Tarana Burke and #MeToo
By Madeleine Scully
In 2007, Burke named a movement that did not gain mass attention until white actress Alyssa Milano tweeted about it in 2017. Though Milano reached out to Burke two days after her tweet asking to collaborate and claiming she did not know about her movement, the #MeToo movement’s reemergence follows the historical trend of white women discrediting, discounting, and excluding black women.
Burke told the New York Times: “I felt a sense of dread, because something that was part of my life’s work was going to be co-opted and taken from me and used for a purpose that I hadn’t originally intended.” Burke founded the movement eleven years ago to create solidarity between survivors; she should be given complete credit for founding the movement that has inspired and given hope to women across America. A quick Google search confirms the fact that Tarana Burke is still discredited and Milano’s lack of research has taken its toll; if you type in “Alyssa Milano Me Too” the second article is titled “Alyssa Milano on Her Me Too Campaign.” The campaign, in fact, is not “hers” at all; it is important not to forget that Burke is the original founder of the movement. Say Tarana Burke’s name over and over again. She is one of the most influential women in America trying to give a voice to women of color, a voice that has been continually silenced by white women like Alyssa Milano.
While Alyssa Milano has only recently gotten involved in sexual assault campaigns, Burke has dedicated her entire life to helping victims, especially young black women. In 2003, Burke founded a nonprofit called Just Be Inc., an organization that focuses on the “health, well being and wholeness of young women of color everywhere.” After working with sexual assault victims for years, Burke started the Me Too movement specifically for survivors. After Burke spoke with a young black girl named Heaven who told her about being sexually assaulted, Burke, a survivor herself, could not even bring herself to say the words “me too.”
Now, the #MeToo movement has drastically expanded beyond women sharing their stories. Yet, Burke is still doing the work to bring back the focus to victims, the people she was trying to help all along. Burke now works as the senior director at Girls for Gender Equity which, according to their website, works to “pass the mic to girls and young women of color” and “call gender based violence by it’s name.” While Burke could have basked in her fame after being named one of TIME Magazine’s 2017 ‘The Silence Breakers’ Person of the Year, she continues to do the work because she genuinely wants to make change and uplift victims of sexual assault. Burke said to The Guardian that if her fame had not come along, she would still be doing the work: “I would be right here, with my fucking Me Too shirt on, doing workshops and going to rape crisis centres.”
Like Burke, we must continue to do the work. Part of our job is to give credit where it is due because women like Tarana Burke are the ones propelling the women’s movement forward. We must constantly look for whose voices are being silenced and we must use whatever platform we have to help uplift others. Until then, Tarana Burke will continue to do the work and wait for us to join her.