Actually, a black woman created the “Me Too” movement 10 years ago
With a simple tweet, Alyssa Milano shifted the conversation about the Harvey Weinstein allegations to focus on the magnitude of people who have been victimized by sexual harassment and assault. And while Milano’s call to use “Me Too” on social media has provided an outlet for thousands of people to acknowledge the fact that they have been sexually harassed or assaulted, it’s essential to give credit to the person who first used those two words to approach the topic. Although most people think the idea originated with Milano, the original “Me Too” movement was started by Tarana Burke, and she created the campaign for the youth organization Just Be Inc. in 2006.
Ebony notes that the “Me Too” movement, started 10 years ago by Burke, is particularly focused on women of color. Burke said in a statement to the publication that she created it to help sexual assault survivors in underprivileged communities “where rape crisis centers and sexual assault workers weren’t going.”
However, as non-white feminists have noted, feminist movements started by white women often aren’t intersectional and don’t take into account the additional struggles that black women and other women of color face. Burke told Ebony how she didn’t think it was intentional that her original movement wasn’t getting credit, but that black women “still managed to get diminished.”
"In this instance, the celebrities who popularized the hashtag didn't take a moment to see if there was work already being done, but they also were trying to make a larger point," she told Ebony. "I don't fault them for that part, I don't think it was intentional but somehow sisters still managed to get diminished or erased in these situations. A slew of people raised their voices so that that didn’t happen."
However, a silver lining is that once Milano did become aware of Burke’s work, she noted it and supported the original “Me Too” creator on Twitter.
Burke responded by thanking Milano for the acknowledgment and also stated how this movement is her “life’s work.”
In a video that Burke shared on her own Instagram, she is shown speaking about the “Me Too” movement at the 2014 March Against Rape Culture in Philadelphia.
In her Instagram post, Burke wrote:
"It has been amazing watching all of the pushback against Harvey Weinstein and in support of his accusers over the last week. In particular, today I have watched women on social media disclose their stories using the hashtag #metoo. It made my heart swell to see women using this idea — one that we call 'empowerment through empathy' — to not only show the world how widespread and pervasive sexual violence is, but also to let other survivors know they are not alone. The point of the work we've done over the last decade with the 'me too movement' is to let women, particularly young women of color know that they are not alone — it’s a movement. It's beyond a hashtag. It's the start of a larger conversation and a movement for radical community healing. Join us."
On the original “Me Too” movement’s website, “me too.” is described as “supporting and amplifying the voices of survivors of sexual abuse, assault, and exploitation.” Though it would have been better if we had sooner known the whole story about the origins of this inspiring movement, we are glad Burke is receiving the recognition she so justly deserves now. Because “Me Too” is about unity and, as Burke explained in her 2014 speech,
“‘Me Too’ is a movement to, among other things, radicalize the notion of mass healing.”
We should all be supporting one another in healing now. And hopefully, by Burke being credited correctly for her work, people who are unfamiliar with the particular challenges that people of color face when it comes to sexual assault will be inspired to learn and do more to help stop this abuse for all.