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Anita Hill shaped a whole generation of men and women entering the workplace: professor

Co-Host of ‘Because of Anita’ Professor Salamishah Tillet joins A Time For Change to discuss the legacy of Anita Hill’s testimony, corporate America’s response to gender violence, and movement to combat these issues.

Video Transcript


MARQUISE FRANCIS: Welcome back to "A Time for Change." I'm Marquise Francis here with Sibile Marcellus. Actor Kerry Washington, MeToo founder Tarana Burke, attorney Kimberlé Crenshaw, and former Senator Carol Moseley Braun, those are just a few of the high profile women featured in a powerful new podcast released this month that examines the long lasting impact of Anita Hill, 30 years after she stood before the Senate Judiciary Committee testifying that she had been sexually harassed by then Supreme Court nominee Clarence Thomas.

The podcast is called "Because of Anita." And here to talk about it is one of the co-hosts, Salamishah Tillet, who was also a Rutgers University professor and contributing critic at large at "The New York Times." Dr. Tillett, thank you for joining us today. After--

SALAMISHAH TILLET: Thank you for having me.

MARQUISE FRANCIS: --having all of those dynamic conversations on the podcast, what is your biggest takeaway from Anita Hill telling her story and its overall impact?

SALAMISHAH TILLET: Yeah, you know, that moment in time in 1991 is something that's ongoing, that we're still confronting those issues, and that we're still, as we just heard from Professor Hill herself, dealing with the legacy of Black women, of women not being believed when they come forward with allegations of sexual harassment or sexual assault. So that was the biggest takeaway.

You know, one, what was the impact of her testimony? The fact that so many women within the year after her testimony started coming forward, not just to run for office, but also to share their stories of sexual harassment. Two, that we're still dealing with the ongoing legacy of that. That's why we need MeToo. And three, that we don't really have the resources yet or the critical will to combat this pandemic of gender-based violence.

SIBILE MARCELLUS: It's been 30 years since Anita Hill testified. Now she continues to advocate for organizations to change their cultures to avoid the productivity and financial costs that can come with sexual harassment. In your opinion, how does corporate America value Anita Hill's message?

SALAMISHAH TILLET: Yeah, it's a great question. I mean, I think we've seen within the last four years, as a result of MeToo and in the last 30 years of Anita Hill, some important policy shifts in corporate workplaces. But the idea that Anita Hill and, later on, Christine Blasey Ford are still considered whistleblowers, that their attempts to speak their truth to power is seen as an anomaly as opposed to the norm is something that I think corporate America and as well as academia and government, all of these institutions are still grappling with.

So, on one hand, I think there was a direct impact of her testimony, a shift in policies and practices in corporate America. And yet, we can still see that it's still so hard for people to come forward, saying that they've been sexually harassed without the fear of losing their job or other repercussions in the workplace.

MARQUISE FRANCIS: And Dr. Tillet, I covered several President Trump rallies in the lead-up to 2020, and one that really sticks out to me is when I went to Rochester, Minnesota, when Justice Brett Kavanaugh was being nominated. And I asked women how are they feeling, and there was an overall sentiment that I kept hearing over and over. Oh, women have felt this before. You know, she needs to get over it. And I was really taken aback. And so, I know men, number one, have the responsibility to do better. And I think even as a man myself, calling out other men to do better, this should not be something that's happening in the workplace.

But 30 years later, do you feel as though men have learned their lesson? And I say that because I saw on the podcast, right after Anita Hill, I believe Black women took out an ad in the paper. And then right after Ford, I believe multiracial men, you all pointed out, took out an ad. But yet, there's also that kind of tinge of Supreme Court justice at the time, 30 years ago, setting a blueprint. So have men really learned?

SALAMISHAH TILLET: Well, yeah, the fact that we're having this conversation, right, is a sign of progress, meaning that 30 years ago, African-American men, African-American reporters, African-American male reporters were not actually taking Anita Hill's allegations seriously. So I would say this conversation is a mark of progress. And as you pointed out, the ad that 1,600 men of all races took out in support of Christine Blasey Ford is a mark of progress and the fact that she was probably believed, right? I think that's pretty true in our podcast. We talk about the fact that they actually were both believed is progress.

But at the same time-- and Professor Hill talked about this before-- there's a weird way in which gender-based violence is seen as a women's issue, right? So because women are the primary victims of gender-based violence, of sexual harassment and sexual assault, even though men and boys also are victims, there's a weird way in which women being and girls being victims of it means that it's our issue to take on to combat.

And the real issue is that the people who disproportionately commit these acts of crime and acts of violence, and that's primarily a men's issue. So I think you're right to point out that it needs to be reframed. And it needs to be both a racial justice issue, as well as an anti-sexist issue.

MARQUISE FRANCIS: And you spoke to some amazing people on your podcast. I listed a few of those names earlier, just to kick off this segment, including Dr. Christine Blasey Ford, who had the first public conversation with Anita Hill. And you asked Ford and all of your guests how Anita affected them. So I'd like you to finish off this sentence-- because of Anita.

SALAMISHAH TILLET: Oh, well, it's really simple. Because of Anita, I knew that sexual harassment in the workplace shouldn't happen. And that sounds simple in some ways, but you can imagine, I'm going into the workplace as a 21-year-old, and I think that I'm not supposed to be sexualized, that I'm not supposed to be harassed, and I'm supposed to be treated with equality and fairness and justice. And that's because of Anita. So she shaped a whole generation of men and women who entered the workplace. And we believed that we should be there without fear of harm and treated fairly.

MARQUISE FRANCIS: Absolutely. Salamishah Tillet, thank you for joining us today. Again, the podcast is "Because of Anita."

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