DCP. Ep. 86 Unbound: Tarana Burke
Transcribed by: Sydney Henriques-Payne
Completion date: October 20, 2021
Gerron Keith Gaynor [00:00:03] Welcome to Dear Culture, the podcast that gives you news you can trust for the culture. I’m your co-host, Gerren Keith Gaynor, Managing Editor at theGrio,
Shana Pinnock [00:00:12] and I’m your co-host, Shana Pinnock, Social Media Director here at theGrio. And this week we’re asking “Dear Culture, what are you doing to get free?
Gerron Keith Gaynor [00:00:28] This is going to be a really good conversation this week, Shana, but before we get into it, what’s on your mind this week? A lot has happened this week.
Shana Pinnock [00:00:35] Yes, a lot. A lot. But I think the most pivotal– we would be remiss if we did not talk about it– was the passing of one Colin Powell, a member of the Republican Party, former Secretary of State, I believe. Just a decorated veteran, amazing Black man. You know, complicated history depending on, you know, who you ask, but it seems as though he was just in… To those who really and truly knew him, he was an excellent person, and I think to our culture, just in general as well as to United States history, he you know, he… He was an icon, period – plain and simple. The man passed away at, I believe, the age of 84. Unfortunately, due to COVID. COVID is, you know, snatched up so many people in these almost two years now of this B.S…. This pandemic, I think, I just want to address a couple of things. 1. If you were using the death of Colin Powell and the fact that he was fully vaccinated as a means to go on an anti-vaccine rant or spiel, you’re disgusting and you need to stop. Let’s be very clear. If anything, his death – as a fully vaccinated person from COVID – is a clear indicator for the need to be vaccinated. You know, the…We have seen, especially over the last six, seven months now “breakthrough cases” of COVID despite people being fully vaccinated. They’re still catching, you know, this this horrible virus. It’s still wreaking havoc. You know, the vast majority …vast, and when I say vast majority, I mean, like 99 percent of fully vaccinated people — the symptoms that they are feeling from COVID are relatively mild. I and… I say relatively mild because I mean, hell, we have a member of our theGrio family who had a relatively mild case and she still can’t taste anything and it’s been almost a year, you know, of COVID. And it’s terrible. And again, fully vaccinated. And it’s… But that’s a relatively mild case. I think we also need to address the fact that Colin Powell was not a man at the pinnacle of health, unfortunately. He battled several diseases and ailments, including the Powell. He had prostate cancer at one point in time that was caught early. He apparently was battling Parkinson’s disease and also had, I believe, it’s called multiple myeloma–a cancer of the blood that literally impacts your body’s ability to fight infection. No, it is not…. It’s like… Stop thinking that the vaccine is a cure. It is not. Vaccines have never been a cure. Vaccines are just another layer of protection. Period. And quite frankly, had more people been vaccinated, had more people been staying their behinds inside of the house and all of these other things, perhaps Colin Powell would still be here. But, I say all that to say, at the news of his passing, I’ve found it very, very, very disgusting commentary as to…As to his death. Again, I get it. Depending upon who you ask, you may have a complicated viewpoint about Colin Powell. You know, whether you’re like, “Oh, well, he… He lied to get us into wars in Iraq War [rambles]. You know, all of these things that — “he contributed to the hundreds of thousands of billions of people dying, et cetera.” I get that. I understand. I, and I don’t necessarily disagree. What I do disagree with is reveling in someone’s death. I’ll give you a perfect example. When Herman Cain passed away– I don’t give a rat’s patoot about Herman Cain and passing. I’m like, “All right, well get gone.” But you know what I didn’t do? I didn’t, you know again, revel in his death. Why? Because that man still has family and friends. His son is my Morehouse brother. I’m not going to be that disrespectful. You know what I’m saying? Like, it’s… It’s… You look, you look gross and you look terrible. And again, while death does not absolve anyone of their deeds or misdeeds that they performed in their life. I think that there are certain instances and circumstances where you could possibly just keep scrolling; you know, you could possibly just just shut the hell up. you could just say, “Dead? Well, you know what I had for lunch today?” That’s perf… that’s perfectly fine. You don’t have to all “Well, rest in piss…” And “He was a war criminal” and not [not audible]. OK, fine. OK. But you look gross and you look… You look like you’re trying to just be ornery and combative for the sake of being ornery and combative. And I mean, I get it in this age of social media, that’s what we do. I, you know, when Donald Trump goes…I might celebrate quietly in my house. I celebrate quietly in my house, but I mean, I don’t know. I think it’s just an example of how far society as a whole and— in terms of compassion and empathy— has fallen, and I’m I’m over it. I think it’s just another… It’s literally/// is just another example of, like, “People suck,” period. But what about you, G?
