Tarana Burke: "I am such a fucking fan of Rihanna"
For her special co-curated issue, Rihanna quizzes the founder of the Me Too movement.
This story originally appeared in i-D's 'Rihannazine' Special Edition, no. 01, 2020. Order your copy here. For this one-off project, Rihanna put a series of questions to the women shaping culture today, and invited them to share their visions for 2020.
How would you define success?
Years ago, when I went on dates with men I would ask them how they defined success, because I wanted to know whether they were chasing money and power. So it’s interesting to be asked that question. I hope I think about it a bit differently than that. I think about it as being at a place in your life where you are so comfortable and so happy in your work that there’s a sense of contentment. I decided at a very young age, at 14, that this was what I was going to do with my life, and I was able to do that: not just the Me Too movement, but social justice in general. Mostly, I’ve done the work that I wanted to do, and that made me feel like I was contributing something. I recognise that that’s a privilege.
“When I was pregnant, someone gave me some incredible advice. They said: ‘The best thing you can do for the future of the black community is to raise a black child in the way that you would like to see the world look. That’s the best thing you can do for the world.’ I’ve done that. That’s my biggest success.”
What do you think your biggest personal or professional success has been so far?
My daughter. When I was pregnant, I was 23, I was just starting my career, and lots of people were saying “you’re too young to have a child!” Which I probably was, in retrospect. But someone gave me some incredible advice. They said: “The best thing you can do for the future of the black community is to raise a black child in the way that you would like to see the world look. That’s the best thing you can do for the world.” And I’ve done that!
What about your biggest failure?
My daughter is queer and non-binary, and when they first came out to me at 12 or 13, I did not respond well. We’ve talked about it a lot, and I’ve apologised, but when I think about it now I still cringe. I was struggling at the time in my relationship with religion, and I let outside people influence my attitude to my child. I don’t have any shame in that -- a lot of us come to understand things better, and fight for them and defend them, when we have a personal connection. So I’m grateful. All lives really do matter! All black lives, all queer lives, all trans lives. How could I stand up and advocate for people’s survival if I couldn’t stand up for every kind of survivor? I told y’all, I love my baby!
As we’re heading into 2020, what are you taking with you into this year, and what are you leaving behind in 2019?
I’m leaving self-doubt in 2019 -- this idea that I’m not enough. Everyone says they want to leave negativity behind, but I’m not trying to leave behind anything I can grow from. This sounds terrible, and I don’t mean this in a petty way, but I’m remembering the negativity, because I want to be clear on who can move forward with me in my life. If you’re someone who’s been a source of negativity? I remember you, and you can't come.
If you could ask Rihanna one question, what would it be?
Oh, man? Just one? I am such a fuckin’ fan. You know, the thing that I love about Rihanna is that it feels like she has been through a transition at some point where she has stepped into the fullness of who she is, and ever since then she’s been unapologetic. So I want to ask her about that. How did you manage to mute all the noise, and really focus on living out and being who you were meant to be, how you were meant to be, without apology?
Tarana's 2020 manifesto
I used to make a big production out of the new year. Some years it was a well thought out list of resolutions that I shared with girlfriends for formal approval. Other years it was intention or goal setting or vision boards. Inevitably, before the end of the year – well before – I would forget what I said I was going to do. Sometimes when I looked back on the year it turns out that stuck to my intention or goal because it was something that was just supposed to happen.
Moving into this new year and new decade I have abandoned all of these practices. In fact, while there is a lot of conversation about what we want to leave in the 2010s – I have been thinking a lot lately about what I want to bring with me. So much good happened in spite of some of the colossally bad things that also occurred. I want that revolutionary spark that was lit in the beginning of the decade to continue to burn in the 2020s. This past decade taught so many of us, particularly those a generation or two removed, what freedom could actually look like; freedom in sex, in sexuality, in gender expression. The freedom to embrace both authenticity and vulnerability without sacrificing dignity. I don’t need a vision board anymore because my vision is seared into my spirit. I’m walking into this new decade clear that whatever I dream up likely needs to be supersized. I’m bringing with me the memories and lessons that have taught me that whatever I dream up probably requires me to go back and dream bigger.
There is a word, idea, goal or intention I want to bring into the new decade though and that’s healing. Folks tend to bastardise the idea of healing and only engage with it from a commercialised or commodified sense – but we need deeper healing than that. We need to heal as individuals and we need collective healing. I hope to be a conduit and a resource for that kind of healing. The kind that moves us to take action to change our lives and change the world.
Photography Mario Sorrenti
Styling Carlos Nazario
Hair AKKI at Art Partner using Oribe.
Make-up Kanako Takase at Streeters.
Nail technician Honey at Exposure NY using Tom Ford Beauty.
Set design Jack Flanagan at The Wall Group.
Lighting technician Lars Beaulieu.
Photography assistance Kotaro Kawashima, Javier Villegas and Jared Zegha.
Digital technician Johnny Vicari.
Styling assistance Raymond Gee, Erica Boisaubin and Christine Nicholson.
Tailor Thao Huynh.
Hair assistance Rei Kawauchi, Takao Hayashi and Motome Yamashita.
Make-up assistance Aimi Osada & Megumi Onishi.
Set design assistance Akaylah Reed and Joe Arai.
Production Katie Fash.
Production coordinator Layla Némejanski.
Production assistance Fujio Emura.
Casting director Samuel Ellis Scheinman for DMCASTING.
Casting assistance Cicek Brown for DMCASTING.