Tarana Burke tells William and Mary the Me Too Movement is for everyone

aheymann@vagazette.com

Started by Tarana Burke more than a decade ago, the “Me Too” movement went viral in 2017 when survivors of sexual assault used the hashtag #MeToo on Twitter to show how prevalent the issue is.

Burke spoke at the College of William and Mary Wednesday night, telling students how she got into activism and the purpose of Me Too.

Burke said one moment that sparked her desire to help advocate for survivors of sexual violence came when she worked at a summer camp for black youths.

Her first year as a leader, a young girl singled out Burke and told her about the sexual assault she experienced. Burke said she felt overwhelmed by the girl’s story because it was so similar to her own.

“I don’t know if anyone else has had this experience where you are like a deer caught in the headlights, and you need to respond but you don’t know what to say? That’s exactly how I felt in that moment,” Burke said.

“As much as I regret that moment, that moment led me to this moment. … I made a decision that I would never be in that position again. I was committed to social justice work.”

During the question and answer portion of the evening, Burke emphasized the inclusivity of the movement. When asked how men could get involved with Me Too, she said they already were.

“Men are also survivors (of sexual violence) — there are lots of reasons we should not just frame this as a women's movement, it’s a survivors’ movement,” Burke said.

When Me Too is interpreted only as a women’s movement, she said she has heard it called a witch hunt to take down men.

“I probably have better language, but it's just dumb,” Burke said.

She said the idea is encouraged by headlines that say things like “Me Too takes down another person,” making the movement seem like a gender war.

“Which is not true,” she said. She added Me Too is not about perpetrators of sexual assault.

“Our work is bigger than who gets arrested and who doesn’t — because the work is bigger than these individual bad guys,” Burke said. “Our work is making people understand you can’t have a Harvey Weinstein without a whole system around him that holds him up and creates a space for him to get away with what he did.”

A few weeks ago, Burke said she had a conversation with a “troll” on Instagram.

“This guy wrote all this nasty stuff about me and I said ‘Why did you say all this?’ — and he wrote back and was like ‘You’re betraying the race … you’re trying to take down black men blah blah blah,’” Burke said.

She said the man brought up R. Kelly, and she asked him if he wanted men like R. Kelly to run free? She asked why was she the bad guy for wanting to make the black community a safer space?

“By the end of it he was like ‘yeah you right queen,’” Burke said.

However, another issue Burke addressed was the view of inclusivity within the movement. She said she’s had other black women come up to her and tell her Me Too is just for white women.

“The movement is yours if you say it’s yours,” Burke said. “Don’t let other people tell you you are not a part of this, I am telling you that you are. I am telling you I started this for you — and it’s not to exclude anyone else.”

“If I don’t serve the most marginalized, no one will get what they need.”

Want to learn more?

To learn more about Me Too, where to get help as a survivor of sexual assault or help how survivors, visit metoomvmt.org.

If you or someone you know is a victim of sexual violence, call the Avalon Center Crisis Hotline, available 24 hours daily at 757-258-5051. To talk or schedule an appointment at the Avalon Center, call 757-258-5022.

If you or someone you know is a student at the College of William and Mary and a victim of sexual violence, call the Haven at 757-221-2449 or visit their office at Campus Center 166.

Heymann can be reached by phone at 757-298-5828 or on Twitter at @HeymannAmelia.

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