Gerron Keith Gaynor [00:06:52] Yeah, we got to do better. So, I want to bring attention to, actually, an exclusive report that I reported last week. And so, as we know, we saw what happened at the Del Rio border in Texas last month with the Haitian migrants. And I covered that story because there was a complaint that was filed by a group of Black immigrant groups; and then because I reported on that story, someone reached out to me and told me about another complaint that was already in process of being filed to the Department of Homeland Security’s Civil Rights and Civil Liberties Office to investigate a separate migrant issue involving Cameroon migrants who were deported last year during the Trump administration. And, long story short, ICE has been using this device called “The Wrap.” And so, it was created by former law enforcement officials. The intent was to prevent people dying from… By the hands of police officers or in an institutions where one spaces on the ground and they can’t breathe. And sometimes, you know, putting your, your, your foot or your knee on someone’s neck like we saw with the murder of George Floyd. And so, this device is supposed to have you sit up straight in 90 degree angle and it’s only supposed to be used in the event that, you know, the person being restrained is a harm to themselves or to others around them, or when they’re in some type of distress. And through my reporting, what it looks like as has happened, according to lawyers and representatives of five migrants– four of whom from Cameroon, one from Uganda– Uganda, that ICE was using this as a… As a tactic, a tool to put to put fear in their hearts because ultimately imagine being, you know, leaving, you know, Cameroon being a war torn country. Imagine leaving your country and, for… Because you’re, you’re fearful of your life. There’s… There’s… There’s violence. There’s gangs. And so you leave to come to America for safety. And so obviously, if you’re being deported, you’re not going to be happy. You’re going to be sad. You may plea for them to not deport you, but that’s not the same as being in distress. And so, I spoke to two of these migrants who are anonymous. They went by pseudonyms, Castillo and…Castillo and got Godswill. And they described being put in these restraints, for example. Godswill was simply walking up the steps to get into the plane. He tripped and immediately 10 officers grab him and put him into this restraint. They leave him in there while flying in the plane back to Cameroon for several hours and it wasn’t until he said that he couldn’t breathe and that he had to use a bathroom that they eventually began to let him out of this restraint. He claims that he was not in the ninety degree position, that he was in a 30 to 45 degree position. So imagine being…your head facing forward towards your knees and you can’t… you’re having difficulty breathing. And so there are multiple cases of this. Just this week, the Southern Poverty Law Center, along with some of the same organizations, filed another complaint about another… A separate deportation flight involving Cameroon. And so this is a larger issue of ICE… Of the Department of Homeland Security and then just further proves that our immigration system and the way that Black migrants, in particular African migrants, are treated. It’s a huge problem and this happened during the Trump administration. So, I’m hoping that the Biden administration actually does something. It seems like no one wants to touch the issue of immigration because it’s so convoluted and it’s so… You know, they… they don’t want it to politically harm them when it comes time for reelection next year is midterm elections. But I got a statement from ICE in my reporting and, and essentially they said that they welcome reporting of offenses by any agency and that they will investigate it. We shall see. But if you want to read more about this story, go to theGrio.com. I’m sure I’ll be following this story as it develops in the future. But, um, it’s really bad.
Shana Pinnock [00:11:05] Yeah. And I think it just goes back to, you know, our society sucks and… And I’m also not really feeling the whole, “Oh yeah, we investigate ourselves and we found nothing wrong.” Like, I’m not… I’m not… Something in the water ain’t clean. That don’t curl over the right way for me. But, here’s to hoping that a vastly unchecked, you know, institution of government can actually be checked.
Gerron Keith Gaynor [00:11:35] Yeah. And also, just like — free the migrants. And while we’re on the topic of freedom — this week, we are joined by activist and author Tarana Burke, the founder and Executive Director of the #MeToo Movement sa we talked with her about her new book,” Unbound :My Story of Liberation and the Birth of the #MeToo Movement.” While today’s show is largely focused on the broader #MeToo Movement and the release of Tarana Burke’s book, there will be some discussion of sexual assault. If you or someone you know has experienced sexual assault, you are not alone. Additional resources can be found on the #MeToo Movement website, #MeToo Movement and that’s M.V. N. T — not the full movement — dot org. That being said, this is such an important topic, so, let’s get into it.
