and African American Studies and Institute for Policy Research, Northwestern University

a2 Department of African American Studies, Northwestern University

a3 Department of Psychology, Yale University


This article posits that the response to the AIDS epidemic among Blacks in the United States must acknowledge structural and institutional realities that render poor Black urban neighborhoods particularly vulnerable to high HIV infection rates. The controversial film Precious: Based on the Novel Push by Sapphire, inspires our analysis, revealing the spatial context of HIV risk and suggesting new potential avenues through which to address the epidemic at the neighborhood level. In the film, we find opportunities for institutions to serve as intermediaries among neighborhoods, families, and individuals, not only to reduce the transmission of HIV, but also to improve health management for HIV-positive inner-city residents. The film points to three potential location-based sites of intervention: (1) mental health services that treat childhood sexual trauma; (2) HIV-related health messaging and services within urban street-level bureaucracies; and (3) neighborhood access to food and dietary resources that mitigate HIV disease progression.

(Online publication April 15 2011)


  • Black Women;
  • Poverty;
  • Sexual Abuse;
  • Food Access and Usage;
  • Neighborhoods


c1 Celeste Watkins-Hayes, Departments of Sociology and African American Studies, Northwestern University, 1860 Campus Drive, Crowe 5-128 Evanston, IL 60208. E-mail: c-watkins@northwestern.edu

Celeste Watkins-Hayes is Associate Professor of Sociology and African American Studies at Northwestern University and Faculty Fellow at the Institute for Policy Research. Her research interests include urban poverty; social policy; HIV/AIDS; non-profit and government organizations; and race, class, and gender. Her first book, The New Welfare Bureaucrats: Entanglements of Race, Class, and Policy Reform (2009), was a Finalist for the 2009 C. Wright Mills Book Award. Dr. Watkins-Hayes is also Principal Investigator of the Health, Hardship, and Renewal Study, which explores the economic and social survival strategies of women living with HIV/AIDS in the Chicago area (www.hhrstrategies.org). The project is funded by a Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Health Investigator Award and a National Science Foundation Early CAREER Award. She holds a PhD and MA in Sociology from Harvard University and a BA from Spelman College.

Courtney J. Patterson is a PhD candidate in the Department of African American Studies at Northwestern University. She holds a BA from the University of Pennsylvania in Afro-American Studies with an African Studies minor. Her current research interests include race, class, and gender; social inequality; fat studies; Black theater and drama; and Black women's histories and sociocultural realities.

Amanda R. Armour is a PhD candidate in Social Psychology at Yale University. After completing her undergraduate studies at Northwestern University, where she concentrated in Psychology and Biology, she worked under Dr. Celeste Watkins-Hayes coordinating Health, Hardship, and Renewal: A Research Study of Women Living with HIV/AIDS, and further developed her interests in the intersectionality of ethnicity, identity, and health. Her current research interests include ethnic and national identity, perception of self, and systematic justification in the context of social and political policy.


1 The authors thank Michelle Wright, Mary Pattillo, and anonymous reviewers for their comments and criticisms.