When #MeToo excludes me: current movement mutes black women’s voices

Time Magazine’s Person of the Year cover, featuring (clockwise) Ashley Judd, Taylor Swift, Susan Fowler, Adama Iwu and Isabel Pascual. An anonymous woman’s elbow appears in the lower right corner. (Time Magazine)

Time Magazine recently released their Person of the Year issue, showcasing the “silence breakers” — multiple women who spoke out against sexual violence and who spurred a national conversation with the “#metoo movement.”

At first glance, I noticed that one of the more prominent of the five faces pictured on the cover was Taylor Swift, who won a lawsuit against a radio personality who sued her after he was fired for allegedly groping her.

But omitted from the cover was the founder of the Me Too Movement, Tarana Burke, who first coined the phrase 10 years ago to combat the silence over sexual violence.

The article wasn’t much deeper than the cover. I counted 21 white women and one white man out of 35 images of people featured in the spread. Six of the people featured were black women, including Burke, who was interviewed for Time’s story.

The article gave the biggest credit to the celebrities and movie stars, saying that because they came forth, it is now easier to believe people who lack power, such as a cook who has endured sexual harassment for years.

It is intolerable and reprehensible that the history and struggle of black women when it comes to sexual violence and harassment was nothing more than a footnote in the “honoring” of a movement.

“This reckoning seems to have sprung up overnight,” according to Time.

Nothing about that statement is true. Time does a disservice to young women and girls to offer a spotty recap of women’s history and analysis of the present. If this problem is going to be fixed, we need to tell those stories and give humanity to the people that lived them, so we don’t pass the hurt and shame to our daughters.

#Metoo isn’t new, and Tarana Burke’s idea and creativity should not be a footnote in this article.

In this country, sexual exploitation has been a yoke around the neck of black women ever since the auction block. This affected black women and young girls — slaves, house girls, maids and nannies. The were forcibly bred and also made to watch their husbands, brothers and young sons raped and emasculated by slave masters. This was a common practice and a lot of it is the root of the brutality we see today regarding men in high places against, today, women of all races.

These are the shoulders that we stand on.

What does that say about our society that celebrities are honored as the groundbreakers in a struggle that black women have long fought? Well, it probably says the same thing that having a man like Donald Trump as a president says.

Black women were and still are the most under-protected group in this country. We still have to read the fine print to find ourselves in these stories from powerful publications. The history of our pioneering in the fight against sexual violence in this country is one of the best kept secrets not found in your daughter’s history book.

The next time Time attempts to formulate a piece about the topic, I suggest they read the book “At the Dark End of The Street” by Danielle McGuire, about the history of sexual assault against black women as the building blocks of the Civil Rights movement. It takes a holistic view from beginning to present.

If you don’t already know the history, McGuire’s book tells you the story of Recy Taylor. Taylor, who is still living at age 90, was gang raped in 1944 by six white men on her way home from church. She reported the crime immediately, even though perpetrators were seldom held accountable for abducting, raping and harassing black women.

Time would have done better to honor survivors and silence-breakers with Taylor’s story. Her house was fire bombed with her 3-year-old child inside. Her young family moved to her parents’ house for safety, and her father sat in a tree out front with a shotgun at night to protect them.

The lawyer representing the accused men also offered her husband a settlement of $600 — $100 per each attacker — to drop the case. The Taylors declined and pressed forward.

It was Recy Taylor’s brutal rape, the court cases that followed and many other cases like hers that sparked the organization of the Civil Rights movement. That movement has benefited white women more than any other group today.

Perhaps Time could have talked about how in 2011 the Alabama House of Representatives apologized to Recy Taylor on behalf of the state of Alabama for never prosecuting her attackers. This was six years ago — 67 years after she was raped.

I also wonder why none of the black women who were assaulted by Oklahoma City Police Officer Daniel Holtzclaw were interviewed or featured.

Raise your hand if you remember him.

The police officer was sentenced to 263 years in prison for the rape, sexual battery, stalking and oral sodomy of 13 black women in Oklahoma. The assaults took place while Holtzclaw was patrolling and on duty and the women were targeted because of their backgrounds and socioeconomic statuses in an attempt to intimidate them.

This is not about us screaming “ what about us?” This is about observing history in this country holistically so that we may correct a serious problem. Experience teaches us that if we don’t know our history we are destined to repeat it.

But hey, let’s talk about Taylor Swift.

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4 Comments

  1. This article was educational . The history of black womens sexual exploitation is one of the many secrets AMERICA doesn’t want to talk about. So much of how we live today is a part of that don’t tell silence is no longer an option. Time magazine is not our source of truth.

    1. Thank you Michelle,

      I encourage anyone who has not read Dr. Mcguire’s book to get it, read it and then pass it to a young person to read.
      We have to do the educating of younger generations. The system isn’t going to do it for us.

      I appreciate you reading my work!

  2. Tierra,

    I so enjoyed reading your historical based article. The struggle for Black women voices to be heard is tremendously aided by your deeply felt and factual rendering of the social, domestic, and physical abuse of Black women. I clearly remember how my nemesis, Anita Hill, was mocked and her story of sexual abuse by her co-worker, Clarence Thomas, was practically dismissed as merely a manufactured account by a woman scorned. He married a white woman. This was in 1992 and I, a graduate student, was beyond livid. We have come a long way and are so blessed to have writers like yourself who are committed to placing Black womens voices in their rightful position – that of in the foreground in the narrative of sexual violence against women. I commend you!!

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