Shana Pinnock [00:12:28] You know what’s so funny, G, and I’m glad that we’re, you know, we’re having this conversation about freedom and about liberated space because I think we as Black people, especially, we don’t know what that is. I don’t… I think we are constantly searching for freedom and searching for spaces in which we can be liberated. Whether that is, you know, being a Black woman, being queer, being trans, being, you know— sometimes just be the weird Black kid. Like where… It’s… It’s so… It’s so difficult. I think— one, and that’s probably one of my biggest fears about, you know, potentially having children in this world, birthing little Black kids who may really and truly never know freedom. You know that… That is frightening. When I think of free Black children, to be honest, I only got two in my head and that is Willow Smith and her brother, Jaden. When I say “Them, little kids is just free.” They free! You know, and granted a lot of their freedom does, I think, have a lot to do with their parents legacies, their parents money. You know, they’ve been able to afford certain aspects of freedom that we just don’t. You know, whether they are changing their hair colors or, all of a sudden, “Oh no, yeah, I did whip my hair back and forth, but now I’m to do this. ‘Meet me at….’ — “Meet Me at our Spot,” you know, song which first off, Willow —Poppin. Girl, I’ve been playing it constantly… That, it’s… It’s a jam. It’s a bop. Yes, but you know, and hell yeah. Jaden, at what, 16, 17 moved out of his parent’s house, like it was technically by the government standard, he was free. He was… He was an emancipated child. I guess, my question to you is, what do you think freedom looks like? What do you think it feels like and do you think we can actually ever really achieve it?
Gerron Keith Gaynor [00:14:36] Hmm. You know, that’s such a really good question, Shana. And I think about freedom and liberation often. In fact, I think about it daily because I lived most of my life not being free. You know, being Black and being queer and questioning my identity. You know, having self-confidence issues. Not… Not… Not even liking the sound of my own voice. You know, I went through a lot of different stages of… of trying to discover my self-love and what that actually means and not just saying it out loud, but really feeling it inside. And you know, for me, you know, just to quickly know because, because we do talk about, you know, sexual abuse when we — with Tarana, I was… and I’ve talked about it on Dear Culture a few times, that I was molested as a child. And, I honestly, kind of, it happening…. I kind of just forgot about it. And it wasn’t until I kind of had this life of very toxic romantic relationships and connecting the dots between childhood and why I chose the men that I did. And why, you know, I didn’t feel connected. I couldn’t find a connection to… To… To men in relationships because I didn’t really understand who I was. I didn’t really love myself. And so therapy and, you know, investigating that inner child in me has led me on this path of freedom. And for me, you know, today, I think that freedom looks very different depending on, you know, where you are in your life. I think there are… there are… there are levels to freedom. And when you’re Black in America, especially, you know, it can be hard to to know where freedom looks like because everywhere around you, white supremacy is just there and it just smacks you in your face. And so, to be free is an audacious thing when you’re Black, especially for someone like me who is Black and queer or someone like you who is Black and a woman. You know, there is just so much oppression coming at us from all different directions. And freedom for me is about not letting the noise — whether that’s oppression, whether that’s what people think about me –not letting the noise get in the way of how I feel about myself and letting go of shame and fear. I think ultimately the opposite of freedom is fear. And so whatever your fears are, that is where you need to run toward and investigate. Because when you… when you kind of deconstruct those fears and what comes out on the other side is freedom. And I think that a lot of people are just scared to really figure out what they’re scared of, because if you say it out loud, you have to… When you have to confront it. It’s uncomfortable and it’s a scary thing to do. But, I was able to like, look and look at myself in the mirror literally and figuratively and be like, This is what I fear. I care about what people think about me. I don’t want to feel like… I’m the… Like, I don’t know what I’m talking about. I don’t want people to look at me and by me to be smart or attractive or interesting. And once you say those things out loud, which is why I love talk therapy, you go, “Oh, it kind of… It doesn’t… it kind of sounds absurd at times… when I say these things out loud” and it’s not as…. It doesn’t…. It kind of loses its power when you’re able to say it out loud. But it’s daily work, you know, because we’re we we just kind of absorb so much throughout our lives. And it might take you 20 years to figure out what’s… what those fears are… What those fears are. It might take you 20 years to really let it all go, but it starts with truth. Like your truth. Not the truth of the people around you. Not caring about what your mama think of, what your father think, what people think at work about you, what people say about you on the internet. It’s about creating a safe space for you to be your authentic, true self. And part of that is also cultivating a space, a loving space, where people accept you for who you are and allow you to be liberated so you’re not around people who try to silence your voice or try to gaslight you into believing that who you are is not enough. But freedom and liberation may look different for you than it looks for me, but we all know it when we feel it, and I have to say I’m probably the most free I’ve ever felt in my life, and I thank God for that.
