How is the Media focusing #MeToo?It is important to say beyond anything else, I understand fully that sexual assault does not see race nor gender nor any social construct. It is also important to share I recognize that this discussion of sexual assault and abuse of power is both necessary and pertinent to the healing of too many and the growth in compassion for many more.
Now allow me a humble moment.
Last week, a well-read news source released a breaking news article that focused on Harvey Weinstein turning himself into the New York City Police on cases of rape and sexual harassment. The summary line below stated that the sexual harassment accusations against Weinstein have been the spark of the Me Too movement.
I immediately felt myself heat up, laser-focused on the phrasing of this line that was both true and inaccurate at the same time. Here it was again, I thought, a black woman’s creation being moved away from her and those it was originally meant to help. Yet, knowing that headlines are meant to cause a reaction, I pinned mine from escalating and read the entire article. I read this article through to the end and never once was the founder of Me Too, Tarana Burke mentioned.
Then I reflected.
Here was what I know to have happened throughout history, happening in real time in front of me: a black woman, Tarana Burke, was brave enough to create #MeToo as a campaign under her organization, Just Be Inc. Now it seems, that slowly the conversation was moving beyond her. Some might find this preemptive but I can only argue the opposite, with history as my proof.
Time and time again, black women have supported our own and everyone else's with very few returning the favor. By now, Malcolm X should be ringing in your ears -- that the most disrespected, unprotected and neglected person in America is the black woman. As a campaign started for young black women, by a black woman, we would be remiss to purposefully overlook this reality.
"Sexual violence does not see race or class but the response to it does."
Started in 2006 as a campaign, many years prior to Harvey Weinstein’s horror show being brought to light, Just Be Inc. was created to support young women of color in the South, and then expanded to encompass and bolster all black and brown women. Since the campaign was made into a social media hashtag, and spotlit by Alyssa Milano, #MeToo has escalated as a movement for many women and men to come forth about sexual abuse, maltreatment, harassment, and rape. The levels of transparency and reclaiming of agency has shaken the US all the way to the highest levels of government.
This is all impressive and highly necessary, yet I cannot help but notice the voices that are still being spoken over and unacknowledged. Tarana Burke has made it clear in multiple interviews that she is happy for the elevated platform that celebrities have created for Me Too, and she is right- it is a cause the needs and deserves the magnitude of recognition it has seen. However, it does not mean that we should not keep a keen eye to how the discussion evolves. As Tarana has also stated, “sexual violence does not see race or class but the response to it does.” Me Too, for those who share their experiences publicly or realize them silently, is not a hashtag but a reality and sexual violence is a reality that is consistently overlooked in communities of black women and men.
Can we have it both ways?
So how does it work? How can we have a platform that is both widespread and targeted at the same time? How can we support the movement on the macro and celebrity level while also leveraging that support to focus on those the original campaign was made for? How do we make sure that black women, are not yet again the loudest supporters with the most muted support?
The fact remains, that Tarana has been doing this work prior to the widespread Me Too movement and is determined to continue it long after the viral hashtag. That does not, however, give us the right to abate our own focus and support away from our community, even if the news does.
In the midst of all the high-profile names of the accused, there are even more survivors in our communities that may never see any form of political justice. That is a hard pill to swallow. But what is paramount and accessible for survivors, as Tarana Burke mentioned in an interview, is healing through self-confidence, acknowledgment of self-worth, and a replenishment of self-esteem. Many can be misguided to assume that since the terms aforementioned begin with “self” they do not require the backing of those nearest and dearest to us. A community raises a community, and community should assist in rebuilding their community as well.
#MeToo was a campaign in support of Just Be Inc. So as the simplest form of camaraderie, respect and honor, we should and very well can allow ourselves and those around us their right and privilege to live freely without fear of abuse or the possible (and sometimes probable) shame that comes after being abused. Do use the hashtag but do not hide behind it. Long after the Me Too hashtag fades (which I hope is a long time from now), and the media no longer finds interest, we will still need to help our own heal.