Appropriation of the Hashtag #MeToo for Victims of Sexual Assault

Let’s set the record straight. Just like Christopher Columbus didn’t actually discover America. Actress Alyssa Milano did not create the hashtag #MeToo for victims of sexual assault. In fact, the “Me Too” campaign was created by a black woman named Tarana Burke in 2007, long before hashtags even existed.

Burke, founder of youth organization Just Be Inc.told Ebony Magazine that she created the campaign as a grass-roots movement to reach sexual assault survivors in underprivileged communities.

“It wasn’t built to be a viral campaign or a hashtag that is here today and forgotten tomorrow,” the 44-year-old told Ebony this week. “It was a catchphrase to be used from survivor to survivor to let folks know that they were not alone and that a movement for radical healing was happening and possible.”

As the Huffington Post reports, the campaign recently turned into a hashtag after Ms. Milano wrote a call-out on Twitter asking followers to share their stories of sexual harassment and assault using the phrase “Me too.” While the Who’s the Boss and Charmed actress did not state that she created the campaign, many media outlets credited the actress for originating the hashtag.

How’s that for cultural appropriation.

Burke, however, took the high road and sees the bigger picture. She told Ebony that it’s “powerful” to see the hashtag go viral. “What’s happening now is powerful,” she said. “And I salute it and the women who have disclosed, but the power of using ‘me too’ has always been in the fact that it can be a conversation starter or the whole conversation ― but it was us talking to us.”

On Monday, Milano tweeted that she was “made aware of an earlier #MeToo movement” and linked to Burke’s story. This week, Burke also discussed the origins and relevancy of the “Me Too” movement with Democracy Now. As a survivor of sexual violence herself, Burke said she used the “me too” phrase as a way to connect with other survivors, specifically young women of color.

”[I was] trying to find a succinct way to show empathy,” Burke said. “Me too is so powerful because somebody had said it to me and it changed the trajectory of my healing process once I heard that. Me too was about reaching the places that other people wouldn’t go, bringing messages and words and encouragement to survivors of sexual violence where other people wouldn’t be talking about it.”

In a tweet, Burke said: “The point of the work we’ve done over the last decade with the ‘me too movement’ is to let women, particularly young women of color know that they are not alone ― it’s a movement.”

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