Dear Culture

Unbound: Tarana Burke

Episode 86

Read the full transcript here. 

What does it mean to be free? This week on the Dear Culture podcast, our hosts, theGrio Social Media Director Shana Pinnock and theGrio Managing Editor Gerren Keith Gaynor, sit down with activist and author Tarana Burke to discuss her new book, Unbound: The Story of My Liberation and the Birth of the MeToo Movement. 

If you look at Burke’s Twitter bio, she names herself a servant leader. For decades, Burke’s work as an activist has been in service to helping others find liberation for themselves and their communities.

Now, years after her work and the movement she started is known globally, Burke said she realized she had to go back to the past in order to continue moving forward. This is the basis of her new memoir, which details her own sexual assault as young girl, the subsequent shame she had to work through and her roots as an activist. 

Tarana Burke
Tarana Burke speaks onstage during the 2018 Essence Festival presented by Coca-Cola at Ernest N. Morial Convention Center. (Photo by Paras Griffin/Getty Images for Essence)

According to data gathered in a report by the National Center on Violence Against Women in the Black Community, one in four Black girls will be sexually abused before the age of 18 and according to the Department of Justice, one in five Black women are survivors of rape.

Burke says Black girls and women occupy a complex intersection of race and gender that makes them exceptionally vulnerable to harm. She said changing the way we think about sexual violence is an important step in addressing abuse both within Black culture and the culture at large. 

“This is about a culture shift. We have to watch what we’re saying around children,” Burke explained. “We have to be mindful that when they hear us talking about these public cases or even stuff in the community, a lot of that is not going to change until adults start taking responsibility for how we show up for children. The messages we give them, and in culture, shifts around how we talk about and think about sexual violence, right. [In] this casual way. It’s also highly individualistic, not just in our community. People treat sexual violence like it’s your problem.”

ESSENCE Black Women In Hollywood Awards - Show
In this image released on April 22, 2021, Tarana Burke speaks onstage during ESSENCE Black Women in Hollywood Awards in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Randy Shropshire/Getty Images for ESSENCE)

Burke’s book isn’t only a recounting of the trauma that marked her childhood, but also a story of resilience, perseverance, and freedom. 

“It’s just like healing. We talk about healing being ongoing and it’s not a destination—liberation is a very similar thing,” Burke said. “You will be liberated over and over and over again in your life and the journey to that liberation is, you know, going to be fraught. Sometimes it’s going to be joyful, but when that moment comes—that exhale, that breath that you take that you understand this is a different breath than the last one. That’s it. You can’t trade in that feeling. And that’s what I want for my folks.” 

Tune in to the Dear Culture podcast to hear the entire inspiring conversation, including Burke’s thoughts on R. Kelly and Bill Cosby and their impact on the fight against sexual violence—plus Pinnock and Gaynor sound off on what freedom means to them.  

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