Has #Metoo become another case of whitewashing a movement?
When Alyssa Milano asked for victims of sexual harassment or assault to tweet #MeToo, a viral response swept over social media. The problem is that Alyssa Milano didn’t start the campaign. A woman by the name of Tarana Burke began a Me Too movement 10 years ago.
In case you didn’t know, Alyssa Milano is a White woman. Tarana Burke is a Black woman. Both women have a race and a gender.
And so the dance of the politics of these two identities begins and perhaps solidarity ends.
Before continuing, I have been blessed to experience real solidarity from women of different ethnicities and races.
I remember being at a low point, and when Black women abandoned and ignored me, it was White and Jewish women who stood with and by me.
I have also experienced White people trying to prey upon me in a time of weakness and having people of different races and genders beside me.
Womanhood… humanity is complex and simple at the same time. I know the challenge of hearing critiques of our own race, loving or not, because it’s difficult to look in the mirror.
#Metoo presents a moment for diverse women and particular White women, to look in the mirror, so that we do not continue reproducing the very inequalities we claim to disparage.
Here are 3 things that need to stop-pronto, if women are really, truly serious about solidarity. And by the power of Amerie, here’s 1 thing we can start.
1) Stop Stealing 2.0
To Milano’s *cough* credit, she later gave Burke credit for the origins of “Me too” and directed people to a link about Burke. In the age of Black Twitter, Milano could not afford backlash by ignoring the truth.
But this act of “giving credit” in tweet or a mention in an interview meets a bare minimum standard of decency. It’s just a new form of stealing. I call it Stealing 2.0.
Now that #Metoo is viral, it does not seem to matter to masses about Burke starting the campaign, and Milano can count on the history of troubling race and gender dynamics in the United States to support her. That is, she can count on mainstream media and masses of women, especially White women, to care less about her leading a campaign that is not her own.
As a matter of fact, I read there are two separate movements. Such confusion.
Thank God, there are media outlets who are running stories about Burke’s work.
Now if a celebrity man of any race had done such a thing to a white woman doing gender equity work, masses of women would be upset and railing against the patriarchy. Milano takes from a Black woman, and we get a mixed response. People act like they are ready to give her a trophy for giving credit, while she still does media rounds. I suppose it is okay for her to win a Nobel Peace Prize, too, as long as she mentions Burke in her acceptance speech.
2) Stop the High and Mighty Act
I can hear the beating of hooves along the dusty interwebs roads from women on their high horses proclaiming, “It should not matter who gets credit, as long as the message spreads.” To which I respond, “Don’t be a donkey riding on a horse.” Respect is respect. Justice is justice. Integrity is integrity.
It is highly problematic to point out about how much women make on the male dollar, about the good ol’ boys club, and glass ceilings, if women think it is perfectly acceptable to treat other woman in the same way because she is of a different race or the sky is blue.
It is time to stop the high and mighty act and get more integrity in our own gender causes. The missing ingredient is that many struggle with race and ignore how it functions along with gender. It is easy for these women to jump on their gender bandwagons to preach solidarity and equality. They seem far too comfortable in assuming experiences of White women represent the experiences of all women, and to make themselves the faces and leaders of causes. They don’t question their own lack of diverse representation in key leadership roles in organizations and movements.
Before anyone goes “not all white women,” I urge people to recall how countless women and men are upset by men lacking empathy to the #metoo campaign with the response of #notallmen. Again, stop the high and mighty act, get off the high horse, get into a car, and shift gears.
3) Stop ignoring herstory
In the previous point I mentioned about how particular women love to jump on bandwagons when it is comfortable for them. Some will stand for causes, as long as it pertains to self-interest. Call it human nature. Then there are certain White women who refuse to stand and receive backlash from other Whites when they stand for the Other. There is a herstory…and for others a legacy of White women ignoring the plight of women of color, because of the benefits they reap from a racist society. Affirmative action after all benefits White women the most.
Throughout herstory, White women received severe consequences for daring to marry across race or stand against racism. These women dared to be brave. We tend to ignore the herstory of those who went along with the status quo because of self-interest. We ignore the slave narratives that show a troubling side of White women’s solidarity. The following are two examples of such inhumane accounts:
As Harriet Jacobs notes in Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl,
“Southern women often marry a man knowing that he is the father of many little slaves. They do not trouble themselves about it. They regard such children as property, as marketable as the pigs on the plantation, and it is seldom that they do not make them aware of this by passing them into the slave- trader’s hands as soon as possible, and thus getting them out of their sight. . . .”
