Trinity University’s Martin Luther King Jr. week consisted of various on and off campus events. The main on-campus event took place in Laurie Auditorium on Jan. 24. It was a lecture given by none other than the “internet yeller” Ijeoma Oluo. The venue had a great turnout and there was tremendous interest beyond the student body.
The lecture discussed the role of race in today’s society with Oluo stressing the importance of community, discussion, and action in solving racial problems. There was a great deal of blame put on the Trump administration for the problems that “people of color” face today. She never specifically called anybody in office a white supremacist but she did accuse the current administration of being one of oppression by intentional design.
“We support systems of oppression in our everyday interactions with the system. We have very limited power to stop what Donald Trump does,” Oluo said in her lecture. About a minute later in the speech, she made the statement that “if we had a society where we believed in the dignity of people of color enough that we didn’t make racist jokes at happy hour, that would be a society that believed in the dignity of people of color enough to not vote white supremacists into office.”
The name of the lecture was the Martin Luther King Jr. Commemorative Lecture. Naturally, the speech noted the actions that Dr. King took to ensure equality of races in our society. Oluo wanted to highlight how Dr. King actually acted in his day before saying how he would have acted today. She deemed this important because of a common response to having conversations about race.
A response such as “Dr. King would have done it differently, right? I’m told this every day.” Oluo is not a fan of this type of response and followed up with a philosophy that she believed her and Dr. King shared. “We are here and we are here to change the way in which you see us. We are here to be seen as whole people and your kids are going to love us whether you want them to or not.”
With this philosophy on the table, Oluo made a new claim. “There has never been a greater need for the words and work of Dr. King than today.” This claim can be seen as revolutionary, but it can also be seen as degrading to the struggles that people of color have seen in our nation other than today.
The lecture resonated well with the majority of the audience. There were indications of approval throughout the entire lecture as well as a standing ovation. However, there were some strong opposing opinions from members of the audience. According to Isaiah Tesfaye, a freshman at Trinity University, the speech was a “load of victimizing nonsense.” As the son of two African Immigrants, Tesfaye had very strong opinions about the oppression comments that Oluo made.
“There are a few systematic things, what she brings up about easy sentencing for drug violations, that is an issue. But to [say] we are so oppressed, the oppression olympics, that is just fundamentally wrong and is flawed in any type of genuine discourse.”
Another audience member had equally strong opinions about the lecture. Isaac Ogbo, a senior English major was opposed to Oluo’s comments about Trump. “To cherry-pick these things and declare him a white supremacist is absurd. It degrades the concept of white supremacy and kind of de-legitimizes people who are actual white supremacists. It negatively inflates that word to the point where it holds less power.”
With the audience being people who are familiar with Oluo’s work, the reaction was to be expected. However, for others in the black community, the same reaction may not necessarily be the case. In the end, the lecture proved perfect for the philosophy that Oluo believes she shares with Dr. King.