Student Column at WVU Comparing Rapper Macklemore to MLK Goes Mini-Viral

Among the many news stories and op-eds appearing this past week within college media tied to the 50th anniversary of MLK’s iconic “I Have A Dream” speech, a column in The Daily Athenaeum is garnering the most attention — and controversy.

The piece in the West Virginia University student newspaper compares the recent work of white rapper Macklemore to slain civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr.– a connection some irate online readers contend is superficial at best and boneheaded, appalling and insulting at worst. 

The gist of student writer Kaitlyn O’Neal’s argument: “Same Love,” the catchy hit single from Macklemore embracing gay rights and greater tolerance, embodies the spirit of MLK’s race-based fight long ago.

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In O’Neal’s words, “Macklemore challenges us in ‘Same Love,’ just as MLK challenged America 50 years ago. He challenges us to not just listen to the song and admire its aesthetics. He implores us to not smile and applaud his musical prowess as we go about our usual day. He asks us to do something about it. He challenges us to look deep inside ourselves, uncover our own bigotry and tear it out. … The song is not original in its call for equal rights. Fifty years ago this week, a man named Martin Luther King, Jr. gave his most famous oratory ‘I Have a Dream.'”

Yet, regardless of the song’s positive, progressive message and O’Neal’s earnest tone, the column has elicited what the paper describes as “some extreme responses” and a minor conflagration on social media.

As one commenter beneath the column shares, “To equate a white rapper, especially one who is profiting off an art form developed by black artists, with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., who gave everything for his commitment to justice, is unforgivable. Macklemore is capitalizing on an easy topic that has plenty of political capital right now. No one is going to threaten him for his views. All he will get is praise, and credit for ‘starting’ a conversation that has actually been going on since before he existed.”

A separate reader tweeted more succinctly upon reading it, “I just threw up in my mouth!”

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The student columnist O’Neal blames such furor and misunderstandings atop a headline switch that was out of her control. In a comment on the DA website interspersed with reader vitriol, she clarified that her original aim was simply to point out a similarity between song and speech.

As she writes, “No one could ever compare to what MLK did for our country. My original title said that the song ‘Same Love’ was an echo to MLK’s ‘I Have A Dream’ in a way. The title was changed, which changed the tone of the article. I am sorry if anyone was offended, and I am especially sorry that people read into the article things that were not there. Martin Luther King is my hero, and Macklemore is a singer who has created a positive social movement. There is no question the two people are not comparable; I merely wanted to create a parallel between the two individual pieces of work.”

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