Haitian community leaders, union and New York elected officials gathered in Manhattan outside of the Hudson St. studios of popular urban hip-hop radio HOT 97 to voice outrage at the prejudice-filled remarks by Morning Show personality Cipha Sounds (Luis Diaz). His crude one-liner, a seeming throwback to decades past, specifically targeted and disparaged Haitian women.
The remark is a reminder when in 1983, Haitians were unscientifically designated as an AIDS high-risk group (4H’s, Haitians, Hemophiliacs, Homosexuals, and Heroin addicts), causing social stigma in the Haitian community for years. Twenty-seven years have passed, or have they?
Sounds’ reaction with an apology, calling it a “stupid joke” wasn’t sufficient for the community.
Among those outside the studios, Daphne Leroy, board member of the Haitian Roundtable, said, “I came to demonstrate as a united coalition with community leaders against the derogatory remarks made by Cipha Sounds insinuating that Haitian women cause HIV AIDS.”
Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer denounced Sounds’ comments saying, “It is appalling in this day and age that someone thinks they can malign an entire community with such an ignorant and hurtful comment.”
“There is a line between joking and incendiary comments,” said City Councilman Jumaane Williams. “Unfortunately, Cipha Sounds has crossed that line.”
Deputy Brooklyn Borough President Yvonne Graham read remarks from B.P. Marty Markowitz, “ (They) further perpetuate the myths about HIV/AIDS. Let’s get out the real facts about HIV/AIDS and risks of transmission, especially among the younger listeners of stations such as Hot 97, so that we can keep New Yorkers safe and work to eradicate HIV/AIDS once and for all.”
HOT 97 announced on Dec. 21 that DJ Cipha Sounds has been suspended indefinitely and Sounds is to undertake sensitivity training, specifically learning of the challenges the Haitian community has faced in terms of the HIV epidemic.
HOT 97 did not address issues of sexism sensitivity training.
One community leader at the press conference was Carine Jocelyn, executive director of Diaspora Community Services, a Brooklyn-based agency that works with people with AIDS who reflect the diversity of Brooklynites of color—African-Americans, Caribbeans, Latinos, men and women, from ages 25 to 70.
She told the assembled, “The Haitian community walked across the Brooklyn Bridge almost 20 years ago to say ‘You are not putting this label on us’. Today, we say, HOT 97, it is unacceptable and disgraceful. We also want to see them (HOT 97) use this opportunity to launch a HIV prevention campaign. Take this opportunity, HOT 97, to make these things right!”
Following the press conference she said, “This is sad. This is Christmas and a time of good will and we hope rebirth. To have to deal with this kind of comment that is sexist and racist. His (Sounds’) power as a media person to spew hatred and prejudice is untrue. This takes us back.”
Jocelyn is also a board member of the NYAIDS Coalition (a statewide policy body). Diaspora Community Services also offers health education, adolescent pregnancy prevention program, English as a second language, and a community health center in Port-au-Prince.
A community meeting at 1199 was held Dec. 22. Sentiments expressed were that suspension was not enough, this controversy is broader than just the Haitian community and that HOT 97 should use the power of radio in the right way and launch an HIV prevention program in the community.