In the era of hashtags, wokeness, -isms and anti-, and at the risk of exposing my age, I must ask: Does anyone remember MySpace?! Having experienced a transient upbringing, for me it became a medium to display my teenage angst and keep up with friends in different parts of the world. I strategically chose my background track for my Myspace page, ensuring my crush would understand who the subliminal message was meant for. For other teenage girls of color though, it was a safe haven for them to share their experiences of sexual harassment and abuse. In 2006, Tarana Burke, a black woman and organizer, used Myspace to launch the #MeToo Movement.
A survivor of sexual abuse herself, Burke recognized a need in the community she was serving. The #MeToo movement was born from a conversation Burke had with a young woman. As Burke listened to this young woman’s story – which was much like her own, she didn’t know how to respond. Upon reflection, she wished she had said, “Me too.” It was this simple phrase Burke used on the MySpace page dedicated to her cause that led to one of the biggest social campaigns in my lifetime.
In 2007, Burke started Just Be Inc., an organization geared towards supporting young women from marginalized communities, who had experienced sexual violence. It uncovered the prevalence of sexual harassment and abuse where it is typically under-reported and victims are underserved.
A decade later, through a tweet at the height of the Harvey Weinstein allegations, actress Alyssa Milano unknowingly put the movement in the spotlight by asking people on the internet to post #MeToo if they had experienced sexual violence. Millions responded. After learning of its origins, she immediately reached out to Burke, who was supportive of the development of the movement. What followed was beyond anything she had imagined.
Halfway through another Black History Month (BHM), I must admit, this one feels different. Not in a good or bad way. Just different. My social media isn’t laced with posts about accountability and anti-oppression. They instead display cautious optimism and hope for the future. A newer, subtler movement is being held in tandem with BHM. Black Futures Month (BFM) creates a space for black people, artists especially, to express what kind of future they want for the black community. Burke’s activism is part of the answer to that question for me. While history teaches us where we come from, Burke is the pioneer of a movement that has influenced our present culture, which deserves equal reverence and celebration as her predecessors. From HR policies that are reflective of her crusade, to other movements that derived from #MeToo, such as #TimesUp, #WhyIDidntReport, and #BelieveWomen, to capture the nuances within the movement as a whole.
My biggest take-away from Burke’s activism is that it created a safe space for women of color. A space in which there is no perceived judgement and the context is familiar. In a previous blog post, Ally is a Verb Not a Noun, I wrote about the importance of this and allyship in action. My hope for BFM is that while we honour our past, we continue to build on Burke’s work. That millions of people posting a hashtag, turns into millions of allies achieving a common goal. As an organization, the YW recognizes how women’s voices can lead to the biggest of changes. Allyship is integral to our practice and YW Calgary continues to be a strong voice for the safety of women in the workplace, at home and in their communities. That is why this year’s YWHISPER Gala is sharing the stage with Jodi Kantor and Megan Twohey the Pullitzer Prize-winning journalists who broke the Harvey Weinstein case, and wrote the book She Said. We hope to dialogue with our esteemed guests, and community on how we can keep working to build a city, community and society that is sensitive to the needs of women, girls, men and LGBTQ2S+ people. Are you excited for what’s to come? Yeah. Me too.
Written by: Zandile Moyo