Burke discusses misconceptions, inclusivity in Me Too movement


Jackie Norman/Iowa State Daily

Tarana Burke shares her experiences helping women of color who have gone through sexual abuse or exploitation in their lives. Burke told stories about what she’s been through and seen on March 26 in Stephens Auditorium. 

Caitlin Yamada

Tarana Burke said what people have been hearing about the “me too” movement is wrong and how people have characterized the movement is wrong.

Burke is the original creator of the “me too” movement which was popularized in 2017 with the hashtag “#metoo.” Burke was featured as one of the many female activists in TIME Magazine as their 2017 Person of the Year for breaking the silence surrounding sexual assault.

“We need to create our own media,” Burke said.

Burke knew that as a woman of color, she was, and is, in jeopardy of having her work erased. But a major point in the movement is the actresses that have been popularizing the movement through social media and speaking about their sexual assault experiences have not been taking credit for the creation.

“I’m glad that they got [Tarana Burke] instead of like Rose McGowan, it’s like giving credit where credit is due,” Olivia Lehman, sophomore in English and vice president of Iota Iota Iota Women’s Studies Honorary organization said.

Looking at the history of the “me too” movement, Burke said she reflects on one moment in 1996 with a girl she calls Heaven. Heaven confided in Burke about being sexually assaulted and at the time, she said she didn’t know what to say but now she wishes she would have said “this happened to me too.”

“I felt like I let her down,” Burke said. “It didn’t feel like enough and I never saw her again.”

Being raised as an activist in the Bronx, New York, Burke had many influences that molded her into the person she is now. Her parents were an average working family, but they were a “pan-African liberation family.”

She had historical knowledge about who she was as a woman of color and knowledge of her cultural legacy, but this knowledge did not give her a way to do something about the problems she saw, according to her lecture.

While in high school, she joined the 21st Century Young Leaders which was founded by veterans of previous movements who were looking for a way to pass on their legacies.

The 21st Century Young Leaders Movement gave her a space to be herself and the skills to build upon what her family gave her.

“21st Century was amazing, it literally changed the trajectory of my life,” Burke said.

Years later, Burke would work for the 21st Century Young Leaders.

At the 21st Century Young Leaders meetings, once a week they would hold a program called “sister to sister, brother to brother.”

During these conversations, they would separate the girls and the boys to give them space to talk about whatever they wanted. Every year during these conversations, she would see at least one girl share her story about sexual violence.

“Even though I was a survivor from a very young age, when I was a teenager coming up, it was obvious to me,” Burke said.

During these meetings is where she met Heaven.

Burke earned a bachelors in political science from Auburn University at Montgomery in 1996 and while there, she founded their African-American Student Alliance.

In 2003, Burke founded Just Be Inc. to provide space for women of color to understand that they have a deep worthiness just because they exist, according to Burke.

Burke said the program was born out of a need to give the young girls of color the language to describe what was happening to them and to give them space to understand they are not alone.

“Empathy came from knowing I was not the only one that it was happening to,” Burke said.

In 2014 while living in Selma, Alabama, Burke worked as a consultant on the film SELMA directed by Ava DuVernay.

A misconception that has been created around the “me too” movement is it is a corporate movement, according to Burke.

Students in attendance spoke about how the movement has not been inclusive to other identities.

Burke said this doesn’t have to be the case. She also stated that the movement could not be just a white women’s movement because it was created by a woman of color.

“We acting like we scared, this is our movement, this is a people’s movement. They don’t get to define what this movement is about,” Burke said.

Students in attendance felt overall the “me too” movement is good, but it is only a good start.

“It’s important and I’m glad it happened but I think it needs to be more inclusive still,” Ashlyn Butler, sophomore in English and president of Iota Iota Iota Women’s Studies Honorary said.

Burke feels another misconception is that the “me too” movement is made for white women in high status.

“Me saying ‘me too’ is different than Taylor Swift saying ‘me too,’” Butler said.

Burke said that there are steps that need to be taken now. The movement needs to be more about helping survivors and creating spaces for “radical community healing.”

Community problems need community solutions, according to Burke.

Burke also said society needs to work as a whole to continue the conversation and how she cannot hold onto the work and the narrative at the same time.

“It’s about survivors helping survivors. It’s about survivors looking into the faces of other survivors and saying ‘I see you, I hear you, I believe you,’” Burke said.

There are resources out there for people who want to report sexual assault and sexual violence, but there are not enough resources out there for people who want to heal, Burke says.

Burke also talked about creating sustained conversations so people can digest what is happening and so survivors can know they are not alone while also interrupting sexual violence wherever it lives.

“We have to sit with this discomfort,” Burke said. “This country created this. We need to stop moving fast. We need to unpack what is happening.”

In the first 24 hours after the “me too” hashtag went viral, 12 million people globally engaged with the hashtag, according to Burke. Burke spoke about how the media spoke about workplace harassment, but a majority of the people who participated in the hashtag were not talking about workplace sexual violence.

Burke compared this to a disease. If a disease broke out like this, people would be working to make sure it didn’t happen again.

“We should be appalled,” Burke said. “Those 12 million hashtags are people. Those are people with real lives, with real stories, with real courage. People who are saying ‘this thing happened to me too, what are you going to do about it?’”

Burke also criticized the media for not discussing the movement as a whole and instead just talking about how it was created and where it is going from here.

“There [are] tons of stories to tell. We’re not talking about the disproportionate amount of disabled people who are abused and assaulted, the queer community at all, communities of color at all, except to say their left out,” Burke said. “Be inquisitive, dig deeper.”

Burke concluded with one statement.

“I can only leave you with two words,” Burke said. “Me too.”