On Sunday evening (October 15), when I saw many of my Facebook friends posting #MeToo, I immediately derided the viral campaign to raise awareness about the prevalence of sexual assault. I did not yet know that Tarana Burke, a Black woman who aims to bring necessary resources to sexual assault survivors in marginalized communities, had been using #MeToo online, in speeches and on T-shirts, for more than a decade. All I knew was that within the context of intense media coverage of Harvey Weinstein’s long history of sexual harassement and his alleged sexual violence, actress Alyssa Milano had retweeted a call for “all the women who have been sexually harassed or assaulted” to use “MeToo.” as a status” to “give people a sense of the magnitude of the problem.”
Just that morning I had been annoyed by actress Rose McGowan’s racism. A few days before that, I was irked by the [W]hite women who thought it wise to boycott Twitter after her suspension from the service. Once again, they were ignoring the women of color broadly, and Black women specifically, who do not have the luxury of silence or invisibility.
In witnessing #MeToo grow with each post, I was also unnerved by its exclusionary messaging that invited only women to share experiences of sexual abuse. My thoughts went to Black people of all (non)genders—people who either do or do not exist on the traditional spectrum of gender identity and expression —who were not welcome. I wondered when and if Black survivors who are men—specifically those with carceral backgrounds—would ever have sweeping opportunities to candidly share their experiences without condemnation.
My overall arrogance gave me room to question the need for survivors to publicly share their stories at all. My assumption was that everyone already knew how extensive sexual violence is and that, collectively, we’d already come to understand that the burden is on harm-doers to stop sexual assault.
I drafted many statuses raising these points, but, fortunately, deleted them. Ultimately, my instinct told me that #MeToo, with all its loaded implications and decentralized nature, simply needed time to stabilize. Survivors who chose to participate deserved space to be heard without my interrogation, suspicion or arrogance.
The next day, I posted on Facebook, “It’s my sincerest hope that we let the #MeToo initiative develop, scale, and stabilize before we critique it, attack it, challenge it, trash it.” I was responding to criticisms people were raising that mirrored my own—criticisms that neglected the agency of participating survivors. I was particularly concerned with people who dismissed the campaign because of its supposed failure to provide actionable next steps, as if survivors publicly speaking up is not an action in and of itself. I also hoped to give room to other survivors who were graciously reminding the digital marketplace to use content- and trigger-warnings—a necessary accountability measure that I feared would be drowned out in the wave of less urgent concerns. I even grew furious as spectators called survivors’ storytelling “pointless” and said they were “irritated” by it.
My evolution on #MeToo applies broadly to social justice movement culture in the online-era; a contemporary moment in which “likes,” shares and retweets measure impact. I fear that in the rush to be first and viral, we trample on the very people that we are in community with and levy criticisms that ultimately do not age well.
For example, with #MeToo, Black people of many (non)genders shared their stories and they edited the exclusionary messaging first associated with the campaign to reflect the totality of survivors. They did so without having to read a thinkpiece or viral Facebook post calling attention to how narrow the messaging was.
Having been a community organizer within the Movement for Black Lives since its founding, I have witnessed the visceral desire to criticize almost every action, campaign, intention, organization and individual who dares to pursue Black liberation in some way. I’ve done it myself. But with each growing day, as liberation appears both nearer and farther, I want patience in how we deal with one another in our attempts to get free. I want honesty in knowing that fuck-ups are an inherent element in this work and that we should accept them instead of aiming for a perfection that is fictional.
Viscerality is at all times delicate, subjective and instinctive. It’s an honest expression that drives us. When done against [W]hite supremacy, it is an effective emotive response that reflects the non-negotiability of our humanity. But viscerality with one another is potentially dangerous in that we discount or impugn our own abilities to make decisions we believe are best for us.
I ask that, going forward, we remember the path to liberation is an unclear and sullied one. I ask that we remain diligent in our love for one another and that we trust one another through our oversights and imperfections.
Arielle Iniko Newton is an editor at @RaceBaitR, an organizer within the Movement for Black Lives and the founder of the Black Giving Fund. She’s the host of RaceBaiting, the first RaceBaitR podcast. As Head Girl of Ravenclaw, she is an unapologetic mermaid, abolitionist and radical militant freedom fighter. Follow her on Twitter at @arielle_newton or send her an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.