Long before hashtags and social media sites existed, activist Tarana Burke created the now viral #MeToo campaign highlighting the stories of sexual assault survivors. And now it’s time to give credit where credit is due.
The recent allegations against media mogul and producer Harvey Weinstein have reignited tough, but much-needed conversations around sexual assault in Hollywood. The “Me Too” movement soon flooded social media after “Charmed” actress Alyssa Milano revealed that she herself had been sexually assaulted, and encouraged other survivors to respond with the simple phrase “me too.”
Many credited the actress with spawning the powerful movement as it gained steam and sent a poignant message about sexual violence and its pervasiveness, affecting everyone from millionaire movie stars to suburban moms, to the poor. For Burke, the founder of youth organization Be You, Inc., the movement is doing exactly what she intended it to.
Many soon found that the 44-year-old activist is actually the original creator of the #MeToo movement, launching the crusade in 2007 in an effort to unify victims of sexual assault — women of color in particular. Journalist Britni Danielle was the first to point it out, Ebony reported.
— Britni Danielle (@BritniDWrites) October 16, 2017
Speaking with the magazine, Burke said she began the initiative as a grassroots movement to aid sexual assault victims in underprivileged communities “where rape crisis centers and sexual assault workers weren’t going.”
“It wasn’t built to be a viral campaign or a hashtag that’s here today and forgotten tomorrow,” she said in a statement Monday, Oct. 16. “It was a catchphrase to be used from survivor to survivor, to let folks know that they were not alone and that a movement for radical healing was happening and possible.”
It should be noted that Milano never took credit for starting the #MeToo campaign and was quick to acknowledge Burke after learning of the New York native’s 10-year-old initiative. Despite not initially being recognized as the founder, the activist said it was “powerful” to see the hashtag go viral.
“What’s happening now is powerful and I salute it and the women who have disclosed,” she told Ebony. “But the power of using ‘me too’ has always been in the fact that it can be a conversation starter or the whole conversation – but it was us talking to US.”
Many Black social media users agreed, blasting the media for crediting white women like Miliano and actress Rose McGowan, who accused Weinstein of rape, for the work of Black women. Some also pointed out how serious issues like sexual assault are only addressed when brought to light by white feminists.
— Luvvie is writing book 2 (@Luvvie) October 17, 2017
— bevysmith (@bevysmith) October 16, 2017
#MeToo was started by Tarana Burke. Stop erasing black women.
— Aura Bogado (@aurabogado) October 16, 2017
As the #MeToo hashtag went viral, fellow activists and users began to thank Burke and threw their support behind her campaign.
— Alicia Garza (@aliciagarza) October 16, 2017
— MoniqueHazeur (@MonaHazeur) October 18, 2017
— Black Lives Matter (@Blklivesmatter) October 16, 2017
“It made my heart swell to see women using this idea – one that we call ’empowerment through empathy,’ ” Burke said in one of several tweets Sunday. “It’s beyond a hashtag. It’s the start of a larger conversation and a movement for radical community healing.”