Since childhood, I have experienced sexual harassment. I can remember the first time it happened. I was 7 years old and walking with my cousin in New York City. A man attempted to get my attention and my cousin yelled, “She’s 7 years old!” He responded with, “I didn’t ask how old she was. She has legs and they open.”
This is just one of many of my experiences. It’s sad to say, but for a while I grew used to it. I expected it. I grew numb. So numb that I used to be the girl I now despise. The girl who would make excuses for these men and boys. I would be the one to say “boys will be boys.” So when women I looked up to had the courage to come forward with their stories, I was ecstatic. I finally felt like women could be heard and believed and that the time for protecting abusers was up. But after awhile, I couldn’t help but notice one thing about the #MeToo Movement: It’s just so white.
The #MeToo Movement didn’t just start with an Alyssa Milano tweet as many would think. In fact, it was started in 2006 by Turana Burke, a black activist. According to the MeToo Movement official website, Burke founded the organization to “help survivors of sexual violence, particularly black women and girls, and other young women of color from low wealth communities.” In 2017, the movement resurfaced when Alyssa Milano tweeted, “If you’ve been sexually harassed or assaulted write ‘me too’ as a reply to this tweet.”
It gained massive traction which is exceptional, but somewhere along the way it started to go downhill. For awhile now, black women have been excluded from a movement they created. These white feminists took the movement and ran. As a result of this exclusion, black women not only aren’t represented, they’re not being believed.
According to Endrapeoncampus.org, “1 out of 5, or 20%, HBCU women will experience sexual assault, which is the same rate as PWIs.” So why is it that HBCUs don’t get the same media coverage. Mainstream media isn’t the only thing at fault when it comes to ignoring the stories of black women. Campus administrators constantly try to hide their cases of sexual violence from the media. When sexual violence occurs on their campus they try to sweep it under the rug because they fear that students will no longer want to attend and people will no longer want to donate.
In an interview, Atlanta advocate Venkayla Haynes put it perfectly when she said, “We want to portray this positive black image, this black excellence while also tearing down black women, not believing black women, pushing them to the side, and just not caring about their trauma.” The severe under funding of HBCUs has put administrations in a position where they have to put the institution first, the survivors second. However, this is not an excuse for the handling of campus sexual violence and it saddens me that black women must pay the price.
When “Surviving R. Kelly” first aired on Lifetime in January, the United States went into a frenzy. It was trending on all social media platforms. The horrors were being discussed on radio and talk shows. It was all anyone could talk about for weeks, but a certain group of people went radio silent. The white #MeToo activists were nowhere to be found. Rose McGowan and Alyssa Milano suddenly had nothing to tweet about. Many said that they wanted to center the voices of black women, but the timing seems oddly convenient.
“You haven’t been centering our voices for decades, but now you want to. What’s the reason?” asks Haynes. I have an answer for you, Venkayla. These feminists only want to hear one type of narrative. The white woman’s narrative. Their feminism is only intersectional when they need a movement to steal. They claim to care about womens’ stories, but they don’t care about every woman’s story.
So what can be done about this?
Well for starters, people who have more platforms must give the floor to women who are unheard. They need to listen to the women who have been ignored for too long because you know what it feels like. The world must face the facts. They must be honest with themselves and they must admit that they don’t care about black women and they never have. When a black woman wants to tell her story, mainstream media suddenly stops paying attention. The outlets stop writing their articles. The white #MeToo feminists suddenly stop waving their signs. They suddenly stop tweeting and they put on their headphones to drown out the marginalized woman’s voice.
But the time for change is coming like it did before. The time where everyone’s voice can be heard is here. It’s time to remove the tape from the black woman’s mouth because you know what it felt like to be silenced.