The Daily Tar Heel

Serving the students and the University community since 1893

Monday June 27th

Column: The layers of race behind “Me too”

Over the past week, the “Me Too” campaign has made its way across social media. But it was Tarana Burke, a black woman, who started this movement over 10 years ago.

Before going further with my thoughts on it, I want to commend all the brave people who have stepped forward in being vulnerable. I also want to commend those who have not, and will not participate in the campaign because they do not want to share their story. 

And to those who have no story to share, I sincerely hope you never have to write “me too.”

First, I cannot discuss how sexual harassment affects my life without acknowledging how my race and ethnicity exacerbate it, specifically because a black woman is an architect of this movement.

Is it better to be called “exotic princess” rather than “honey?” How do you compare the two? 

You don’t, and I can’t. The experience is surreal, even on UNC’s campus. 

I hear, and feel, sexual harassment from people I think are on my side. 

I hear it from those who coat their words in Orientalist language as a way to get through to me.

I hear it through interrogations about “what I am” — as if my answer will serve as a justification.

I hear it through the assumption that I “don’t look or act like the others” — my hair kinks differently and there isn’t “a rag on my head.”

I hear it from people who share my skin and tone. I hear it from people who can pronounce my name beautifully and accurately. 

I hear it from people who can so eloquently deconstruct the institution of gender but have trouble understanding “no.”

If people are supposed to be on my side, why do I hear silence when I bring up the issue?

If so many people claim to be one of the “good ones,” why is it that I only see the “bad ones?”

If people want to “save me,” why is nothing done when it is brought up?

There is a disconnect — somehow, the more we bring this issue to light, the more we get placed in the dark. 

Particularly for people of color, as their concerns often go unnoticed or shoved under the rug.

When this is coupled with the issue of sexual harassment and assault that is already a difficult, institutionally “taboo” discussion, the added layers of race and ethnicity magnify its intersections.

Beyond looking at the magnitude of those who have experienced sexual harassment or assault, pay attention to how someone’s race and ethnicity can frame what sexual harassment and assault look to them. 

At school, at work, with friends and in the public, race and ethnicity permeate into people’s lives. 

The layers to how people of color navigate conversations like this are important to acknowledge and bring to light.

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