Unfortunately, like so many other women, I can say #metoo.
It was an encounter with my boss at my first real job. He said I needed to show him some gratitude. He had a gaze that made me uncomfortable. In that moment I decided to never be alone in a room with him. I never told anyone about that experience until now.
So, these confessions and declarations lately from so many women reclaiming their personhood and shedding their victim status – they feel good and bad at the same time.
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Having the courage to act in solidarity and share experiences that are embarrassing and diminishing is, well, huge. For black women, it’s also intersectional. The first time I knew I was vulnerable because of my gender, I was five years old. The first time I knew I was vulnerable because my race? I was 10. When did I become vulnerable because of both? At birth.
As a black woman, I don’t get to choose which aspect of my identity matters more. If I were to declare “Women’s lives matter,” your rebuttal probably wouldn’t be “No, all lives matter.” After all, I am a woman with #metoo stories. But if I say “Black lives matter,” some who believe my life matters as a woman don’t believe my life matters because I’m black. In fact, with the former declaration, some would celebrate me as a feminist proclaiming my allegiance to sisterhood and equality and equity and humanity. The latter results in people calling me a terrorist.
My grandmother and my mother had scars on their faces from a car accident. It wasn’t until both of them had passed away that I learned that they got those scars because a white man hit them in a head-on collision. When asked if he saw the car, he said “Yes, I saw it. But, I swerved to avoid hitting a dog.” He said he believed that the dog’s life was more important than “a car full of n------.” So, the need to make these declarations about being a woman – and a black woman – are personal, deep, interrelated and necessary. Sharing stories can create a shared humanity. Or radical compassion, at least.
But #metoo should also remind us of something else: It isn’t the most Neanderthal of men who have been bad boys – either perpetrating the behavior or being complicit with it. In the same way it isn’t only the Dylan Roofs of the world that engage in racist behavior, we’ve seen some of the “good guys” in Hollywood being accused of bad behavior. Sexism and sexual assault (physical and otherwise) come in unexpected ways, and they conceal themselves in ways we have come to accept as normal.
What are we doing to dismantle institutions and paradigms and beliefs that suppress equity and protect perpetrators of assault and discrimination? The World Economic Forum declared last week that women won’t have economic equality for 100 years. Fathers, is that OK for your daughters? Husbands, for your wives? Brothers, for your sisters? And also, how long do you think it would take to achieve racial/ethnic equality? Human beings, is it OK that we don’t have that?
You might not have a #metoo story. That’s fortunate. There’s probably someone close to you who does. Ask. Listen. Take their story with you. It’s our story. It needs to change.
Capers facilitates Black Lives Matter Charlotte, an initiative of the Charlotte Post Foundation. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org.