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Bill Ackman Claims Martin Luther King Jr. Would Have Been Against Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion—And Yes, He Was Serious

Bill Ackman Claims Martin Luther King Jr. Would Have Been Against Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion—And Yes, He Was Serious
Bill Ackman Claims Martin Luther King Jr. Would Have Been Against Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion—And Yes, He Was Serious

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Billionaire Bill Ackman, who’s been in the news a lot of late thanks to his quest to oust former Harvard president Claudine Gay, spent part of Martin Luther King Jr. Day in a conversation on X with Democratic presidential candidate Dean Phillips and X owner Elon Musk. The big takeaway from that chat? That Ackman believes King—who was, quite famously, against racism—would have hated diversity, equity, and inclusion efforts that have been implemented in schools and businesses.

Yes, according to the hedge fund manager, King’s “I Have a Dream” speech is “precisely about a world where people will be judged not by the color of their skin, but the content of their character. And when I came to learn about the DEI movement, which is an ideological movement, it’s really the reverse of that…I think Dr. King would be very opposed to this sort of ideology, even though you know, diversity is a good thing, even though of course, a culture where everyone feels comfortable and included is critically important.”

Ackman—who claimed earlier this month that DEI initiatives are “racist,” that he’s worried about “reverse racism,” and that DEI is “a powerful movement that has not only pervaded Harvard, but the educational system at large” and must be stopped—is of course not the first person to cherry-pick a single line from King’s most famous speech and argue that it is proof the civil rights leader was calling for color blindness. In fact, King’s words are regularly co-opted by the right* to do exactly that.

Earlier this month, then GOP presidential hopeful Vivek Ramaswamy tried to argue that King would not have approved of critical race theory or DEI efforts. In 2021, while promoting Florida’s Stop Woke Act, which prohibits public schools and businesses from discussing race and racism in a way certain white people don’t like, Ron DeSantis boldly suggested MLK Jr. would be all for it, saying, “You think about what MLK stood for. He said he didn’t want people judged on the color of their skin, but on the content of their character. You listen to some of these people nowadays, they don’t talk about that.” The same year, then GOP lawmaker Kevin McCarthy tweeted, in all seriousness, “Critical Race Theory goes against everything Martin Luther King Jr. taught us.”

Unfortunately for the individuals invoking King’s words to fit their worldview, his own daughter has said he would absolutely not be on their side. “People using ‘not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character’ to deter discussion of, teaching about, and protest against racism are not students of the comprehensive #MLK,” Bernice King wrote on X just a few months ago. “My father’s dream and work included eradicating racism, not ignoring it.” As Reverend William Barber of the Poor People’s Campaign told Axios, King “said to us that we must address fully systemic racism, systemic poverty, ecological devastation, and militarism. It’s dishonoring of the memory of King not to raise that full critique, no matter how unnerving, unsettling or uncomfortable it is.” And, in a revelation that those committed to the “MLK Jr. would have been against DEI initiatives” bit will very much not be pleased to hear, reporter Judd Legum noted on Monday that in 1965, King was asked if he supported “a multibillion-dollar program of preferential treatment for the Negro.” He responded: “I do indeed.”

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*Ackman has historically supported Democrats but said last week he no longer wants to associate with the party. He also said Saturday he would give $1 million to a political action committee supporting Democratic primary hopeful Dean Phillips.

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