12 HOUSTON VOICE / AUGUST 16, 1996
Immunity to HIV: 'Great White Hope' for Whites?
By Patricia Nell Warren
As headlines blare the big news about a
mutant gene for HIV immunity, I am not too
surprised. My years in agriculture and
livestock breeding taught me that disease often spurs a living organism to
mutate immunity. Some Dutch elms are
immune to elm disease. Some food plants
are bred to resist disease. Some animals
inherit an immunity—to feline leukemia virus, for example. Why should
humans be different?
What's worrisome about this news is that
a racial label might be slapped on the
mutant CCR5 gene. According to the Los
Angeles Times, one researcher. Dr.
Nathan R. Landau, states that around 1 out
of 100 Western European whites are
genetically resistant to HIV infection.
By contrast, the Times said, both ofthe
research teams announcing the news are
stating that not one among several hundred Africans and Asians had the gene.
But hold your horses. What is a "white"?
Americans are taught to label themselves racially. Every day, we are presented with forms where we must check the
right box for Caucasian, Native American, African American, Asian. Mexican-American, Pacific Islander, or
Other. Many of us are "other"—-meaning
racially mixed. Yet this significant fact
often gets blurred. Why? Because, in so
many cultures, the mixed—blood is an
outcast. Since the days of slavery and
tribal wars, many U.S. families have
agonized at "passing for white." Some
families stopped at nothing, including
altering birth certificates, so they
could sweep that Asian or native American grannie, or lhat bunch of "high yellow" cousins, under the rug.
So it is one thing to identify as "white,"
"black," etc. for survival reasons. It is
also natural to identify as black or
native American when the moment comes
to reclaim pride in one's brown skin. But
when it comes to scientific scrutiny of
the actual millions of genes that are part of
one's DNA, labels don't cut it. Take me, for
example. I could pass for "white"—fair
skin, blue-grey eyes, brown hair. But my
native American blood is visible to
anybody who looks hard. One many-
time s-greatgrandmother of mine,
Keziah, no last name recorded, who married a German Quaker in the early 1800s,
was evidently an escaped slave. Yet nothing in my outward appearance hints at
Keziah's presence in my family tree.
Many Americans have a similar background. Some who identify as "black"
actually have strong native American
blood, going back to intermarriage in
early days. Some self-identified Latinos are visibly part African Ameri-
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can. As for enrolled members of U.S.
tribes, few are actually "pure." The rest
are mixed-bloods, no matter how
intensely they may feel otherwise.
People usually "identify" on what
they see in the mirror—skin color, hair
texture, build, etc. Geneticists refer to
this as phenotype—inherited characteristics that are visible, or have a discernible result, as in inherited disease
like hemophilia. But there is also genotype—the sum total of our DNA, which
includes any recessive characteristics that we carry, but do not visibly
express. If an ovum or sperm happens to
carry a copy of that hidden gene, it will be
quietly passed to the next generation.
A single copy of a mutant or recessive
gene can be wafted forward for 15 or 20
generations, before its carrier finally
mates with another human who happens to
have the same characteristic. Then,
and only then, will it spring to view—as in
hair color, or inherited disability, or
The CCR5 figures are supposedly based
on over 1400 Western European
"whites." Europeans are mixed too!
Since Roman limes, southern Europe was
swept by trade, immigration and conquest from North Africa. More recent
invasions of genes came from central
Asian peoples—Turks, Magyars, Mongols. All these ethnic hues produced a
genetic rainbow that gave Hitler nightmares. Since 1960, the genetic swamping
of Europe has continued unabated as
immigrant workers of every ethnicity
have flocked there. Indeed, this tiny,
overcrowded continent is now boiling
with its own brand of anti—immigrant^B
feeling. Europe lily-white? Hardly.
So...what is behind the "white" pheno-
types in these new studies? Who are their
parents? Great-great grandparents?
It's easy to see attitude coming, from
white supremacists who will seize this
research as their "great white hope"—
what they view as more "proof" of Aryan
superiority. Others, I'm sure, will
hope that researchers are already taking
a closer look at their subjects' family
trees. Maybe, when the final tally is in,
they'll find lhat immunity to HIV is influenced by another factor besides race.
So sorry, but this mixed-blood doesn't buy A
the "white" thing.
Patricia Nell Warren is author of "The
Front Runner" and other bestselllng
books, as well as a widely published commentator. Her publisher is Wildcat
Copyright (c) 1996 by Patricia Nell
Warren. All Rights Reserved.
Genetic Resistance to HIV
BY DEBORAH BELL
Two sets of researchers have found what
appears to be a HIV resistant gene.
Described as being present in the genetic
makeup of one in every hundred "Whites."
Researchers identified a so-called co-
factor called CCR5, that is crucial to-the
infection of human ceils by HIV earlier this
summer it was reported in the Los Angeles
The finding offers ihe possibility of
developing an effective way to block the
spread of the virus and explains why some
individuals who have had repeated exposure do not develop the disease.
More than 1400 people were studied by iwo
teams working in New York and Pennsylvania independently of one another.
They have found that cells from the individuals who receive a copy ofthe defective
CCR5 gene from each of their parents are
completely resistant to HIV infection.
The studies showed thai those who received
a defective copy of the gene from only one
parent, appear to be more resistant to
infection, bui are not completely immune.
This was reported'as representing about
20% of the White population in Cell and
Because this was found in fair skinned men.
who were described as of European
descent, the reports use the term "While."
This terminology has been questioned by
The defective gene has no apparent
adverse effects leading researchers to
believe that they may be able to develop a
drug that will block the CCR5 receptor
which could slow the infection rate ofthe.
PWA Coalition Listed in 1996 POZ
Givers Guide t
The People with AIDS Coalition is the
only Houston AIDS service organization to be listed for the second year in a row in
the POZ Givers Guide. POZ is a monthly
nationally distributed magazine dedicated to health, hope and providing HIV
education. The Givers Guide looks into
the financial health of 70 AIDS service
organizations across the country. The
guide provides information on how a
group raises money and how il spends it
before it's given.
The guide includes factual information as
well as subjective evaluation and comments. It assigned grades for its inaugural
1995 survey. POZ polled seven executive
directors and charitable-funding
experts in order to establish its grading
criteria. POZ used the same criteria to
assign grades this year. The guide assigns
grades for diversity in funding sources,
use of money, cash reserve and representation on its Board of Directors.
The coalition, which received higher
grades in this survey when compared with
the 1995 survey was noted for offering
support groups and psychosocial support, direct living support, such as case
management services and publishing
significant original treatment information.
Executive Board President, Ray West
commenied, "I am quite proud of the 1996
POZ survey results. We continually
strive to improve our current programs
while adapting to the changing needs of our
friends in Ihe HIV/AIDS community.
These clearly reflect our dedication and
commitment to providing people living with HIV/AIDS empowered lives in
comparison with other HIV/AIDS service organizations nationwide."
The People with AIDS Coalition Houston,* ,
Inc. was founded in 1986 as an organiza-^
tion of. by. and for people infected by HIV/
AIDS. Three quarters of the Coalition's
volunteers are people living with HIV/
PWACH is a 501(c)(3) organization with
offices are located ai 3400 Montrose Blvd.
#106, Houston, TX 77006 or call 713/522-