Michael Johnson Feature Explores The Danger of HIV Scapegoating

Screenshot 2014-07-10 15.19.46Michael Johnson made international headlines earlier this year after being arrested for allegedly engaging in bareback sex with a number of partners and surreptitiously recording the encounters. Johnson, a 22 year old college student from Missouri, is HIV positive and is being accused of having withheld that information from his partners, a felony in Missouri.

Initial coverage of Johnson’s arrest focused heavily on the story of a predatory, HIV-positive man knowingly endangering the lives of unwitting men, but Buzzfeed’s lengthy dive into Johnson’s life and the circumstances surrounding his arrest paint a complex picture of racial politics, poz phobia, and the consequences of entire community’s sex-negativity.

Writes Steven Thrasher:

"Indeed, the community around Johnson — his sexual partners, many of his fellow students, and his university — turned a blind eye to HIV until it had the perfect scapegoat: a gay, hypersexual, black wrestler with learning disabilities who went by the nickname Tiger Mandingo."

Johnson, who has been diagnosed as dyslexia and is profoundly illiterate, was a student at Lindenwood University with a help of a wrestling scholarship. For Johnson, writes Thrasher, his body was both a vehicle to academic opportunity and a means for him to explore Missouri’s ball culture, competing in a number of pageants.


From his experiences wrestling and walking Johnson would come adopt a constructed identity, Tiger Mandingo, that in many ways lies at the heart of his story. Tiger Mandingo, a combined reference to a lucky t-shirt and the sex of pervasive cultural stereotypes concerning black male sexuality, came to be the monicker Johnson used across a number of his social media presences. Its ubiquitousness, Thrasher explains, very much influenced the narrative that followed Johnson’s arrest.

"[N]o one presents themselves exactly the same way on LinkedIn as they might on Grindr or Facebook. But there is perhaps no better word than “Mandingo” to encapsulate how black male sexuality, especially regarding interracial sex, has historically been criminal (and always been suspect) in America.

There’s a racial dynamic to who is prosecuted for exposing others to the virus and how they are sentenced, research shows. A study published in the journal AIDS and Behaviorlooked at 10 years of HIV prosecutions in Nashville. It found that “Persons who were black were more likely to be convicted of criminal HIV exposure related to a sexual interaction than persons who were white,” and that “individuals who were black received significantly longer sentences than those who were white.”

Rather than targeting the virtually non-existent HIV prevention programs in place at Lindenwood, the St. Charles Police Department's gross misconduct in handling the case, Thrasher explains, Johnson’s community seems concerned solely with demonizing him for his actions.

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  1. Societal ills that perpetuate these circumstances do not negate the lack of personal responsibility for this person's behavior. And they certainly do not forgive it. This is sick and anyone who supports it should be ashamed of themselves. The battle waged to get people to be responsible for knowing and being open and honest about their status is difficult enough without excusing those that hide it and knowingly deceive others about it. His partners should take the blame as well. But no one should excuse this behavior one bit.

    Posted by: Logan | Jul 10, 2014 9:10:17 PM

  2. Exactly what Eric and Logan so thoughtfully said. Give us a break.

    Posted by: Sergio | Jul 10, 2014 9:16:10 PM

  3. It seems he is guilty of having told someone his status afterwards. If he hadn't told anyone at all, he wouldn't be in the news. The law discourages disclosing HIV status at anytime, before or after sex.
    Should he go to jail for having disclosed it afterwards, as opposed to not at all ?

    The quote in the article are interesting - the suing party stated, about other men they had unprotected sex with “I knew they were clean,” sometimes just “by looking at them.” . It shows a lot of ignorance.

    Other information is missing from the article. Did Johnson actually infect anyone else with HIV, or merely expose them to HIV ?

    Was he on HIV treatment ? If so, it may not have been possible for him to transmit it.

    Posted by: Julien Pierre | Jul 10, 2014 9:41:15 PM

  4. He should be taken to the gallows.

    Posted by: Carmelo | Jul 10, 2014 9:50:09 PM

  5. He should be taken to the gallows.

    Posted by: Carmelo | Jul 10, 2014 9:50:10 PM

  6. He wasn't having unprotected sex. He was engaged in a commentary on sexual and racial stereotypes. There's a big difference. Admittedly, a hard-to-tell difference.

    Posted by: bravo | Jul 10, 2014 9:52:27 PM

  7. If he took someone home, waited for them to fall asleep, gathered some of his blood in a syringe and injected the person with it, would he be any less culpable? I mean, he's dyslexic, and there's no hiv prevention program! And he's a wrestler! On a scholarship! And dyslexic!

    Posted by: Carmelo | Jul 10, 2014 9:54:11 PM

  8. Bulls**t about everything except his irresponsible and deceitful behaviou which have put other lives at risk.
    He's trash. Throw him out.

    Posted by: UFFDA | Jul 10, 2014 10:08:15 PM

  9. The Buzzfeed article is a load of crap. Most of all it's an insult to black men - Michael Sam is one - who've overcome all the same racial stereotypes, not used them as an excuse, and made a great life for themselves.

    Posted by: jason MacBride | Jul 10, 2014 10:11:38 PM

  10. Upon further inspection, he does look like one of those hoodrats you see and know you should stay away from because you know they have more HIC than a Berlin bathhouse. Still, dyslexia is no excuse. Also, there's no excuse for being illiterate. And that school should lose accreditation for allowing an imbecile like this to matriculate.

