It's been 26 years since Anita Hill testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee that Supreme Court Justice nominee Clarence Thomas had sexually harassed her when he was her boss. Today, Thomas sits on the Supreme Court bench.
Hill said that the strong focus on sexual misconduct is like nothing she's ever seen and she's hopeful that it will "bring lasting change." She also stated that, although the believability factor needs to shift in all sexual misconduct cases, marginalized groups are met with an additional level of skepticism.
"The response to me had to do with my race," Hill said, emphasizing that we need to recognize sexual violence affects women of all ages, races, backgrounds, sizes, and religions.
Although I'm incredibly grateful that the Weinstein allegations have resulted in an important (and long overdue) dialogue about sexual misconduct, Hill's words are a sobering reminder of how society decides which victims matter. Weinstein's accusers are famous, wealthy, attractive, successful white women like Gwyneth Paltrow, Angelina Jolie, and Rose McGowan. I can't help but think that the allegations are being taken seriously, at least in part, because society values white women more than Black women — especially when those white women happen to be from a certain socioeconomic class.
Another reminder about the role of race came later in the town hall when Tarana Burke, a Black woman who launched the "Me Too" movement over a decade ago, spoke. Before the days of hashtags, she started the movement to empower victims and help them find other victims who understood what they were going through. In the wake of the Weinstein allegations, Alyssa Milano tweeted: "If you’ve been sexually harassed or assaulted write ‘me too’ as a reply to this tweet," noting that it was the suggestion of a friend.
The #MeToo hashtag quickly spread and, the following day, Milano tweeted that she had just learned it originated with Burke.
Although Milano surely had good intentions with her original post, it's yet another example of Black women's work being overlooked. (We also saw this when the Million Women March was renamed the Women's March after people pointed out that the 1997 Million Woman March was a protest against Black inequality.)
Every single person who speaks out about his or her experience with sexual violence is courageous and deserving of our support. But we also need to recognize that not all sexual harassment and assault is treated equally, and that needs to change.
Finally, as Hill told viewers tonight: "Remember that the sexual harassment, the sexual assault is something that has happened to you. It is not who you are. You are bigger and more than that instance or that series of assaults that have occurred."
This is an incredibly important reminder from a woman has been a trailblazer in fighting workplace sexual harassment.
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