Tarana Burke on the birth of #MeToo, letting black girls ‘just be’ and relying on her faith

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We know that in the United States, that one in five women suffered an attempted or actual rape, and that is probably an underestimate. Others have experienced some form of sexual violence in their lifetime, but many never talk about it and may phrase it in terms such as “misunderstanding”, “something weird that happened” or “bad”. night “. Why was the word “rape” difficult for you to pronounce?

Once you say the word, all of the things that come with it become real. There’s something in there that says shame is mine, there’s something in there that says I’m one of them. Obviously I’m in a whole different place now. But I remember that feeling, even hearing other people say it and wanting to say, “Don’t say that.

Where do you see yourself in the field of history? There will be a time when the hashtag and the #MeToo movement may not be so prevalent.

I like the study of [social justice] movement, and I see movement as a continuum. One of the saddest things for me right now is that people have broken the continuum. I grew up as an organizer, and a lot of young people know the Sixties in an abstract way because they learned a little in school. They know Dr King or Malcolm X and Rosa Parks, those big threatening names. I’ve heard more than my fair share of young people talk about the ’60s and then talk about Ferguson and skip the rich history that happened in the’ 70s, ’80s and’ 90s. I was very informed by [organizing in those times]. And I see myself building on Rosa Parks’ work as an anti-rape activist [who, a decade before the Montgomery bus boycott, led an NAACP investigation about the sexual assault of Recy Taylor, a young Black woman gang-raped by white men in Abbeville, Alabama].

I have to ask you a somewhat silly question: what is your superpower?

My super power is to be rational.

So how does this work when it comes to an audience that doesn’t believe in things that are in fact indisputable? I don’t necessarily think of rationality when I think of the American public.

When things happen and people are frantic, my mind immediately wonders, “Does this make sense?” That does not make sense. We need to calm down, all of you, because that’s probably not happening. What you think happened is probably not happening. And people get angry. But I am a Virgo.

I knew pieces of your history, but I was intrigued by your youthful flirtation with Catholicism. And then there are the points in the book where you talk about hearing a voice or having a belief that’s in your head, but not totally coming from you. That voice tells you to do things, that you’re going to leave Selma, for example.

Did you pause and think twice before adding these things to the book? In our society, many people are discouraged from hearing these voices or talking about hearing them. I don’t hear much about faith and spirituality in #MeToo.

Yes. I’ve thought about this a lot because there are so many judgments about religion, spirituality, and Christianity, quite frankly. I don’t speak openly about my faith mainly because we have ups and downs, most people, personally [in relationship to organized religion]. I’m like, “Oh, I haven’t been to church in forever. “

But the truth is, when I sat down to write my story, there was so much God in it. And there was so much that was ruled by my faith that I couldn’t let it go. Sometimes in spaces of movement there is a lot of judgment about being a Christian. There are so many people on the right who use Christianity to justify their hatred and fanaticism. It’s not the God I serve, and that’s not how I think I am a Christian. It’s funny you brought up that. No one asked me that question at all.

God made us big enough that we could feel joy and pain. We can deal with both of these things and not let one overwhelm the other. And, in fact, they kind of subside, right? I have had enough joy in my life to use it as a resource when I have pain in my life. I have proof that it’s not always going to be like this because I remember the joy.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

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