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Update (December 22) - According to NY1, Hot 97 has announced that Cipha Sounds has been taken off the air indefinitely and has been instructed to take sensitivity training focused on the Haitian community.
Community leaders gathered near radio station Hot 97's New York headquarters Tuesday to call for the firing of popular DJ Cipha Sounds, who said on air last Friday, "The reason I'm HIV negative is because I don't mess with Haitian girls." Cipha Sounds, whose real name is Luis Diaz, has since walked back his comments. In an on-air apology, Sounds called his joke "stupid" and "tasteless" and said he was embarrassed. "I do nothing but rep for the Haitian people," he said. The apology came after the hip-hop and R&B radio station saw a backlash from listeners, including complaints on Twitter and Facebook.
Community leaders and elected officials -- including those of Haitian descent -- who gathered on Tuesday, however, said that Sounds' apology wasn't enough. "Don't get it twisted," said Manhattan Deputy Borough President Rosemonde Pierre-Louis, who is Haitian American. "This is only the beginning." New York has the largest Haitian immigrant population in the United States.
A spokesperson for the radio station could not be reached for comment Tuesday. Sounds isn't the first Hot 97 DJ to come under fire for offensive comments about people of specific ethnic groups. In 2005 a couple of staffers were fired by the station after a tsunami-relief parody containing racial slurs about Asians aired.
Those gathered at today's event, which was part protest but mostly a press conference, are hoping for the same outcome. They are calling for the radio station to be held accountable and terminate the employment of the on-air personality, who co-hosts a highly rated morning show, The Cipha/Rosenberg Experience, with Peter Rosenberg. The station should reach out to AIDS organizations to educate people about the incurable disease, protesters also said.
Sounds' critics say they won't let up until the radio station takes action. The SEIU Local 1199 union plans to hold a community forum Wednesday evening in New York City, and Councilman Mathieu Eugene, who represents Brooklyn's 40th District, plans a similar event at his office.
Barbara Fortune, a Haitian-American college student, said she felt insulted and disrespected when she heard Sounds' comment. Fortune, who describes herself as a person who has always had cultural pride, said it's why she attended the press conference. "HIV has been around for years now, and it's not something that only Haitian people have," she said. "A lot of people have it. It doesn't discriminate." It's been an especially difficult year for the Haitian community, which has been dealing with the aftermath of a massive earthquake that killed more than 200,000 Haitians and displaced more than 1 million. The Caribbean country was hit with tropical storms, a cholera outbreak and an election in November that delivered no new president but did end in charges of fraud.
"Haiti has always been kicked," said an online DJ at the press conference, who calls himself Deejay Hard Hittin' Harry. He held up a T-shirt that read "One Haitian Under God" in front of reporters' cameras at the event. "We need to be uplifting Haiti," he said. "It's, like, come on, man; [Sounds'] timing couldn't have been more bad. We're approaching the [earthquake] one-year anniversary. It was wack."
Sounds' comment also opened old wounds stemming from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's 1983 list of HIV risk groups banned from donating blood, which included Haitians, hemophiliacs, homosexuals and heroin addicts. After years of dealing with that stigma, New York Haitians led a pivotal march in 1990 to protest the unproven CDC claims.
For Antonieta Andou, Sounds' comment brought back memories of when she was 5 and attended the march with her mother. The DJ's comment "brought back feelings of disgust, feelings of degradation," said Andou, who belongs to BelTiFi, an empowerment organization for young Haitian-American women.
Andou asked, "Why is it that after all we've been through, someone like Cipha Sounds -- who does reach the Haitian community, who does reach the black community, Caucasian community, all communities in Brooklyn -- would say something that extreme?"
Josée Valcourt is a New York-based journalist.