How do we count the ways we love Tarana Burke? The #MeToo founder has been rightfully getting her shine since the movement bearing the name she coined caught Hollywood’s attention last fall. In the months since, she has appeared on red carpets, been honored in Time magazine, and become a regular on the talk and news show circuits.
But amid all the fanfare, the one thing Burke has never neglected is her mission to support and protect black and brown girls and women, a point she made abundantly clear when she appeared on Comedy Central’s The Opposition With Jordan Klepper on Thursday—her segment begins at the 15:31 mark.
“We started #MeToo because it was an exchange of empathy between survivors, to let them know that they’re not alone,” she said.
Since Klepper’s show is satirical, he naturally played devil’s advocate when discussing the need and motives of #MeToo, voicing the increasingly irrational concerns of men who likely feel that the movement endangers their right to sexual entitlement. When asked by Klepper about the danger of conflating sexual harassment and assault under the umbrella of a single hashtag, Burke illustrated the larger danger of ignoring the insidious nature of sexual harassment:
There’s no conflation; there’s actually a spectrum. And so, sexual harassment and sexual abuse and sexual violence are on a spectrum. On one end, we have sexual harassment, which creates hostile environments and make people uncomfortable and really open a gateway for more intense violence. So they can all live under the same hashtag.
She went on to point out that #MeToo’s actual mission is “empowerment through empathy”—a mission that we share here at The Glow Up. When Klepper playfully quipped that he thought empathy to be synonymous with weakness, Burke very seriously replied:
Empathy is actually the opposite of weakness; it is the power between two people. ... When one person says to another person, “Me too,” that person has shared something about a trauma that they experienced. The other person is empowered by that; it’s the power in knowing that you’re not alone, it’s the power in knowing that somebody believes you, and hears you, and sees you, and is there for you.
But ever the comedian, Klepper wasn’t done, ribbing Burke on why she continues to fix her social media gaze upon alleged serial sexual abuser and pedophile R. Kelly. Through Klepper’s satirical lens, Kelly’s only relevance should be related to his record releases. Burke coolly responded with the clapback of the night: “You know what else he hasn’t released? The women that he’s holding captive in houses in Atlanta and Chicago.”
When I tell you that I stood up and applauded and whooped with the studio audience! And as always, Burke brought the movement back to black and brown girls and their specific vulnerability—and invisibility—in discussions of sexual abuse.
[P]eople tend to not care about things that affect the most marginalized amongst us. [Kelly’s] victims, the people who he seeks out are vulnerable girls who come from vulnerable communities, and they look like me, mostly. ... [N]ow—largely because of this movement—we are bringing more attention to people like R. Kelly and hoping that we can take him down.
All in all, in our current era of catchphrases, memes and passing trends, Burke’s appearance on The Opposition was a cogent reminder that our collective work must continue, even—no, especially—amid all the well-deserved attention. She also made sure that The Opposition’s audience left knowing that #MeToo is far more than a hashtag:
“The #MeToo movement is here to stay,” said Burke.