Shana Pinnock [00:18:44] Oh, that’s amazing, G and thank you again. So much, for sharing that. I think by you, you know, being able to be so transparent about your own journey, and I know it took a long time to get here — And, you know, sharing your story, that you’re creating a liberated space for others. Like, you are so appreciated. And you know, I love you. And you know, our featured guest today is also an expert at creating liberated space. By now, listeners, you’ve probably heard of the #MeToo Movement and the woman behind it, who has worked tirelessly to dismantle systemic abuse of Black girls and women. But there’s so much to the story behind the hashtag. And now in her new book, “Unbound :My Story of Liberation and the Birth of the #MeToo Movement,” activist and author Tarana Burke is telling her story and shedding a new light on the work that has freed so many others. Take a listen to this amazing conversation we had with her.
Gerron Keith Gaynor [00:19:45] Tarana, welcome to Dear Culture. We are so grateful to have you as our special guest. Before we get started, obviously the world knows you as someone who makes space for so many Black women and Black girls to share their personal stories of sexual abuse. But, I want to personally thank you, not only for creating space for Black women and Black girls, but for Black men like me who are abused as children. And I’m not sure I would have shared my story here on Dear Culture if it wasn’t for you and the movement that you created. So I just want to thank you personally for that.
Tarana Burke [00:20:24] Thank you. Thank you for sharing that, because I think probably one of the biggest missteps of this moment has been that it’s a women’s movement and it’s all about women, and it’s certainly all about survivors of all stripes. So, thank you for saying that.
Shana Pinnock [00:20:38] Yes. So we had to talk about it because it happened this week. Robert Sylvester Kelly and his recent conviction and really just a moment of vindication, I believe, for his victims. What do you think that his conviction means for the movement and just for Black girls and women, including yourself, including myself and boys, (Gerren) who are survivors? What does that mean?
Tarana Burke [00:21:12] You know, You know, it’s different, a little bit different to me than when Weinstein was convicted. The thing I was trying to get people to see is that a conviction is still about that singular person. And although it’s cathartic for the survivors and it feels like a sense of closure for the survivors, it is –we can’t, we can’t predicate what the movement is about based on each conviction, right? Because that can go any way the wind blows. I still feel that way about this R Kelly verdict, except that there is a more symbolic victory here then… Then in other cases because it’s been so long that Black women have been ringing the alarm about this person. It’s been so much effort to even just get attention to the case, right? Like, the effort wasn’t to try to get him in jail. It was, “Can people? Can people pay attention to what he’s doing because this is active abuse going on?” So, so having it come to trial again and to actually have a verdict that says that he is guilty of these, these crimes and these… These things that he did, I think [it] sent a wave… It’s sending a wave through our community ,through the Black community that says that maybe we are on the dawn of a new day now for Black women where we can come forward and tell our stories and be believed and be taken seriously. And they can be investigated. You know, all of the cases that come, all of the situations that involve sexual violence don’t necessarily have to end in jail time or have to even go through a judicial process. But there has to be accountability. It has to be some reckoning in order for there to be healing, which is the ultimate goal right for the people who experienced the harm to have space to become… feel whole again. And so I am hoping and I, you know, I’ve talked to at least one of the survivors and… And I know, you know, through interactions with some of the others and people who know them that they feel really good about that, about the verdict. But there’s also a sense of like, you still have to deal with the backlash of people who support him and say, you know, “You got that Black man put in jail” or “We don’t believe you” and all that. So,their lives are not easier, but it definitely is a little [inaudible].
Gerron Keith Gaynor [00:23:44] So, Tarana, obviously, you are the creator of the #MeToo Movement. You’re the face of the movement. But there is a point in your book– in the beginning of your book, where you talk about how when you first discover that the #MeToo Movement had become a hashtag and was almost completely co-opted, I mean, it was in the moment co-opted by ..by predominantly white women, by white women in Hollywood. And I felt the angst and the fear that you were, you know, writing about in that moment. How do we, as a culture, ensure that we are able to continue to hold space and amplify the voices of Black women and Black girls and boys who are survivors of sexual assault?
Tarana Burke [00:24:26] We have to stop worrying about what white people are doing. I mean, you know… At the end of the day, there’s no way to reel that reel it back in right? Hashtag MeToo was the thing. It’s out there and it is for everybody. It is not. It’s not solely for Black people, but at its core, at its foundation, it was about Black folks and we have to stop worrying about,… So just because white people are now engaging in or non-Black people are engaging and the movement doesn’t mean it’s not still for us. And so… At the end of the day, no matter how many Hollywood people come forward, no matter how many, you know, headline stories say, who’s getting “MeToo’d” blah blah blah — Sexual violence is still happening at an alarming rate inside of our community, and we need all the tools, all the vehicles, all the movements, all the campaigns that we can get our hands on to try to do something to interrupt that. And so, the way we stay, the course is by staying the course. Stop, stop saying things like, “Oh well, white people took over. MeToo. It’s not. It’s not ours anymore.” That’s ridiculous. That’s ridiculous. We are… We are… Whatever’s going on in their community, and what’s happening in their community is not for our, us to be concerned about. We… We are concerned about them for everything. if we would just take a step back and stop worrying about what white folks are doing, what they’re saying. If you, if you it’s like, who wore it best, right? You know, and you have them little things on the fashion blog, and they’re like, “who wore it best?” If you see some skinny, you know, 90 pound white model in an outfit and then you see Mary J. Blige in that same outfit, you’re not going to wear the outfit? Like you see Mary! We can still rock the same things and do it even better. We just have to stop worrying about what white people are soinf. So that’s my biggest advice to us. Like, it doesn’t matter.
