Women of color have been saying #MeToo for decades

By Haley Britzky

Bill Cosby accusers Lili Bernard and Caroline Heldman react after the guilty on all counts verdict
Bill Cosby accusers Lili Bernard and Caroline Heldman. Photo: Mark Makela/Getty Images

Despite decades of allegations, men like Bill Cosby and R&B singer R. Kelly have avoided serious consequences for their sexual misconduct — that is, until 2017’s #MeToo awakening.

The big picture: For many of the men who were taken down by the movement, it was a long time coming. But women of color in particular have been fighting the #MeToo fight long before it gained international attention.

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It’s not a new problem

Women of color in the U.S. have been fighting to be heard on sexual assault and harassment for decades.

  • The first show of justice came in Tallahassee, in 1959, when four white men received life sentences after kidnapping and raping Betty Jean Owens. “An all-white jury gave her assailants a life sentence — a historic first that led to other convictions,” the Washington Post writes.
  • 1965 was the first time in Mississippi a white man received a life sentence for raping a black woman.

Be smart: 2017 wasn’t the beginning of #MeToo.

  • In 2006, Tarana Burke created Me Too to “help survivors of sexual violence, particularly young women of color from low wealth communities.”

Flash forward to today

The Cut reported in April that R. Kelly mostly avoided the #MeToo fallout, “despite having been accused of everything from child pornography to running a sex cult over the past 25 years.”

In 2005, Andrea Constand reported Bill Cosby for sexual assault to police, per the New York Times. No charges were pursued.

  • 10 years later, the investigation was re-opened and Cosby was arrested. It took three more years for a jury to find Cosby guilty on three counts of assaulting Constand.
  • Around 60 other women alleged sexual harassment, rape, and drugging by Cosby.

The bottom line: WaPo’s Karen Attiah told NPR in December: “Part of it, unfortunately, has to do with whether or not we see black women and girls as worthy of care and worthy of protection,” and there’s “a sense…even when prominent members of our community are in the narrative, that we’re…the ones who are lying.”

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