The White Washing of #MeToo
There are many Americans who cognitively operate under the just-world fallacy, the tendency of humans to believe that good people will be rewarded and bad people will be punished. We are lead to believe that the fruits of devoted effort and hard work will be recognized, which unfortunately is not true in our world of hierarchal power structures and disparities in media visibility. A person can begin a nonviolent campaign centered on the cathartic release of trauma from sexual violence for young women of color only to have it hijacked by the anti-feminist interests of corporate America and their perhaps unknowing co-conspirators, the “white feminists” of Hollywood. If Tarana Burke were to say that she believed in the just world fallacy, I would be surprised, because the utilization of this principle by the media has failed and banished her to the background of a movement she started. Burke and other women of color’s exile to the backdrop of this movement is emblematic of second, third, and even fourth wave feminism, where upper-class white women were always in the symbols of power within the movement, wielding racism and classism to achieve their ultimate goal of equality with their white male counterparts. The #MeToo movement, as well as the macroscopic feminist campaign, has become whitewashed. It is up to us, the informed, to provide it with some color.
In the United States of America, two versions of Me Too exists; the obscure, real, intersectional campaign and its imitation. The real Me Too was the brainchild of the black Bronx native Tarana Burke, an accomplished grassroots community organizer and a survivor of sexual assault. Her Me Too was founded back in 2007, a whole ten years before Alyssa Milano tweeted those same words and irrevocably changed the entertainment industry forever. Throughout her life, on several occasions, while attending various leadership training camps, Burke encountered a number of young women of color who had experienced sexual violence. Her Me Too was an effort to let those young women of color, often low-income and from fractured communities, know not only that they were not to blame for their victimhood but also they were not alone. This movement is focused on taking ownership of their collective trauma, healing individuals and communities by empowering survivors through empathy, thus allowing for community healing. If this peaceful force was the version of Me Too that the media would publicize, imagine the potential for real healing that could be achieved. Instead, we are left with an incomplete narrative that excludes many survivors for the sake.
When people think about the typical faces associated with #MeToo, one might imagine Alyssa Milano, Rose McGowan, Asia Argento, Ashley Judd, among others. From this original and powerful chorus of voices came many female actresses and entertainers speaking out against their various tragic experiences with sexual violence. This movement has permeated not only the American news consciousness but also many other countries’ media are broadcasting about the #MeToo movement, allowing these nations to finally grapple with the sexual violence inherent in many of their social institutions.
Despite its wide-reaching and positive implications, the #MeToo movement is still very problematic. In society, there is an unequal distribution of power in all spheres, social, political, economic, etc. Those in power shape discourse by using the symbolic potency of language. When the media is commissioned, supported, and ran by capitalist and corporate interests, it tends to bolster viewpoints that align with the views of the elite. If the elite wants to define “sexual violence victim” or “sexual violence survivor” as an affluent, attractive, typically heterosexual and cisgendered, white female, then all the survivors who exist outside this oppressive box do not get the proper recognition of their trauma. When #MeToo is framed as a social campaign to challenge sexual assault at the workplace, it 1) excludes the people who were victimized outside of the workplace and 2) focuses on a very specific, very white workplace: the casting call rooms of actors and actresses. What about the five-year-old Asian boy who was molested by his aunt at an amusement park? Is he not #MeToo? Does he not deserve acknowledgment of his pain? Or about the twenty-five-year-old Native American sex worker who was raped by her boyfriend, is she not a rape survivor and a member of #MeToo? Should she be prohibited from #MeToo because of her occupation? It also erases all of the hard work of Tarana Burke and the harrowing stories of the young women of color who were rightfully at the center of the original Me Too. Perpetuating the idea of white female victimhood also helps to fortify the negative sexual stereotypes that plague women of color, such as the Jezebel or the Sapphire. Of course in a movement where pain is universally felt, some people’s pain is more equal than other people’s pain. Frankly, when it comes to the visibility and acknowledgment of pain, women of color will constantly be discredited, ignored, and persecuted. When young WOC say that they have been raped or sexually assaulted, they are not met with praise. Instead, derision, doubt, and even more physical or psychological attacks shun them into silence, and who will speak for them? The white feminists who push WOC to the side of the movement founded for them? White women’s trauma will always be sold as the nation’s pain, while black/Latinx/Asian/Native American trauma will be marketed as a pain in the nation.
There will always be people who live, work, and breathe outside our socially imposed barriers. The future success of #MeToo will be measured by how willing people are to widen their definitions and perspectives. In order for justice to be done, for us and for the survivors, we have to destroy the divides that seek to segregate us. The survivors are counting on us to transcend corruption and deliver on our promises of healing, peace, and love.