Shana Pinnock [00:26:19] I guess my question to you would be then — it’s… And I kind of have my own thoughts about this, but I want to hear from you. Should we be gatekeeping some of these movements?, You know, like, so say, for example, I remember, you know, again, I’m Social Media Director. So we were doing something on one of the many, countless Black men who had been killed by police. And we had “say his name” as a hashtag. And there were so many people — and I didn’t even know this — who were coming in, who were like, “No, no, no, don’t use that. It is “say her name.” And it was specifically created because Black women and trans women and girls were not getting the same amount of publicity or, you know, just attention as Black men and boys were getting at that time.” Should that kind of be the same thing for MeToo, though.
Tarana Burke [00:27:12] No, I think that it’s particular, right? I think that #sayhername or even #BlackLivesMatter, right? It’s like people trying to say “All lives matter.” And you’re like “No,”.
Shana Pinnock [00:27:25] Or the Blue lives.
Tarana Burke [00:27:25] It’s not about all lives …we’re trying to amplify Black lives. And MeToo is universal in the sense that it is it is about sexual violence in general. So I’ll give you an example. When MeToo first went viral, I got a — to your point, Gerren — When MeToo first went viral, I got a ton of emails and messages from men saying, I have experienced sexual violence too, and I want to say “#MeToo,” but I feel like I don’t want to take away this moment from women. And I said, This is not about women, this is about survivors. And so if you… If I have something… An example I used then, that is… if I… if I woke up tomorrow and I found a tree in my yard and the tree bore fruit that healed people, right? Like, you eat this fruit and your wounds are healed and you feel better— I’m not going to hoard that and say, this is just for my family. I’m going to give some to my neighbors. I’m gonna tell people to plant it in their yard. But you also can’t steal my fruit, you know, what I’m saying? I’m sharing with you. And I’m saying, go plant it in yours. My point is that MeToo can be for everybody. We… we have opted ourselves out. That’s the difference I think in something like, #sayhername. We saw white people using it and the hashtag everywhere, and it was connected to white folks and is like, “Well, it can’t be for us.” And I’m saying, if it’s universal, we are part of that universe and we need to — Especially if you have a Black woman who was saying, “Well, you know, I started this for y’all.” I’m not going to opt myself out because white people are here now. I’m going to say, “Yeah, this is for us and I’m going to continue to amplify.” Everybody has a pocket. People are always saying things like, we need a #MeToo Movement for all these various pockets. I mean, a #MeToo Movement for kids, a #MeToo Movement for men, a #MeToo Movement for women. We don’t. It’s all under one umbrella, right? “Me too.” [00:29:15]The words are about an exchange of empathy between survivors, and it’s about a declaration to say this happened to me. And so the real work that we do is about after the declaration and after the exchange. [11.4s] You don’t have to pass it out and say, “Well, this one is just for men, and this one is just for children.” Anybody who can say this happened to me too, falls underneath this movement. And really, it’s about “Then What” right? Then it’s the work of healing and the work of action. So, so it’s— I do agree about the gatekeeping around certain things. Some things are literally just for us. Yeah, and we need to be clear about that, right? But I think in this case, we don’t– it’s not necessary. Although, you know, we started “We as ourselves,” which is a campaign to amplify the voices of Black women survivors. But the organization MeToo, you read all of our literature, we are a Black feminist organization. We are led by all Black — Pretty much all Black women in leadership. Our work, you know, our very first program is with an HBCU, so the work we’re doing speaks for itself. That’s who we center, but it doesn’t exclude anybody either.
Shana Pinnock [00:30:26] But you know, as we’re talking about Black women and girls specifically, and I…I I’ve said this numerous times on this show. I think fortunately and sometimes unfortunately, Black women and girls have to face the very unique dynamic that we are at the intersection of race and gender. So and I’ve also been a firm believer that Black women and girls are taught from birth in subtle and overt ways. That our duty is to protect Black men from everything, you know, like it has to be your race first and your womanhood has to take a backseat. As you know ,someone, I don’t have children of my own. Hopefully I will one day. But you know, I have a lot of younger women and girls who have come behind me. What is your advice to those of us who are trying to unlearn that terrible ideology? And, you know, for the young girls coming up with how do we disavow them of that nonsense? Yeah.
