PERSPECTIVE: #MeToo intertwines with other issues, too

Shannon Isom

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Shannon Isom

The great thing about social movements is their ability to get people talking. But the real question I have about the recent #MeToo movement is: Is this the talking that will mobilize change?

For women, and especially women of color, it seems as though the last great breakthrough, the last great movement, happened decades ago. As a Generation X woman, I have to harken back to times I don’t remember, but because of the nostalgia, feel as if I have remembrance. I am a by-product of these past movements — the sexual revolution, women’s liberation and the wonderful conflation of the pushing out and breaking down of those traditional mores that kept women bound for so long.

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The ability to have a voice; the ability to have a choice in a pant suit or a wrap-dress; and the ability to break through the glass ceiling. The cries of being smart, strong and bold were a normalized cry from the Baby Boomers to the girls of my generation. We did not necessarily identify with the hardships prior generations experienced to get us here, although we thought we did.

“I’m Black and I’m Proud.”

That statement, intertwined with gender, for me, like so many, was the preparation needed for the civil- and social-rights revolution. It was about identity and spirit, and about the breaking of glass ceilings and ancient barriers. And although I was born a moment past the swell of the civil-rights movement, I again feel like I was there. The palpable effects that permeated that time ushered me to be all I could be, fell easily upon me. And I knew — that I was a black girl and many people before me paved a way; maybe even the way. I was to continue to push out, and shoulder-carry and strive forward and put my back into it; for we shall overcome. And so I did.

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So now, me too.

Being a black girl meant there were some things one quickly realized. I don’t remember the first objectification; the unsolicited touches, the unapologetic innuendos, remarks, propositions, demands. And the need to be protected and to be ready to protect myself were omnipresent. Be alert; know your surroundings; never walk alone; lock the doors; watch what you wear — intertwined and overlapped with be smart; watch what you say; use proper English; be still; you are representing black folks, you have to be better prepared than anyone in the room; be articulate; no errors.

Quickly, insidiously, I knew: I was the object and the receiver of masculine wiles — uncertain and unsure when the next micro-aggression would be attempted or when I would move from one conversation to then navigating sexual advances. And it was the same. I have to be as quickly responsive and agile with race; and to be ready when I move from one conversation to a statement about my race or better, the stereotypical conclusions about race, micro-inequities. And so it goes….

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For me, #MeToo represents more than the sexual violence against women; it represents the platform for all women, specifically, white women, to advocate for all women, not just when class and structure clamor.

Black women have been waiting for white women — all women — to connect the dots. When any woman is assaulted, all women are assaulted. For those of us who intersect and carry the weight of race and gender, the shared woman experience is broad enough, big enough and heavy enough to warrant us all. #MeToo is not linear. An assault on a black woman is an assault on a white woman and therefore, an assault on all women.

As a black woman, I know my status depends on how majority women are perceived. I have often looked up and in back and around when issues disproportionately affect black women, to see no one else there. I immediately connect the dots; I know that any woman’s plight will disparagingly hurt black women more. I would like our shared MeToo hashtag to really mean — me too — in health care; in pay wages; in professional leadership and representation; in violence against our children, our black boys; in education; and in sexual violence.

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We are patient; women, and especially women of color. This may be it — this may be our time as social consciousness undulates, buttoning history, which may be the surge needed to uncover sexual, hidden aggression and violence against women. I am hopeful that our time is now. That there is now a critical mass of class, affluent and privileged women to convene and organize all women to demand to men — Stop it! And demand to women — Say it! And then to look to me — a black woman and say — Me too!

Shannon Isom is President and CEO of the Dayton YWCA.

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