Tarana Burke lectures at Iowa

Tarana Burke lectures at Iowa

by Jamillah Witt

The founder and leader of the #MeToo movement, Tarana Burke, gave a lecture in the Main Lounge at the IMU on Tuesday, March 27. The lecture was meant to clear up many misconceptions about the movement and to discuss the mobilization of students to end sexual violence on campuses like ours.

Preceding the lecture, a small student discussion was held, where Burke took questions from students, and I was excited to be in attendance. Tarana Burke is a Black woman whose voice is finally being heard after 25 years of advocacy and whose message is sparking conversation about sexual violence and its spectrum. When Burke first took her seat, she looked over at me and smiled and that’s when I knew that I had made the right decision. I knew that there was a message that she had hoped would reach me.

The student discussion cleared up just what the Me Too movement is. The #MeToo movement is a safe space for survivors of sexual assault and violence to be able to come and find solidarity.

Coming into the discussion, I knew that the movement was started for Black women and women of color to share their experiences, but, as Burke pointed out, the media has made us shift our focus to the powerful men who were being ‘taken down’ by the hashtag and the affluent women who were coming forward. The movement, through the lens of media, also gets focused on strictly work-based conversations surrounding sexual harassment. The lecture was able to give the audience the full story as to why the movement is important to Burke and other Black women.

At the lecture, Burke told the audience about the beginnings of the movement. She told the story of Heaven–a girl at a camp where she worked who had revealed to her horrific incidents that had happened to her of sexual violence. Burke recounts how she froze, becoming triggered as she had never told anyone of her own history with assault. She sent the girl to see another counselor and, today, notes the look of disappointment on Heaven’s face. She says that had she just said two words, me too, that Heaven would have had a safe space to unpack what had happened to her and know that there was at least one other person who shared that experience. And that is where the movement was born.

Burke recalled being afraid when she began seeing that the hashtag had gone viral. She stated that all she could think was “white people gon’ take my stuff.” I applauded Burke’s honesty, and the other Black women in my row did the same, because what she said resonated heavily with us. This is the main reason why I came to the lecture. White people had been unsuccessful in taking her work and making it into theirs. Social media (mainly Black twitter) and Burke’s dedication was not going to let that happen.

The media has done a fine job of placing the focus on the perpetrators. Ultimately Burke wants to create an internet presence that will give survivors the tools they need to heal and/or speak their truth and know that there are others like them because that is what the movement is meant to provide. She told the large crowd in the Main Lounge of the IMU that if we, as supporters of the movement, continue to accept the media’s misappropriation of it as a movement against sexual harassment in Hollywood, we will continue to suppress the stories of the most marginalized.

Burke’s dedication to her work, for me, is the most captivating aspect of her lecture that I was able to witness. The fact that she points out the problem of sexual assault and violence within her community and works to give young Black girls and women the tools that they need to heal from it is very encouraging.

I have been working within the Gender, Women’s, and Sexuality Studies Department for four years now and very early on realized that servicing my own community was a mission that I wanted to embark on. Having someone that looks like me and shares a similar background, who is doing work and is being credited for it, is extremely inspiring to me. It tells me that I, too, can start conversations about change and be heard and seen and, I, too, can inspire others to do the same.