A former unnamed enslaved person from Georgia recalls,
“I ’member he had a real pretty gal on his place. . . One of the overseers was crazy about her, but her mother had told her not to let any of ’em go with her. So this old overseer would stick close ’round her when they was workin’, just so he could get a chance to say somethin’ to her. He kept followin’ this child and followin’ this child until she almost went crazy. Way afterwhile she run away and come to our house and and stayed ’bout three days. When my marster found out she was there, he told her she would have to go back, or at least she would have to leave his place. He didn’t want no trouble with nobody. When that child left us she stayed in the woods until she got so hungry she just had to go back. This old man was mad with her for leavin’, and one day while she was in the field he started at her again and she told him flat footed she warn’t goin’ with him he took the big end of his cow hide and struck her in the back so hard it knocked her plumb crazy. It was a big lake of water about ten yards in front of ’em, and if her mother hadn’t run and caught her she would have walked right in it and drowned.
In them times white men went with colored gals and women bold[ly]. Any time they saw one and wanted her, she had to go with him, and his wife didn’t say nothin’ ’bout it. Not only the men, but the women went with colored men too. That’s why so many women slave owners wouldn’t marry, ’cause they was goin’ with one of their slaves. These things that’s goin’ on now ain’t new, they been happenin’. That’s why I say you just as well leave ’em alone ’cause they gwine [going] to do what they want to anyhow. . . .
. . . Now sometimes, if you was a real pretty young gal, somebody would buy you without knowin’ anythin’ ’bout you, just for yourself. Before my old marster died, he had a pretty gal he was goin’ with and he wouldn’t let her work nowhere but in the house, and his wife nor nobody else didn’t say nothin’ ’bout it; they knowed better. She had three chillun for him and when he died his brother come and got the gal and the chillun.
One white lady that lived near us at McBean slipped in a colored gal’s room and cut her baby’s head clean off ’cause it belonged to her husband. He beat her ’bout it and started to kill her, but she begged so I reckon he got to feelin’ sorry for her. But he kept goin’ with the colored gal and they had more chillun.”
Where were the White women standing by the enslaved Black women? Where were the White women when Native women were being sexually assaulted and killed? Sojourner Truth raised the issue of the marginalization of the experiences of Black women when it came to the early Women’s Rights movement by asking, “Ain’t I a woman?” There were benefits to White women’s silent code of solidarity in the past and but these benefits cost their own souls and lives of masses of people. Therefore, it is not okay to whitewash anything anymore in the very least or most of things.
If we do not stop ignoring this herstory, we will do little to stamp out every bit of her troubling legacy that seeps through live on in our present day.
The 1 Thing to Start:
If you read two examples from slave narratives, I think you can imagine why low standards in solidarity are a no-go. It is time to learn how to share, girls and boys. In an interview with ABC news, Milano says she plans to work with Burke and the Creative Coalition so that #metoo becomes more than a viral hashtag. Sounds like a statement by someone who is leading the campaign, not supporting it. Maybe Burke wanted to work with the Creative Coalition, too. Nevertheless, instead of taking and running with something because of a viral tweet, what if Milano decided to relinquish being the face of a stolen movement? What if she insisted on Burke being interviewed in appearances such as Good Morning America? What if she pressed for more media appearances and interviews for Burke. Maybe these things are happening and Milano is being silent about it, while choosing to be vocal about the campaign. I do not have an inside scoop. At this moment, it is not a good look.
Solidarity requires Milano to resist the ways of the world to make the White woman front and center or the celebrity the one to follow. Solidarity looks like Milano and Burke standing side by side with mutual respect. I really hope such solidarity arise out of this campaign.
Solidarity is instead of “giving credit,” it is LIVING CREDIT. In other words it requires Milano using her platform to support the campaign that Burke started without dominating it. Celebrities know how to use their influence to support without taking over like a nod to the past. For example, in the last U.S. presidential election, we did not see celebrity supporters of the Hillary Clinton’s campaign taking over and acting like they were running for office. If it is ridiculous for Clinton, it is ridiculous for Burke. If there is a cause, which requires true solidarity, and not just lip-service unity, it is this cause of standing against sexual harassment and assault. It is a cause that requires a shift from a past of ignoring the sexual assaults of Women of Color for the economical and social benefits of White women. It is a cause that impacts all women, and requires all women to revisit our racial politics to effectively move forward.