    Posted by: Carmelo | Jul 10, 2014 10:15:25 PM

  11. *HIV. What's HIC?

    Posted by: Carmelo | Jul 10, 2014 10:16:01 PM

  12. *HIV. What's HIC?

    Posted by: Carmelo | Jul 10, 2014 10:16:01 PM

  13. How dare anyone try to hold him responsible! He's gay, has a learning disability, picked a corny nickname, loved to have sex, and might have been subject to anti-miscegenation laws had he been born 50 years earlier and were straight. Therefore, he couldn't possibly know right from wrong, and must be treated as if he is profoundly retarded with an IQ of 30, even though he's a university student. Isn't that obvious?

    Posted by: Merv | Jul 10, 2014 10:19:41 PM

  14. Is Charles Pulliam-Moore a pen name for Daniel Venereal? This article seems a lot like his racist victim blaming bs.

    Posted by: me | Jul 10, 2014 10:38:25 PM

  15. This Buzzfeed article is really disturbing -- it's basically an attempt to deflect responsibility from someone who, regardless of the circumstances, did a really horrible thing. The bottom line is that there's absolutely no excuse for knowingly exposing someone to HIV, period.

    Posted by: D.B. | Jul 10, 2014 10:38:35 PM

  16. Articles like this make me despair: is it really possible that some in the gay community are still diddling with b.s. terms like "sex-negativity" to make excuses for the criminal recklessness of a shameful minority among us?
    This is AIDSspeak that Randy Shilts denounced in the '80s. We're still there.

    Posted by: Pandion | Jul 10, 2014 10:44:08 PM

  17. have sex with someone you hardly know...bareback...and just accept that he or she or whatever says their clean...

    you are guilty too...Grow up ppl...

    Posted by: Me | Jul 10, 2014 10:49:54 PM

  18. I assume that everyone that I have sex with is HIV-Positive. Don't all of you do the same? I ask before we bang, but I just assume that they are lying or don't know if they claim to be negative.

    I don't think this kid is guilty of anything, especially if he didn't lie to his partners. In fact it sounds like he told the truth when asked.

    Posted by: Jason Young | Jul 10, 2014 10:51:07 PM

  19. Thank you for injecting some sanity into this discussion, Jason Young and Me. The person who disgusts me is the white (and I am white so I'm only using the label to identify him) adult who confessed having bareback sex with other strangers and who, after meeting Mr. Johnson on a social app site, consented to bareback sex because of the size of Mr. Johnson's d*ck and who then had the gall to send another person to prison because he wasn't willing to take responsibility for the choices he had made as an adult. I don't blame the white guy for having bareback sex with strangers. If he wants to do so, it's his life and he can make that choice. I blame him for not being willing to take responsibility for the consequences of his choices.

    I don't care whether Mr. Johnson said he was "clean" or not. He doesn't belong in a jail.

    Some of you people are disgusting.

    Posted by: Really? | Jul 10, 2014 11:10:32 PM

  20. @ "Really?" : if the facts are what the article says, he's committed a felony and will quite likely end up in jail. You can argue that it is a bad law, but that is a different issue.

    You can claim that his partners made very bad decisions, but the law does not consider the stupidity of one's sex partners. Maybe it should, but it doesn't. You know how slovenly these acts are drawn.

    His being dyslexic is a non-issue, unless, when diagnosed as HIV+, they handed him a writeup and said, "off you go," without discussing it with him and making sure he understood how to avoid infecting others.

    My advise on how to stay healthy if you are sexually active: don't just serosort and always use a condom, but make sure your partner is as compulsive about always using a condom, and follows the same policy you do. The idea is to maximize the number of condoms between you and anyone who might be infected but doesn't know it: if A has sex with B who has sex with C who has sex with D, and D is infected, you want to have three condoms between you and D.

    Posted by: Bill | Jul 10, 2014 11:55:47 PM

  21. WTF? IF you have un-protected (condom-less) sex you are at risk to catch HIV. You can't "tell" by looking at someone. If you ask, you can't be sure they either KNOW their status or are really telling the truth.

    It's YOUR responsibility, not anyone else's, BECAUSE NO ONE IS GOING TO DO IT FOR YOU.

    Particularly not a 22 year old sex object who calls himself "Tiger Mandingo"!

    Posted by: Caliban | Jul 10, 2014 11:58:22 PM

  22. Wow. The vitriol around this article is staggering. No sane person would negate his personal responsibility. However no reasonable person would ignore the culture that helps shape him (and others). The knee-jerk reaction of some to this article causes me to question how ubiquitous some of the article's conclusions actually may be. We are pretty damn sure he is guilty. But maybe we are also so quick to rip this article to pieces because the racism, sex-obsessed, body issues that plague some of the gay community hits too close to home.

    Posted by: JamesinMA | Jul 10, 2014 11:58:30 PM


    Posted by: Shannon | Jul 11, 2014 12:06:19 AM

  24. I have no sympathy for anybody who is promiscuous or knowingly spreads an STD. I don't care whether you are gay or shmay.

    Posted by: jason | Jul 11, 2014 12:29:42 AM

  25. Oh, and I am getting sick of the gay media playing the victim-card for every single promiscuous male who spreads an STD to another male. Time to call off the propaganda, guys. The propaganda is so transparent.

    Posted by: jason | Jul 11, 2014 12:31:06 AM

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