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#MeToo Founder Tarana Burke Shares Her Vision For The Movement’s Future

by Mia X. Perez

It’s hard to believe that one year has passed since the  spark that fired up the #MeToo movement. Although founder Tarana Burke started the movement in 2006, the sexual assault accusations against Harvey Weinstien brought #MeToo into the spotlight 2017. With a viral presence, #MeToo changed the shape and feel of social media. But, now what? Where do we go from here?

In an interview with the the New York Times, Tarana Burke reflects on the past year of the movement. She has some ideas about how we, as a community, can proceed to advocate for survivors rather than focusing our energy on the narrative of trauma itself.

“I want to teach people to not lean into their trauma,” she says. “You can create the kind of joy in your life that allows you to lean into that instead.”

For many, the explosion of #MeToo was an opportunity to be affirmed by others. A chance to share one’s story with the world and have it be heard, read, liked, shared, etc. It certainly broke the silence, but just as many survivors were triggered by the candidness of the endless social media posts. Some felt like the pain of their trauma was being exploited for popularity. Trauma became the bonding agent, which is a conflicting position in a movement that strives to move beyond trauma. Burke has not let this go unnoticed.

“It’s hard because the idea of sharing your story has become so popularized,” she says. “We are in a time where the more you share about yourself, the more people like you; the more likes you get, the more attention you get on social media. So things are framed so that they have to be public and they have to be popular in order to be valid. What we’re trying to do is counter that narrative and say, ‘You don’t have to tell your story publicly. You don’t have to tell anybody what happened to you.’ You have to get it out—but it doesn’t have to be at a poetry reading. It doesn’t have to be on social media at all. It could be a trusted friend. It could be your journal.”

She adds, “It’s like a balancing act because I have to acknowledge that stories are important, and sometimes saying the words, ‘This happened to me’ and ‘This is what he did’ is cathartic to get out. I think there’s enough evidence in this world of survival and recovery to show that repeating that doesn’t help you, though. Reliving that doesn’t help you.”

The #MeToo movement’s mission has always been to help survivors in the journey to heal. Burke is still working hard to make this possible. The emphasis of the movement will remain on healing, and Burke has ensured this by creating public resource libraries for advocates and survivors on the new website

“We want to be clear what the #MeToo movement is actually about,” Burke states in the PSA video on the website homepage. “There’s lots of conversation about it being about taking down powerful men or about targeting people and it’s not about any of those things. This is a movement about giving people access to a healing journey—to make sure the most marginalized amongst us have an opportunity to start a pathway to healing from the trauma of sexual violence.”

The new website reflects this inspirational intent. There are available resource libraries which can search your local zip code for various needs any survivor might have. There is also a safety exit on every page which redirects the browser to Google in case someone’s safety would be at stake by visiting the website. In addition, Burke intends to collect stories of healing to share on the website as well.

“We don’t believe in collecting stories of people’s trauma because I don’t think the trauma should be curated,” she says. “We believe in sharing peoples’ stories of healing. When you start talking about what you’ve done to cope and how you have developed practices around healing, that’s something that people need to see. If I sat here and gave you the gory details of what happened to me, what are you taking away from that?”

Burke also talked to the New York Times about how the media coverage of #MeToo has ignored women of color. “This is just a theory: I think the media doesn’t really care about the stories of black women and the stories of women of color. A lot of folks have slid under the radar,” she says. “I’ve been told so many bad stories, whispers from black women in Hollywood or in entertainment, that they just don’t feel comfortable coming forward — because they haven’t seen themselves in this narrative. But the flip side is, we cannot wait for the narrative to catch up with us. We can’t wait for white folks to decide that our trauma is worth centering on when we know that it’s happening.” 

Burke reminds us that there is much work to be done, and that the focus of the project is always to help others and practice “empowering empathy.” Trauma as a platform for connection is not the only option survivors have. Pain and rage are not the sole agents of relatability. We have love and compassion, two key factors in cultivating any new kind of relationship with ourselves and our community.

Top photo credit: Me Too Movement/YouTube

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