August 16, 2021

Tarana Burke on the past, present, and future of #MeToo

This summer has brought us the devastating reversal of Bill Cosby’s sexual assault conviction—but also something that feels a bit more like justice in the case of New York Governor Andrew Cuomo, who resigned amid sexual harassment charges. With another trial about to begin for R. Kelly, accused of abusing women and girls over two decades, it’s clear that the Me Too movement continues to shape our culture in profound, and hard to simplify, ways.

Against that backdrop, there was no one Brittany Packnett Cunningham wanted to talk to more for her season-finale episode of UNDISTRACTED than Tarana Burke, the founder of Me Too. They sat down to discuss the movement’s journey—and Burke’s own—ahead of the upcoming publication of her memoir, Unbound: My Story of Liberation and the Birth of the Me Too Movement. (Trigger warning: This episode discusses sexual assault.)


Highlights of the episode include:

Burke on what people need to know about Me Too: “Me Too, and then the #MeToo movement literally since the day it went viral, has been misunderstood…. I really need people to understand why the work is important. I want people to be connected to just how deeply personal it was.”

Burke on the power of survival: “Every day that I wake up and I am able to function and move through life—even if I’m not doing anything that people think is particularly phenomenal—the act of surviving is powerful in and of itself…. People don’t understand that the violence we experience is akin to death. It is a killing of your spirit and your soul in a way that is very hard to reclaim…. And so survival is a big deal.”

Burke on how Black women get left behind: “When #MeToo went viral, you had white women lifted. And when Black Lives Matter had its moment, you had Black men lifted. Black women—who are the [leaders of] both of those movements—fell by the wayside…. It’s a classic case of Black women getting lost.”

Burke on what was missing when #MeToo went viral: “What you didn’t see were resources…that said, ‘We have to do something to make sure that we don’t live in a world where 12 million people can respond to a hashtag saying they also experienced this violence in 24 hours. That shouldn’t happen.’”

“We didn’t see people, you know, billionaires opening their pockets, saying, ‘What kind of programs can we do? How can we shift this?’ That just didn’t happen. We didn’t see massive legislation.”

“That’s really what the work is about: It’s about making sure survivors have what they need to heal, and gathering as many people as we can in this movement to interrupt and end [sexual violence]…. That’s exactly where we started, and where I stay.”

Listen on Apple Podcasts,  SpotifyStitcher or wherever you get your podcasts.



There are no words for the Taliban takeover in Afghanistan. To learn more, follow this starter list of journalists on Twitter (and journalist organizations to donate to) that we shared on Instagram. Many of them are Afghan women on the ground—and all know the landscape:

Rukhshana Media (@RukhshanaMedia)
Yalda Hakim (@BBCYaldaHakim)
Ruchi Kumar (@RuchiKumar)
Zainab Pirzad (@Zainab_pirzad)
IMS (International Media Support; @forfreemedia)