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If you’ve seen the term ‘Fweedom’ on your social networks and you have trouble understanding it, don’t worry, it’s actually very easy to explain: Joe Biden’s running mate Kamala Harris gave an interview to Elle magazine where she told a story painfully similar to one previously told by Martin Luther King. Both have in common, besides the context, the emergence of the expression ‘Fweedom’.
Harris’ anecdote, as told by Elle, was published on October 6th last year:
“Senator Kamala Harris began her life’s work young. She laughs at her guts, as she would at her family, as she remembers being taken in a wheelchair through a civil rights march in Oakland, California, in a strap-free stroller with her parents and uncle. At some point she fell out of the stroller (at that time there were few safety rules for children’s equipment), and the adults, caught up in the outburst of protest, continued to march. When they realized that little Kamala had left and returned, she was understandably upset. My mother tells the story of how it bothers me,” says Harris, “and she says, ‘Baby, what do you want? What do you need? And I looked at her and said, ‘Fweedom’.”Harris to Elle
The magazine highlights Harris as “The woman who will become Vice-President in the fight for justice and freedom she has been fighting since birth. A brilliant, hard-working and quite ennobling profile of the figure of the still senator on the eve of assuming the Vice-Presidency.”
But a couple of months later, just before January 6th, critics pointed out how Harris’ story is, in essence, the same as the one told by the Rev. Martin Luther King in a Playboy interview in 1965:
“I will never forget a moment in Birmingham when a white policeman accosted a black girl, seven or eight years old, who was walking in a demonstration with her mother. The policeman asked her gruffly, and the girl looked him straight in the eye and replied, ‘Fee-dom’. She couldn’t even pronounce it, but she knew. It was beautiful! Many times, when I have been in very difficult situations, the memory of that little girl has come to my mind, and it has bouyed me.”
Reactions to Kamala’s “plagiarism” of Martin Luther King
Social networks were the first to react to Harris’ colorful story, but then multiple media outlets echoed the situation.
Luckily for Kamala, the comparison between stories hasn’t been very popular, it only went viral on Twitter and was featured on several traditional mass media outlets such as Fox News and other conservative websites such as The Daily Wire.
The news also reached the newsroom of the New York Post. “Kamala Harris seems to repeatedly plagiarize the MLK story,” the newspaper headlined.
According to the Post, “Kamala’s story” as told to Elle was not just told once: “Harris told the same story in the preface to her 2010 book Smart on Crime, writing how her mother used to laugh as she told others about the moment. He also referred to it in his 2019 book The Truths We Hold: An American Journey.
Meanwhile, several of her supporters came out to defend her, arguing that it was very clear that Martin Luther King was the one “plagiarized” Harris.
The positive side for Harris is that the criticism comes, above all, from conservative voices. There are still no criticisms from the like-minded quarters; it seems that cultural appropriation is a far greater crime than the appropriation of other people’s stories.