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Millions of people have shared personal stories of sexual assault and harassment using the hashtag #MeToo. Now the woman behind the original Me Too campaign, created more than a decade ago, wants to make sure marginalized voices aren't lost in the conversation. Tarana Burke, the founder of the movement, joins Hari Sreenivasan to discuss the viral explosion of her message and what comes next.
But first, in recent weeks, millions of people have taken to social media to share their personal stories of sexual assault and harassment, using the hashtag #MeToo.
The woman behind the original MeToo campaign wants to make sure marginalized voices aren't lost in the current conversation.
Tarana Burke created Just Be Inc. more than a decade ago. It's a nonprofit focused on giving resources and support to young women of color grappling with sexual trauma and harassment.
Tarana Burke, welcome.
First, why did you start this 10 years ago? What was behind it?
Well, I'm a survivor of sexual violence, and I was working with young women who were disclosing their experiences with sexual violence.
And my friend and I started an organization called Just Be Inc. to work with young girls, and we realized we needed to shift and start dealing with the issue of sexual violence in the community we were in.
Was there a particular case that spoke to you?
Well, there were several cases.
But, you know, some years before we started this work, there was a young woman who had come to me with her story at a time in my life when I really wasn't equipped to handle it. And I felt a real debt to her and wanting to do some work that would cover the work that I didn't do at that time.
And that you didn't say me too to her at that time.
And so this is an offshoot of that.
So, when you see this conversation, when you saw this conversation go national, go viral in this way, what came to mind?
Well, at first, I wondered how our work would be uplifted in that moment, right?
And I realized that I needed to insert myself in the conversation for a few reasons, one, to make sure that the marginalized voices I represent weren't erased, but also to provide people some context for the use of MeToo. We have a theory called empowerment through empathy, which is the basis for how we do the work.
And I felt like it was necessary to ground the conversation in a body of work.
You have said before that sexual violence doesn't see race or class, but the response to it does. Tell me what that means.
That means that when we see things like Harvey Weinstein having dozens and dozens of accusers, and the only person he responds to is Lupita Nyong'o and — the black women, that means something.
It also means that, when you have all of these powerful, rich, wealthy men who are white and attacking or are victimizing white women, it gets all of this attention, but you have somebody like R. Kelly, who has been a known sexual predator for two decades, but his victims are all black girls.
Why do you think that disparity exists?
Well, I think it's rooted in the oppression that we,that people of color face in this country.
I also think it's rooted in the way we're socialized to think about black girls and women of color, right? We're socialized to not believe black women. We're socialized to believe that we are fast and sexually promiscuous and things of that nature.
And so, when people look at R. Kelly's victims, they don't see girls, little children. They see women.
So, what comes next in this conversation? How do you take it from a hashtag to the real work that has to be done?
Well, that's one of the reasons why I inserted myself, right, because the work was already being done, and we want to expand on that.
I think what we have seen over the last month is mass disclosure across social media. And as much as that is empowering, it is also problematic in some ways. People don't have a way to process. People don't have a way to think about what happens after they disclose their experience with sexual violence.
And so one of the things we want to do is really support survivors. We want to find ways to give resources to people in communities that don't have resources. And we also want to activate folks who are ready to do the work of ending sexual violence.
But you have also said that you want to look at the structural kind of inequities, deficiencies, not just the edge cases. Let's not focus just on Harvey Weinstein, but the forces at work behind it.
I think that it's a mistake for us to keep creating boogeymen. Every day, literally, there's a new person that comes out, and everybody has shock and awe- Oh, my God. I can't believe so-and-so did this.
And the reality is that those people operate within systems that allow them to flourish. When we look at patriarchy, when we look at capitalism, these are systems that are in place that allow men like Harvey Weinstein, or Bill Cosby, and even R. Kelly to exist, because people are more invested in those systems than they are in human dignity.
But what is necessary, especially by men?
You know, men keep asking that question.
I think men need to be proactive. I think that they don't need to wait for women to lead the way, because this is really — the thing that troubles me is, oftentimes, men say, well, I want to be better because I have a daughter, because I have a wife.
And, really, it should be, I want to be better because I'm a human being and I recognize that women are human beings, and I should be honoring their dignity and their humanity, and not just because I'm connected, have a familial connection.
So, men need to be proactive. They need to do research. There are tons of organizations who help men understand patriarchy and privilege, and they need to start dismantling those things.
You know, speaking of inserting yourself in the conversation, there's a piece of legislation on Capitol Hill right now that has the title — MeToo in the title.
But this isn't something that you're behind?
No, I'm not behind it. And I don't — I don't know what to make of it.
So there was a MeTooCongress hashtag that came about, and I thought it was powerful that people in Congress were stepping forward and talking about the sexual harassment that they face in Congress.
But the way this bill is being framed, I think people are thinking that this is something for survivors of sexual violence across the board, when it's not. Just using the name MeToo feels like it's trading on the popularity of the moment, which is fine, because everybody's doing that.
But I think they need to be more clear that this is not a bill that's going to support survivors of sexual violence. It's very specific to the people who work on Capitol Hill.
Do you think all of this attention is an actual tipping point, or are we going to get caught up in the next movement, the trends?
It's definitely a viral moment, and I think that we should acknowledge that, and that's fine.
I think that people are really caught up in what's going to happen and, you know, is this going to be a viral moment?
What is going to happen is what we allow to happen. And so the work already existed. The work will continue. And I feel like this is a tipping point. This is a place where this is a cultural shift.
And I'm going to do the best I can to take advantage of that and continue this work far beyond the hashtag.
All right, Tarana Burke of Just Be Inc., the creator of the MeToo movement, thank so much.
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