Tuesday, October 26, 2021

Unbound by Tarana Burke

by Tarana Burke
Published September 2021 by Flatiron Books
272 pages

Publisher's Summary:
Tarana didn’t always have the courage to say "me too." As a child, she reeled from her sexual assault, believing she was responsible. Unable to confess what she thought of as her own sins for fear of shattering her family, her soul split in two. One side was the bright, intellectually curious third generation Bronxite steeped in Black literature and power, and the other was the bad, shame ridden girl who thought of herself as a vile rule breaker, not as a victim. She tucked one away, hidden behind a wall of pain and anger, which seemed to work...until it didn’t.

Tarana fought to reunite her fractured self, through organizing, pursuing justice, and finding community. In her debut memoir she shares her extensive work supporting and empowering Black and brown girls, and the devastating realization that to truly help these girls she needed to help that scared, ashamed child still in her soul. She needed to stop running and confront what had happened to her, for Heaven and Diamond and the countless other young Black women for whom she cared. They gave her the courage to embrace her power. A power which in turn she shared with the entire world. Through these young Black and brown women, Tarana found that we can only offer empathy to others if we first offer it to ourselves.

Unbound is the story of an inimitable woman’s inner strength and perseverance, all in pursuit of bringing healing to her community and the world around her, but it is also a story of possibility, of empathy, of power, and of the leader we all have inside ourselves. In sharing her path toward healing and saying "me too," Tarana reaches out a hand to help us all on our own journeys.

My Thoughts:
You probably know the metoo Movement from viral response to the Harvey Weinstein sexual abuse allegations. I know that's the only way I knew about it. But when Tarana Burke began receiving texts one morning in 2017 about #metoo blowing up on Twitter, she was sick about it and very much felt like her work had been co-opted. After all, Burke had created the metoo Movement in 2006 as a way to care for Black and Brown women who were victims of abuse. When I read her reaction to the news in the prologue of this book, I wasn't sure this was going to be a book for me. After all, how could a worldwide awakening to sexual abuse be a bad thing? If the use of that hashtag could help untold women, why would Burke be upset that she was not being credited with beginning the movement. By the time I finished the prologue, I had changed my mind, just as Burke did after she slept on her response for a night. 
"...it was clear that I had to share my vision for this movement with the world. It was clear that all the folks who were using the #metoo hashtag, and all the Hollywood actresses who came forward with their allegations, needed the same thing that the little Black girls in Selma, Alabama, needed - space to be seen and heard." 
Burke knew that because she'd been a little Black girl who had needed to be heard and hadn't been. 

Unbound is the story of how Burke, the daughter of a strong, single mother was repeatedly molested by more than one man in the neighborhood she grew up in. Despite having people who would have stood up for her, Burke grew up certain that she was at fault for what happened to her, that she was a bad girl who had broken rules. In many ways, it broke her but Burke grew up reinventing herself to cover her pain. In high school, she got a break that changed her life and led her to the work she would spend the rest of her life doing. A teacher recognized that she had leadership potential and steered her to a camp for young leaders where she met a woman who got Burke into a school in Alabama, away from the neighborhood where she might have floundered. 

That same woman's organization hired Burke straight out of college and Burke was doing important work that was making a difference in the lives of young men and women. But she was still carrying her demons. An on-again, off-again toxic relationship held her back from healing but also gave her a daughter. Awakening to the flaws of the woman who had so shaped her life pushed Burke to finally leave Selma and to focus on working to help young women deal with histories of sexual abuse. 

Unbound is as honest a book as you will find. Burke exposes her flaws (although, to be fair, much of her behavior can be tied directly to what she went through as a child) and the mistakes she has made along the way.  She is able to both give credit to those who have done great work while also calling them out for their misconduct or their pattern of turning a blind eye to abuse. I got a real sense of who Burke is and why and an understanding of why she believes that the #metoo Movement, as it developed in 2017, left Black and Brown women behind. 
"Sexual violence doesn't discriminate, but the response to it does. In some ways, it is the great equalizer - no demographic or group is exempt - but the reactions to different people telling their stories are far from equal." 
It's good to know that Burke's work will continue to try to help those people who have been left behind and to try to convince the Black and Brown communities to rethink their own responses to accusations. Burke is doing great work and I can only hope that this book will inspire others to help her in that work. 

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