Me Too Founder Tarana Burke Introduces New Initiative

Q&A With ‘Me Too’ Founder Tarana Burke—She Is Launching ‘me too. Act Too’

October 15, 2020 Updated October 17, 2020

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Daniel Boczarski/Getty and MeToo.org

Three years ago, the “me too” movement was brought to our collective consciousness. It’s a movement created by Tarana Burke, a Black woman and sexual violence survivor. Women were empowered to share their truth, many for the very first time, to highlight how pervasive sexual violence is  These stories, and the #metoo hashtag, took social media by storm.  As a result of the hashtag, it felt like a reckoning was coming, especially in industries like Hollywood, after Harvey Weinstein was found to be a serial sexual abuser and rapist. It felt like the movement and the hashtag were finally shifting the conversation around sexual violence to empower the survivors.

Men, especially cis gender men like our current President, mocked the movement, likely because many of them were/are scared of their own transgressions coming to light.

But then like every other viral hashtag, the conversation waned.

But, Tarana Burke is still here, and still actively working to advocate for sexual violence survivors, and is now starting “me too” Act Too as a resource. It’s a one-stop shop for organizations, and individual allies, to easily access resources we can use to help end sexual violence.

There is a misconception that sexual violence is not about social justice. Overall, 1 in 4 women and 1 in 6 men will experience sexual violence in their lifetime. We must feel the same responsibility for the issue of sexual violence that we do about most of the social justice issues that get attention in today’s world as they are inextricably linked. ‘me too.’ Act Too is about making sure that we recognize there are everyday folks affected by this epidemic – and work to end it.

To give more context to the campaign – the ‘me too.’ Act Too platform is a crowd-sourced, immutable utility that enables anyone, anywhere to get active in the fight to end sexual violence. It is designed to give power back to the survivor and the allies, using the power of empathy and action to change the conversation and ensure bodily autonomy is a basic human right,” reads the press release.

Scary Mommy was lucky enough to talk to Tarana Burke via Zoom (because 2020) about this new platform, the overall movement, and how we as parents can engage with the conversation.

Scary Mommy:  It feels like sometimes the “me too” movement focus has shifted from WOC to almost exclusively white women. How will this new resource hopefully make the focus more equitable?

Tarana Burke: I get this question a lot, and I think it’s missing some nuance. What I represent is not #Metoo. #Metoo has not been focused on women of color and quite frankly, #Metoo hasn’t even been focused on survivors. They focused on white women for the first six months, and you can’t even find a story about a white woman right now. Because they don’t care about “me too” anymore. To be clear, the movement has never taken its eye off Black women and girls.

If you acknowledge me as leader of this movement, you cannot say that I’m the leader of the movement and it hasn’t focused on Black women and girls. If you look at my work over the last three years, it has been focused on Black women and girls. I will never take my eye off of them. And I can do that without excluding any other group. We (Black women) can take care of our own while taking care of everybody else.

The question then becomes, how do we get the mainstream media to focus on Black women and women of color? And I don’t know the answer to that, quite frankly. If we are waiting for them to tell our stories, and if the only way we find ourselves seen is through the white gaze of the mainstream media, then we’ll always find ourselves wanting and waiting and looking for validation from folks who have never been interested in validating us.

SM: How do you think putting the movement back into the hands of “regular” people will shift the public conversation?

TB: This tool is about making the work to end sexual violence more accessible. There are organizations like Girls for Gender Equity or Black Women’s Blueprint. And there are people like Aisha Shahidah Simmons. There are people like Ignacio Rivera who has Heal to End. These are all smaller, grassroots or regional organizations that are led by Black people, queer people, and people of color who you don’t know or necessarily hear about. So when you go to our tool to say, “how can I be more active in my community?” it’s not going to just send you to RAINN. It’s not going to default to big, national organizations with deep pockets, it’s going to take you to local, grassroots people in your community that either look like you– or you should know–who are doing this work. So you can support them: volunteer, join their campaigns, or donate. Or more importantly, learn from them.

If the only place you learn about sexual violence is from white people, who are you going to center? And if the only way you learn about the “me too” movement is the nightly news and other outlets, then all you’ll think about is whoever. But if you are learning about the movement from people who are affected by it across the spectrum, then you have a more expansive analysis.

SM: Where do parents, and more specifically mothers fit into the conversation? How do we engage with our children in a way that best benefits the movement?

TB: There is a gap in education around sexual violence generally. I think about the fact that we need comprehensive sex education in our schools, and that’s a fight that’s happening right now. So until we get it, parents can teach comprehensive sex education in their homes. One of the ways parents and guardians of children can embrace this is to research what comprehensive sex educations looks like. And then incorporate that into the way you raise your child. You have to be intentional. [As a parent] I say, “I didn’t know what I was doing for a long time. But I knew I had a set of values that I wanted to instill. And I was intentional about instilling those values.”

When I talk to parents, I say all the time [to Black moms and moms of color in particular] “We have a job to do. In ourselves and in our children, we have to undo some of the damage that’s been done in our socialization.” It’s a heavy lift to undo some of those norms that have been ingrained in us since we were little children.

SM: What are some active steps we as parents can take to ensure a safer world for our children?

TB: A mother’s job never ends. Having something where you can take 10 minutes and go on the internet or go on this tool and say, “I really want to figure out what I can do in my capacity.” You spend 10 minutes on here, put in a couple of filters and this social justice recommendation engine will spit out to you tangible ways you can get involved. So, you can’t go to the march. Maybe you can’t join this campaign. You have no time to volunteer. But you can read a book, listen to a podcast, or learn about the topic. There are what we call “micro actions” that are about contributing to the shift in culture that is necessary for us to interrupt sexual violence.

SM: How do you hope this new resource empowers people?

TB: The way that other people, even us progressive, social justice movement people have a lot of judgment around defining who’s what and who’s not. As long as you’re not contributing negatively — putting out false information and speaking against our things. If all you can manage is those 280 characters, I will take it. I have no judgment about the ways people engage with social justice work. What this does is say “you are the movement.” When people ask me what’s next, my answer is almost always universally, “you are next.” Movements exist when people get in them and move.

SM: Some of the conversation around the current presidential candidates focuses on the discomfort survivors and victims of sexual assault and harassment have. Can you speak on that and how you’re engaging with that conversation?

TB: This has been hard in a lot of different ways. People have judgment about survivors but we need to practice not judging them, or anyone grappling with that situation. When looking at presidential candidates, if I had a choice in a fight to pick my opponent, I would always pick the opponent who I think I will have a better chance with, so with that said – getting the current administration out of office does not mean a new administration will be a saving grace. We’re trying to find an opponent where we can make progress, and we have to go into this election knowing that this fight is long from over.

To learn more about Tarana Burke’s “Act Too” initiative, visit www.gamechangers.metoomvmt.org.