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Writer Ijeoma Oluo On The 'Santa Claus-ification' Of MLK

The Martin Luther King, Jr., Memorial is seen in Washington, Tuesday, Aug. 28, 2012.  A year after the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial opened to visitors on the National Mall, the group behind the monument is still working with the National Park Service to change an inscription quoting the civil rights leader and plans to bring new programs to the site.  (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)MoreCloseclosemore
The Martin Luther King, Jr., Memorial is seen in Washington, Tuesday, Aug. 28, 2012. A year after the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial opened to visitors on the National Mall, the group behind the monument is still working with the National Park Service to change an inscription quoting the civil rights leader and plans to bring new programs to the site. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was a brilliant man with “amazing, actionable” ideas, but the holiday that bears his name presents a sanitized version of the civil rights hero, a sort of "Santa Claus-ification" of MLK, the writer and activist Ijeoma Oluo told NPR’s On Point Monday.

“This holiday has turned into talking about how peaceful he was, how loving he was, how kind he was in a way to encourage black Americans to be more passive in their activism,” Oluo said. “I think we need to remember who he actually was and what he actually said instead of just what suits the powers that be for us to talk about.”

Oluo joined guest host John Harwood on Martin Luther King Jr. Day to talk about her new book, “So You Want To Talk About Race.”

For an hour, that’s what we did.

Oluo said she sees parallels between criticisms of King in his day and criticism of the Black Lives Matter movement these days: that King “was too demanding, that he was inciting violence, that he was asking for too much.”

Here are a few other highlights from our conversation.

On confronting white privilege:

“If the worst thing that happens to you is you feel a little bad because of your white privilege, you're having a really great day. Because every single day the outcomes of life and success for people of color are largely determined by their race.”

...
“If you walk through your day not acknowledging the way in which your whiteness benefits you in certain areas and disadvantages other people and you don't do something to help rectify that, then you're a part of the problem. This does not mean that you're a bad person.”


‘Love your neighbor’

“You can love your neighbor, you can love every person of color you come in contact with. But if you interact with the system of white supremacy in a way that upholds it, you are harming them. And it has nothing to do with whether you are a good or a bad person.”

On the questions that people, especially white people, should keep in mind:

“What is this like for you? How does this impact you? Am I hearing this correctly?”

This segment aired on January 15, 2018. The audio for this segment is not available.

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