Photo credit: Stay Rad Magazine

The #Metoo Movement and Black Women

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12 mins read

While the #Metoo movement has done tremendous good to take down abusive men in power, it has still taken some time to gain justice for young Black girls and women who have been victimized by Black men like musician and producer R. [Robert] Kelly and entrepreneur Russell Simmons. As the movement continues, we must reconcile how we allow Black girls and women to fall through the cracks  and what we can do to help.

Photo of #Metoo Movement founder Tarana Burke | Photo credit: via justbeinc.org

How The Metoo Movement Got Started 

The #metoomovement was initially founded in 2006 by Tarana Burke, originally creating the program “Just Be Inc.” which provides workshops and training for the health and safety of women of color, which was when she first originated the phrase, “me too,” when speaking to a survivor of sexual assault. The movement reached national attention, however, in 2017, after the sexual harassment and assaults Harvey Weinstein committed for years were brought to light. This then led to an onslaught of women confronting powerful men. In an interview with the New York Times from 2021, Burke opened up about what #metoo meant, within proper context.

 

 “When people were first asking me about it, it was always in sound bites. I’ve been in places where people have gotten pictures with me after a talk, and they’re like, “On the count of three, everybody say, ‘Me too.’” I’m like, “No, that’s not how this works.” So I needed to find this space and be able to tell the full story,” Burke said.

Artist Vicki Meek stated that this exclusion of Black women in the #metoo movement is not surprising given how Black women and girls have historically been perceived as unworthy of protection. 

“We’ve seen that, we have seen the fact that most of the people who are getting the spotlight, as far as this movement is concerned, are white women. Of course, historically, this country has set black women up to be really people who were not feminine. You know, we weren’t in need of protection, we were less than and so it’s not surprising that out of that history comes a continued practice of not seeing black women as being victims of the abuse,” Meek said.

Photo credit: Shuttershock

The Adultification of Black Girls 

Black girls being stripped of their victimhood can [according to writer Naima Small] be attributed to adultification bias. This is when young Black people are viewed as more mature than they are. An article by the Huffington Post states that the adultification of Black girls starts as young as the age of five, with Black girls being viewed as more mature than their white counterparts. They argue that this in turn makes Black girls more likely to be victims of sexual violence and that 40% of sex trafficking victims are Black.

 

“So few of those Black girls actually report and disclose and share that this has happened to them. Even fewer go to the police to try to address the violation that has happened to them. And that’s because of the internalization that happens when you are constantly telling a Black girl that she is responsible when someone violates her body,” she continued. “That over sexualization and the adultification impacts us as Black girls. We take on the responsibility and it is not ours to take on. And so therefore, we don’t talk about it, we hide it, we feel ashamed, we feel powerless,” Me Too International CEO Dani Ayers said.

Photo credit: International Security Sector Advisory Team (ISSAT)

A Lack of Solidarity

Meek states that part of the issue with the dismissal of Black women’s conditions and our perception of them is, in some ways, also tied to Black women questioning other Black women under the belief that they are bringing a Black man down. 

“It’s a double edged sword. On the one hand, you want to be seen as someone who is worthy of the same kind of attention as these white women who are getting, all kinds of protection. On the other hand, that can happen if we’re not standing in solidarity with each other, when these kinds of allegations are made, and then proven. And then we still don’t want to believe,” she said. 

This can be seen in the reaction form Phylicia Rashad, a long time friend and cast mate to Bill Cosby, who defended Cosby in 2015. Rashad told ABC that the allegations levied against Cosby were, “the destruction of a legacy,” that was arranged. 

“What you’re seeing is the destruction of a legacy. And I think it’s orchestrated. I don’t know why or who’s doing it, but it’s the legacy. And it’s a legacy that is so important to the culture,” Rashad said

How We Harm Victims

Regarding the individual ways that we can dismiss the mistreatment of Black women, Meek states it all starts with how we treat Black girls. As in the case of R. Kelly, the Black community’s unwillingness to believe the young Black girls who accused him, or believe young Black girls Who are sexually abused by family member is indicative of a brokenness in the Black community. She states that we must start forming a community that values Black girls.

“We have to begin to build a society that values these little black girls and what they have to say. And that then turns into you will be valued with what you have to say, as a black woman. Because if we can dismiss the abuses of children, we certainly can dismiss the abuses of grown women,” she says.

Photo credit: Damian Dovarganes via AP

 The Good of #Metoo 

Meek argues that with the metoo movement being brought to light, even in spite of it being co-opted by white women, is and has been an inevitable good for all. Especially, in light of the documentaries that have taken place [Surviving R. Kelly, the On the Record Russell Simmons]  discussing their abuse, and how often their actions were passed over. Once their power is disrupted, especially as Black men, they are not as sure about their place.

“They know that they can pretty much get away with murder, and they are not worried about whatever it is that the woman might complain about. Once that power gets shaken, and that foundation is not nearly as solid, then all of a sudden, you find them not so cocky about their position, and especially black men who know that if somebody is gonna get thrown under the bus, as far as males are concerned, it’s gonna be them,” she said.

An opinion article by Radio Host Solomon Jones in 2018 [not long after the sentencing of Cosby] stated this as well, arguing that while the jury was not wrong to convict Cosby for his crimes, he should not be the only person facing punishment for his actions. 

“Will movie mogul Harvey Weinstein face criminal prosecution after numerous accusations of sexual assault and rape? What about former Today Show anchor Matt Lauer, who is accused of sexually assaulting at least one former co-worker, or President Donald Trump, whom multiple women have accused of sexual assault or harassment,” writer Jones said

How We Can Help

As for what can be done to change our perception of Black women as victims, Meek argues that what can help is strengthening the bond among Black women. 

“If you are raising a black child- a black girl, then you need to instill in that child, the notion that no matter what happens, you can always talk to me about it, come to me about it, I will help deal with the situation you know-that needs to happen. It needs to happen girlfriend to girlfriend. If you have a friend who suffered from abuse, then you have to be there for that friend. The same is true of your siblings. If you have a sibling who is being abused, you need to be able to tell that person “you know what, you don’t need to stay in this. I got your back”,” she said. 

Resources

24/7 Crisis Hotline for Dallas Area Rape Crisis Center: (972) 641-7273

National Sexual Assault Hotline [RAINN]:

https://hotline.rainn.org/online

[for LGBTQIA+ victims] Trevor Project Lifeline: 866-488-7386 [http://www.thetrevorproject.org/chat]

 

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