Tarana Burke [00:31:29] Yeah, it’s… it’s really difficult because patriarchy is everywhere. Misogyny is everywhere. And it is not just men perpetrating that, right? We have that. It was …it’s mostly the women in our families who gave us those unwritten rules and those messages about protecting, right? So it’s not just about like men changing their behavior or… It really is about being vigilant about checking those things when we see them in young people. You know, the… The… The other message we give is to protect men at all costs and then we have to protect ourselves. Right. That there’s no safety net for us as Black women. So… and… that’s one of the things I talk about in the book as well. These are things that we have to unlearn. This sounds as cliche as possible, but it really just takes time. It means that my… My generation knows more than my mother’s generation, right? We… I consider us sort of the self-help generation. We came up with the Iyalas and Deepak Chopras and “The secret” and all of the like, mindfulness stuff. That was sort of dawning in the 90s. It was sort of like at the height of it and your generation — I don’t know how old you are, but maybe the millennials or — because I’m like, I’m almost 50, so I’m like Gen-X.
Shana Pinnock [00:32:53] Yes.
Tarana Burke [00:32:54] The millennials and then the next– my children’s generation.
Shana Pinnock [00:32:58] Yeah, it’s Gen Z
Tarana Burke [00:33:00] Gen Z, thank you. Are the… Are the ones who have… Who… This stuff is inherent, right? It is like, when I, I love to see young Black folks who are just like, “of course, I’m going to do this and have pleasure.” “Of course I’m going to have joy in my life. I will not work anywhere that doesn’t please,” you know, like it’s just like in your brain, you just like, know it. And, so I think over time, it will change as long as, like, now your generation, I can’t even imagine what these like, Pandemic babies are going to grow up talking about, you know, they just… It just keeps getting better and better. But it really takes a lot to undo that because it is just… It’s just drilled and drilled and drilled into us, you know, it’s hard.
Gerron Keith Gaynor [00:33:43] And also in your book, you talk about your… Your abuse and thank you for being so transparent. You also talked about how you didn’t tell anybody and how and the shame and guilt around that, particularly because your abusers look like you. And I can, I can relate to that. I also didn’t tell anyone in my family about my abuser and still don’t share, you know, certain details because of shame and guilt. And I wanted to ask you, you know, how do we remove the stigma in telling our own truths so that we can not only free ourselves, but free others?
Tarana Burke [00:34:28] This this is a big question because a big part of it is about a culture shift. Right? When we say right now, for instance, when you know Bill Cosby is freed from jail or R. Kelly is convicted and is going to jail and the conversation that is happening, there are young people who are soaking up –talking about those unspoken messages –You don’t have to say it, but I hear Pop-Pop and uncle so-and-so having a conversation. Or, Auntie so-and… I hear it around me. And so, the culture, there’s a culture of silence, but there’s also a culture of complicity in our communities that and that …and it’s …and it’s really sometimes really subtle. So, of course, Im’a feel shame and guilt about what happened to me. If the messages I received are, “well, you shouldn’t be acting this way, you shouldn’t dress this way, you shouldn’t show up in the world…. This is what boys do. This is not what…. This is not what boys do.” Right? And the way that you are, the way that you feel, the way that you want to express yourself is naturally contrary to that. So that means “I’m wrong. There’s something I’m doing. I’m not able to control myself. I’ve enticed this person some way,…I’m born wrong.” Like all of those, messages are reinforced by the adults around young people. So this is about a culture shift. We have to watch what we’re saying around children. We have to be mindful that when they hear us talking about these public cases or even stuff in the community, right, we sit around the table and… And\… And talk about– adults, sit around talking about children and the ways that children show up. “This girl is fast. That boy’s a ‘sissy.'” See, all of those kind of things really add to the feelings that young people carry. I didn’t tell, not even just because I thought I was not going to be believed, I actually told because… I actually didn’t tell because I thought I would be believed. But the messages I got from my family were, “If somebody does something to you, I’m gone kill ’em” “if something happens to you, I’m,..” You know, like “at all costs.. Mama Bear, Papa Bear.” So I thought, “Well, I broke the rules. Why would I risk my father going to jail for me? I’m the bad girl,” Right? That’s… the myth…I’m seven. What do …seven year olds literally know nothing except for what we teach them. And so, I took the messages that I got and interpreted it in my own seven year old brain and made an adult decision that a child shouldn’t have to make. And so a lot of it and just there’s a long way to say, a lot of that is not going to change until adults start taking responsibility for how we show up for children… for the messages we give them and then culture shifts around how we talk about and think about sexual violence, right? This casual way. It’s also highly individualistic, not just in our community. People treat sexual violence like it’s your problem.
