Why #MeToo Has No Place for Me…Yet: Recentering Black Women in the #MeToo Movement

Mar 08, 2023

By Marsheda Ewulomi


*Content Warning: This piece contains discussion of sexual violence and suicidal ideation.


I clutched my cell phone tightly as I attempted to inhale my sobs. A friend of mine who was visiting was in the next room and I didn’t want her to hear me breaking down to my best friend, Marilyn. “Marsheda there is something you aren’t sharing. You don’t have to share it with me, but you have to get it out to heal,” she said. For a moment, time floated in my throat. She was right. Beyond her being a licensed mental health practitioner and doctoral student, we had been “chosen sisters” for over seventeen years. She knew me. She also knew how essential words were to unlocking my liberation.

I heard myself say, “I let him rape me and I stayed.” The “him” was my ex-fiancé. We had been together for close to five and a half years before we finally called it quits. At the time of this conversation with Marilyn, close to three years had passed since the wrap-up of our relationship. However, I still had difficulty forgiving myself for not protecting myself. For not leaving sooner. For not believing I was worth more.

It had been three years since our breakup and the thought that I was still having to clean up the aftereffects of what he had done to me elevated my body temperature. Was being trapped in my apartment alone during the peak of COVID-19 with all of the demons and childhood trauma that the split caused to surface not enough? I left him with a better-paying job, improved personal business, and a better haircut. In exchange, I got trauma that I was now responsible for managing. Still, it took time, but I had finally stopped being angry. I had healed and moved on. But this story of “I let him…and I stayed” played in the undercurrent of my subconscious as a Scarlet Letter I tried so hard to conceal and avoid. I did not want to make time to go through the process of healing as a rape victim. He had taken so much of my time already: 5.5 half years plus two years of therapy, soul searching, and healing. I did all of this trapped and alone in a pandemic, while working to pass police accountability and criminal justice legislation in Chicago. I was tired. 

At the moment of the call with Marilyn, I was in a new chapter of my life. I had become a full-time entrepreneur. Imagine, a Black woman attorney who quits her job, and moves from a metropolis like Chicago to Mesa, Arizona (a city and state that were not on my radar), to build a business empire without a blueprint–just a word from her Creator.  I was building businesses and my life. It was like crafting the plane, flying it, and transforming it into a helicopter or missile, whatever was needed, in mid-air. When I say I didn’t have time, I mean I literally did not have time.  I didn’t have time to go through the process of being a victim or survivor.  I knew I didn’t “let” it happen. I knew that I could not have been the only woman who felt like this.  But I also knew that I wouldn’t find any solace in saying “Me Too.”

Beyond the denial that most women who have been sexually assaulted face, I realized that my resistance to the “Me Too” Movement came from a different place. Tarana Burke started this movement using the words, “me too” as a tool for survivors to heal through empathy, specifically for Black and Brown girls with limited access to support. (Tarana Burke, Unbound My Story of Liberation and the Birth of the Me Too Movement). However, the face of this movement has become a white woman - a fear that brought Burke to tears once the movement exploded. In her book, she writes:

I was watching the hashtag grow by the minute on Twitter…Facebook too…but not significantly in our community - meaning Black folks - on either platform.

“This can’t happen,” I said through my tears. “Not like this! Ya’ll know if these white women start using this hashtag, and it gets popular, they will never believe that a Black woman…has been building a movement for the same purposes, using those exact words, for years now. It will be over…I will have worked all these years for nothing.”

Now, some may offer Salma Hayek as a counter to Burke and I’s assertion. To this, I respond that Salma Hayek is a phenomenal actress and philanthropist. But I cannot see myself in her. She gets to feel protected. As a Black woman, I rarely feel protected. Instead, I am looked at as superhuman and not needing shielding. When Salma Hayek cries people empathize with her pain. When I cry I’m a spectacle. But embedded even deeper in my resistance to #MeToo was the fact that I did not and do not trust white women, as a conglomerate, to be empathetic to my pain.

Have there been and are there dope white women in my life that I trust with my story? Yes. But on average, the violence that I have experienced in: academic, professional, and even social settings as a whole has been from white women. It’s been them sharing well-intentioned words that are highly offensive. If I respond delicately, outlining a potential reframe in grace, I’m met with white tears putting me in the position to console the very instigator who harmed me! Why? It’s simple. Because even though I am the one harmed and I am the one protecting myself, I am still at risk of being labeled as “the angry Black woman.” Even though I deserve to be angry.

I’ve been outright targeted by white female supervisors who were threatened by my level of competence and felt the need to “knock me down a peg and make sure I paid my dues.” (So…slavery wasn’t enough?…but I digress). I’ve been introduced as the friend who was so admired for her strength while battling depression and suicidal ideation. That’s another label – “the strong Black woman” that justifies the aggression (and often protection) of white women’s abuse towards Black women. And still, I’m left wondering, “what strength?” I was battling the desire to hurl myself from the rooftop venue where we were dining. But because it’s socially safer for everyone else for me to be strong, I’m not only forced with the title, it’s how I am introduced in new spaces. Congresswoman Ayana Pressley sums it up best: “To be a Black woman, to be a Black girl, is to be both hyper-visible and invisible at the same time.” Each violent encounter with white women has made me question my own sanity, and at some point, I felt like I was suffocating in a room full of people watching–and doing nothing.

I have a litany of experiences I could share, but my goal isn’t to bash (nor center) white women in my narrative. My goal is to highlight why I don’t feel safe saying “me too” to these women. And why I suspect the creator of the #MeToo Movement didn’t feel safe doing so either. My 32 years of life experience has communicated to me that the culture of white womanhood does not see me as a person with feelings that matter, but instead as a tool whose labor must service whiteness. (Again, slavery wasn’t enough? I digress, yet again.) White womanhood’s culture has proactively attacked me when I’ve had the audacity to defend AND center myself in my own narrative.

Do I cognitively know that many white women are not ill-willed and have absolutely no intention of harming me? Yes. However, does being accidentally stabbed in an artery hurt any less than intentional impalement in the same place? The result, in either case, remains—a life-threatening injury.

So, what do I do? Myself and so many more melanated women and girls like me have the right to be centered in a movement that was created by us for us. Like many revolutionary Black women before me I turned to research and creativity and came up with a course, “Recentering Black Women in the #MeToo Movement” where I: dive into the history that undergirds the common decentering of our voices, share perspectives on how to recenter marginalized voices, and explore questions related to victimhood and who is deserving of protection. To be honest, the course is really a guided dialogue that I want to have with white women who are ready to go beyond the term of allyship and take up the mantle of sisterhood. (Of course, others are welcome, but I believe in transparency).

Join me on March 16th for the course that I will be leading, Recentering Black Women in the #MeToo Movement, if that is you.

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