Tarana Burke, founder of the #MeToo movement against sexual harassment and sexual assault, delivered a keynote address at the Facing Race conference on November 10. There, she put her own movement on blast for ignoring groups of women, the Detroit Free Press reported.
Speaking to the more than 3,500 people that gathered at the event in Detroit to discuss social justice, Burke challenged her movement — which she began on MySpace in 2006, though the movement gained significant notoriety from actress Alyssa Milano in 2017 — on the subject of inclusivity.
Burke said that members “better pay attention to the original survivors,” referring to young girls of color in urban and indigenous communities whose “poverty and powerlessness” made them easy targets — and must give them as much notoriety as it does to “actresses who wanted careers and producers who got away with murder.”
“The number one 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 re-frame your work to include sexual violence. That’s how we take back the narrative. Stop giving your power away to white folks.”
Burke told the crowd that when people ask her about Hollywood taking over her movement, she explains that people “can’t take sh*t that’s mine,” saying that she will not let her movement — one that has caused her to receive death threats — to be “co-opted by pretty girls” and Hollywood.
“This is not about awareness. It’s about action,” the activist said. “…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.”
She explained that she wants people to change their views on sexual assault and harassment, and encouraged people to see the #MeToo movement “everywhere” and in everything they do — from economic justice work to community health work — as opposed to seeing it as separate from every social justice effort.
“…If an issue is affecting any segment of our community, it affects our entire community, and we need a community response,” she said to a roaring applause. “It was very difficult to get folk to rally around this issue.”
Burke told the crowd about the numerous excuses she heard from community leaders for not supporting the movement, saying her “personal favorite” was those who considered it social work, not social justice. The most vulnerable victims of sexual violence are facing silence from their communities, she explained — especially indigenous or Native American women, whom Burke deemed “the group we talk about the least.”
The seeds for the #metooMVMT were planted more than 20 years ago. The words were crystalized over a decade ago. A year ago the world finally understood their power. And we'll never be the same. #metoo pic.twitter.com/Tni8K8OFf8— Me Too (@MeTooMVMT) October 15, 2018
Despite facing extreme criticism and threats, Burke said that she is not going to stop fighting, because she wants her movement to be a force that is all-inclusive to survivors, and one which enlists aid from those fighting for any and all social issues.