Civil rights activist Tarana Burke began using the phrase “Me Too” to advocate for victims of sexual violence 11 years before Harvey Weinstein’s downfall turned the expression into a viral hashtag. The former studio chairman’s recent rape indictment should not plateau the movement, she believes. During a May 30 appearance on “The Daily Show with Trevor Noah,” Burke said Weinstein’s arrest last week “doesn’t bring me personal joy, this is not really what it’s about,” adding, “This is not really a moment to celebrate how the mighty have fallen.”
In the months since The New York Times and The New Yorker published Pulitzer Prize–winning accounts of how Weinstein allegedly mistreated women for decades, dozens more men — including Kevin Spacey, Louis C.K, Matt Lauer, and Morgan Freeman — have answered to claims of sexual assault or worse. “It feels like playing Whac-A-Mole after a while, right?” asked Burke. “It’s like, ‘Who’s the next person that #MeToo’s going to take down?’ And that’s not really our focus. If that’s a byproduct of people coming forward and telling their truth…then that’s fine. But our goal is really to support the survivors, and to make sure survivors are in a place of leadership in the work to end sexual violence. It’s not about taking down powerful men.”
Burke joined Lupita Nyong’o, Tiffany Haddish, and others May 13 at the Harlem restaurant Red Rooster for a party thrown by entertainment lawyers Nina Shaw and Gordon Bobb. During the event, Burke implored the DJ to turn off a song by R. Kelly, who women have been accusing of sexual misconduct and domestic abuse since the mid-’90s. Just three days before, Spotify had removed his tracks from parts of its online platform, per a new policy forbidding music that “expressly and principally promotes, advocates or incites hatred or violence.” But Spotify CEO Daniel Ek has since said the company “rolled this out wrong and we could have done a much better job.”
Kenyette Barnes and Oronike Odeleye founded the #MuteRKelly campaign last year, and Burke is a vocal supporter. “There are R. Kellys in our neighborhoods, in our communities, in our schools, in our churches,” she told Noah. “He represents a thing that we can’t touch, we can’t stop. We cannot get people to pay attention to the plight of sexual violence against black and brown girls, and R. Kelly’s a perfect example of it…You cannot put a song, you cannot put a person’s talent over somebody’s humanity. That’s just insane.” Burke also contends that if Kelly’s alleged victims were white girls or black boys, “there would be a movement against him that would have started and ended 10, 15, 20 years ago.”
According to Burke — who shared TIME magazine’s 2017 “Person of the Year” honors with Rose McGowan, Ashley Judd, Taylor Swift, and other “silence breakers” — a true culture shift has yet to occur in the wake of #MeToo. “I think that we have seen a culture starting to move in a different direction, but a true culture shift won’t happen until we are resocialized about how we think about sexual violence, and how we engage with each other, and how we talk to each other.”
Watch the full interview below.