“I knew I needed something. I was searching and reading all the positive affirmations… it just wasn’t working for me. It didn’t stick because I felt like all this information I was getting from people was telling me to be different… But I kept running up against a brick wall, when I was like, ‘I don’t want to change, I just want to heal who I am.’ I felt like there was a fire that I had, and these other things were saying, ‘You need to put that fire out and be this person in order to be okay.’ And that just didn’t sit well with me.”
As Black History Month neared its end and Women’s History Month neared its beginning, the Notre Dame community last week welcomed a public figure at the intersection of both: the black, female founder of the #MeToo movement. To kick off “Sex and the Soul Week” on campus, Tarana Burke spoke in DeBartolo Hall on Monday, February 25, in conversation with Maria McKenna ’97, an administrator of the Education, Schooling, and Society (ESS) minor and an associate professor of ESS and Africana Studies. A number of student groups cosponsored the event, which aimed to bring Burke’s healing and organizing work to light.
Though her work is often labeled as activism in the media, Burke made one thing very clear in her talk: She is an organizer, not an activist. The #MeToo movement, she explained, was created not as an awareness campaign, but as a healing community for survivors of sexual violence. As described in the quote featured here, this effort came from her own experience. When Burke began #MeToo in 2006, she created a language that gave survivors of sexual violence and harassment the chance to come to terms with their experiences while remaining themselves; she desired to give them legitimacy and confidence.
The movement she created to enable survivors to name their pain was thrust into the spotlight in the fall of 2017, when actress Alyssa Milano used the hashtag in her response to the burgeoning accusations against Harvey Weinstein. In a Q&A following Burke and McKenna’s exchange, one student asked if Burke thought the coopting of #MeToo by white women like Milano unfairly shifted the focus of the movement away from its black origins. The organizer admitted that she had heard that sentiment, particularly from black women, but that she sees it differently. Burke sees the newfound fame of the movement as an opportunity to show people, on a massive scale, that healing was possible.
From its humble beginnings as an effort to give voice to victims of trauma, #MeToo has grown, Burke says, into a movement whose next focus is translating healing into action. Now that women’s pain is more widely acknowledged, she says that the next step is asking, “What do we do with that?” For more on #MeToo’s answers to that question — from public policy to educational initiatives — check out their website.
Hannah Scherer is an intern at this magazine.