Shana Pinnock [00:37:35] Mm-Hmm.
Tarana Burke [00:37:35] So there’s a difference in like… violence is violence. And so I often use the analogy of gun violence because we have, you know, Not only do we have gun violence in our communities oftentimes, but we see the responses to that. So you grow… I grew up knowing drugs were bad. I grew up knowing guns were bad, right? Because I had the commercials that said, “Just say, no,” “this is your brain on drugs” [inaudible]. We had that. But I also knew about consequences, and I knew that guns killed…, you know, that kind of thing. We saw people who were killed in the community. Oftentimes in our communities, when there is gun violence, we are quick to respond.
Shana Pinnock [00:38:18] Mm-Hmm.
Tarana Burke [00:38:19] Right. We say “We don’t. We need to make sure we get these guns off the street. We need to keep our children safe.” That is the ongoing message that we hear about it, right? People get the little matching T-shirts and they show up and they have the vigils and they have, you know, fundraisers and all kinds of stuff, and they support the parents. And because we respond to that kind of violence. When there is sexual violence in our community, we don’t have a community response to that. We start whispering. “I heard somebody was messing with so-and-so” or “Did you hear about such and such?” It becomes a whisper campaign. We silenced the survivors, right? And say, “You’ll be fine.” “That, it happened to me too. These men– you can’t control them.” Or, you know, there’s all these different excuses that are made, but there’s not a sense of “We need to keep our community safe.” If there’s one person who was shot in the community, the response is “We need a safer community.” If there’s one person who was molested in the community is not the same kind of response. And until we respond to sexual violence in a way, we do to other violence –When there’s police violence in the community, we respond; when there’s political violence in the community, we respond. But when there’s sexual violence, we find all the reasons not to respond as a community, just to get individual resources. And that has to change.
Shana Pinnock [00:39:38] And I think even kind of touching on that. You know, especially as it relates to like leaders in the community. So, you know, you’re thinking of you’re the pastors and the activists and, you know, all of that and heroes in our community. So thinking of your basketball stars, you’re rappers, your Pied Pipers, you know, all of these people who are so often protected in their abusive behavior. How do we as a community, like, how do we… how do we hold these people accountable? Because I think there’s also… there’s also that really gross icky thing of… Especially for those of us who, you know, believe in, like abolishing of prisons. Like, so what? What do we do to hold those people accountable? Are we, you know,…is it a… is it a vigilante situation like?
Tarana Burke [00:40:32] I am not… I am not endorsing vigilantism in a public forum. But.. But I do think that, you know, that’s the question of the day. I don’t, I don’t have a silver bullet answer for that, but I do know this: I don’t think that… We know that… Prison… Prison and law enforcement, and it’s our judicial system doesn’t work as an as, it doesn’t work as a deterrent for people to commit crimes period. But certainly these crimes. It’s not a deterrent. People are not thinking, “Oh my gosh, I might. I shouldn’t rape this girl. I might get ten to twenty.” That’s not what’s happening clearly. And then on the other side, law enforcement is not prioritizing these crimes. You know there are rape kits… There are thousands of hundreds of thousands of rape kits.
Shana Pinnock [00:41:22] That part.
Tarana Burke [00:41:22] Across the country that are untested, backlogged because it’s just not a priority. So that means that we have to find alternatives, and it also means we have to understand this spectrum. This is the, you know, I sound like I’m beating the same drum, but sexual violence happens on a spectrum. So the person who says inappropriate things or touches you inappropriate is not the same as the Pied Piper.
Shana Pinnock [00:41:47] Mm-Hmm.
Tarana Burke [00:41:48] However, both of them have caused harm. And so while the Pied Piper person may need to be removed from the community and that at this point that looks like law enforcement, right? We don’t have other means to… to put you out of the community. It can also look like after ostracization — I don’t know how to say it but…putting people on the outside, you know? But that can look like not listening to the music, not attending the concerts, not supporting a person who you know, brings harm into your community. There are other ways to show a unified front that says, “We do not condone this behavior under any circumstances.” So, it could very well turned the other way, right? The verdict could have been “not guilty,” and he could have walked free like he did in 2008. Then what would our response be? Because in 2008, people weren’t quite invested in whether he was guilty or not. I just wanted to kind of get an Ignition Remix.
Shana Pinnock [00:42:45] Mm hmm.
