She didn’t look like Alyssa Milano.
But maybe that’s because Tarana Burke, founder of the #MeToo movement that has led to complaints and indictments against dozens of men — and some women — for sexual harassment and assault, is a big, bold, fierce, powerful, outspoken black woman, who is finally being seen.
And in a keynote address at the Facing Race conference that brought more than 3,500 people to Detroit to discuss social justice, Burke brought down the house, defiantly challenging the movement she started a decade before movie producer Harvey Weinstein was outed for his behavior, saying that it better pay attention to the original survivors.
Those are the young black and brown girls in urban and indigenous communities where she has worked since age 14, women whose poverty and powerlessness made them easy prey.
“The No. 1 thing I hear from folks is that the #MeToo movement has forgotten us,” she said of black, Hispanic and Native American women. “Every day, we hear some version of that. But this is what I’m here to tell you: The #MeToo movement is not defined by what the media has told you. We are the movement, and so I need you to not opt out of the #Metoo movement. … I need you to reframe your work to include sexual violence. That’s how we take back the narrative. Stop giving your power away to white folks.”
Burke said she will not let her movement that she founded in 2006 and that has resulted in her getting death threats and having to challenge black leaders to support it, be co-opted by pretty girls and Hollywood.
“This is not about awareness. It’s about action,” the 45-year-old activist said at Detroit’s convention center. “…With #Metoo being as big and loud as it is, we don’t need more awareness, This is about what happens after the hashtag, after the hoopla. This is about the work.”
Burke’s comments comes a year after her #MeToo movement, which she founded in 2006, became a global sensation when Milano used Burke’s #MeToo hashtag on social media to draw attention to widespread sexual harassment and rape. Some began crediting Milano, an actress and activist, with founding the movement.
Burke said last Saturday that she wants people to change the way they view sexual assault and harassment, to stop working in silos as if sexual misconduct isn’t a part of every social justice effort.
She recalled trying to get community attention focused on helping junior high girls whose stories fueled her work.
“I’m at the junior high school and I have sixth, seventh and eighth grade girls and more than half of these girls’ lives have been touched by sexual violence,” she said. “And what we heard back was they need more guidance counselors.
“We heard every manner of excuse ‘It’s really about white supremacy because our folks don’t have a history of that kind of thing back in Africa’ or ‘the real issue isn’t sexual violence, it’s false accusations against black men’ or my personal favorite ‘This is not a social justice issue; this is a social work issue.’ ”
She cited statistic after statistic about women who aren’t famous but attacked because of their gender identity or economic powerlessness. But the worst, she said, was the fate of indigenous and Native American women “the group we talk about the least,” she said.
She cited a Justice Department study that found that an estimated one in three Native American women will be assaulted in their lifetimes, that 92 percent of Native American girls reported having been forced to have sex against their will — and that nine of 10 Native American women and girls who survived rape or sexual assault were attacked by assailants of a different color, most of them white.
“That’s definitely a racial justice issue,” she said. “And, at the end of the day, it’s a human rights issue.”
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