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Beyond the Down Low: Sex, Lies, and Denial in Black America.

Beyond the Down Low: Sex, Lies, and Denial in Black America by Keith Boykin, Foreword by E. Lynn Harris, Carroll & Graf, February 2005 $25, ISBN 0-786-71434-4

Boykin, who worked as a top aide to President Bill Clinton, is a lawyer-turned-respected expert and activist on sex and on racial matters; and here he gives us a documented history of the term "down low."

It began as heterosexuals cheating on each other, and the evolution of the definition as it applies to black men who sleep with other men, but don't say they're gay. He shows us how anger about the spread of HIV and AIDS to "straight" women is wrongfully misdirected to men on the down low. The book makes it plain: women, who acquire HIV and/or AIDS from any man, from consensual sex, got it because they failed to have safe sex and did not protect themselves.

"To the extent we can point our fingers at someone else, we implicitly excuse ourselves from responsibility," Boykin says.

Boykin describes "down low detectives" as women who spy on their husbands to ascertain if they are "on the down low." Sternly, yet respectfully, Boykin urges women against this. He contends that honesty is the best approach for all partners in relationships: male/female, male/male or female/female. Supported by credibly researched statistics and facts, he shows how the hysteria over the down low and the misinformation fed to women--by a media more set on sensation and headlines than substance and fact--has created a "battle of the sexes" that has led to the demonizing of black men who are gay, and the suspicion of those who are not.

What makes Boykin's book so interesting, (despite the multitude of laborious but necessary statistics, from study after study) is that he interweaves much of his personal life in the story.

Boykin even takes on the black church for its inaction in the war on AIDS. But while doing so, he does provide real ideas for the church so it can "practice what it preaches" about love and caring for all God's children-even the gay children. He poignantly tells us to use religion as a "tool for love, not a weapon of hate."

In the final chapter, Boykin says, "Courage is not the absence of fear, but the willingness to act in spite of tear." Considering the volatile topic that the down low has become, and all the heat from black women, the black church, Democrats and Republicans alike, Boykin is very courageous to have written this timely and much-needed work.

Rick Blalock is a two-time Emmy-winning journalist in Atlanta and the coauthor of Remembering Diana: The People's Tribute to Their Princess (Milligan Books, 1998) and the forthcoming The Forgotten Warriors: Those Who Never Made It Home From Iraq.
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Author:Blalock, Rick
Publication:Black Issues Book Review
Article Type:Book Review
Date:May 1, 2005
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