Tarana Burke [00:42:45] But then 2021 people are very clear with all of the news articles and the documentary and The Blah Blah Blah. People are clear, more clear, that he is guilty and that these… these girls are telling the truth. So if he had not been found guilty, what then would our response be? Right? That’s a part of accountability, too. That’s a part of community safety too. I can’t… We can’t maybe physically put him in jail and put him out of the community, but nothing says you ain’t one of us and you can’t come to the cookout, then turn the music off. Don’t buy Tickets. So, I just think we have to be a little more imaginative. If it’s an honor, that’s a big celebrity. On a local level, if you have a pastor in a church or a teacher in a school, that’s something that you can organize around. Like, we have to turn to the tools that we have and organizing is one of the best tools that we have to make change in our communities. What would it look like if, instead of whispering about the rumors that a pastor, the deacon board or the deaconess board or whoever got together and said, “We want to have a meeting about this, we’re calling a church meeting. We’re not going to whisper about it. We want… we want this to be confronted.” You know, that’s the… it’s going to take some courage on our part and it’s going to take people. This is why I love this generation that is very much like “We will not tolerate this. I will not live or work or worship or learn in a place where people don’t love me.” Well, at least …want a place to prioritize my protection. Like these are the… this is the thing. That’s why a movement is necessary because we keep the message out there. We keep talking about it, we keep elevating it and saying “This is just as important as this. If we don’t talk about gun control, climate change, politics… All the rest that we don’t talk about sexual violence, too, as long as I keep giving me the microphone. Now, when you stop, giving me a microphone I’m just going to be outside banging on your door like, “Hey! Remember me?”
Shana Pinnock [00:44:54] I got you.
Gerron Keith Gaynor [00:44:56] Absolutely. And Torana, you know you and your work, obviously, you center liberation, and that’s what we try to censor here at theGrio and on Dear Culture. And there was this… a beautiful quote in your book that I want to read to our listeners. And it’s “I am the woman who organized and fought and taught. The woman who, despite all odds and in the face of trauma, kept traveling until she found her healing and her worth. I am her, she is me, and we are free.” And with that Tarana, I want to ask you, “What does freedom mean to you?”
Tarana Burke [00:45:30] You know, freedom is… is a big word. Liberation is a big word, and I think it’s defined differently for different people. For me, it is ever evolving, right? I felt free, for instance, when I was able to connect with my daughter and understand the things that had happened to them. I felt free. You know, I have had different occasions in my life when I saw free when I finished writing this book and I got… Even though as my story of freedom, there was another level of liberation that happened to me once I put these things in the outside. So it’s just constantly living into my truth, right? Like, there is a truth about the world. There’s a truth about my life. And sometimes we live on outside of it. Like, “I know this is real and this is true and this is what’s good for me, what I need. But this feels safe and comfortable. Or maybe I’m just scared and assigned to stay outside of my truth.” I’m constantly trying to live into it and say,” This is who I am. This is what I need. This is my story.” That liberates me and I’m, and I’m looking forward to even more liberation in my life, right? I don’t. I think that… we… it’s just like healing and we talk about healing being ongoing and it’s not a destination. Liberation is… is a very similar thing. You will be liberated over and over and over again in your life and… and the journey to that liberation is, you know, going to be fraught sometimes it’s going to be joyful sometimes. But when that moment comes… that exhale, that breathe, that… that breath that you take… that you understand “This is a different breath than the last one I took.” This… you can’t trade in that feeling. And that’s what I want for my folks. That’s what I want for Black folks. That’s what I want for survivors. And that’s what I’m trying to kind of be a living model for a living guide for.
Shana Pinnock [00:47:20] Well, you’re doing it well. Tarana, thank you so much not only for joining us on Dear Culture, but for your work, your advocacy and your leadership. Tarana’s book “Unbound: My Story of Liberation and the Birth of the #MeToo Movement” is now available wherever books are sold.
Shana Pinnock [00:47:47] We want to remind our listeners to support your local Black businesses and donate to your local organizations and religious institutions. The business that we will highlight this week is Zen in a Jar. Founded in 2013 by Nikki Brooks, Zen in a Jar is a natural skincare line, offering an assortment of scrubs, oils, soaps and whipped shea butter available in a range of scents. The online shop was born after family matriarchs helped her tap into her love language of gifting with a purpose. Zen in a jar also offers soy candles, linen sprays and baby and bridal shower in-a-box packages. To learn more, visit the website at Zen in a jar dot com. That’s Z E N I N a J A R dot com. The group has published a list of 50+ Black businesses to support during the coronavirus pandemic. If you’d like your business to be featured. Email us at Info at theGrio dot com. That’s G R I O dot com.
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