I awakened to my social media feeds being clogged with conversation about Macklemore. I try not to pretend Macklemore exists. Not because he’s a white rapper doing Black art, it’s not that deep, I simply find his music to be especially bland. He has good ideas, but as an actual emcee, I find him to be the audible equivalent of unseasoned chicken breasts. There is a Glee, an overall musical theater-like quality to his style of rapping, but it’s simply not for me.
However, because Macklemore is white, male, and straight, whatever he does tends to command immediate attention. So, out of curiosity, I listened to “White Privilege II.”
In it, Macklemore acknowledges his own privilege and directly addresses his overwhelmingly white fan base and the community at large with lines like, “We wanna dress like, walk like, talk like, dance like yet we just stand by. We take all we want from black culture, but will we show up for black lives?”
He also assails Iggy Azalea, Miley Cyrus and Elvis Presley by rapping: “You’ve exploited and stolen the music, the moment/ The magic, the passion, the fashion, you toy with/ The culture was never yours to make better/ You’re Miley, you’re Elvis, you’re Iggy Azalea/ You’ve heisted the magic / You’ve taken the drums and the accent you rap in/ Your brand of hip hop is so fascist and backwards that Grandmaster Flash is gonna slap you, you bastard.”
In essence, Macklemore is saying all of the things I and many other Black people address time and time again. The appropriation of our culture is wrong and the damage from it needs to be clearly understood and acknowledged by White people. The Seattle rapper’s attempt to deliver that message has consequently annoyed the hell out of the same Black people who are tired of making the case for cultural appropriation. Yes, this might be a case of kill the messenger. I am not one of those people ready to off Macklemore for having a nine-minute white guilt therapy session over a beat.
Will I ever listen to the song again? Hell no, but the song is not for me nor is it for folks who look like me. The song is for white people i.e. the people who largely consume hip-hop music and have made someone like Macklemore a greater star than the many Black men and women who created and continue to give the culture, he only tips his toe in, a collective voice.
I do not like the fact that a white man can be given so much credit for being so “progressive” on topics such as racism and sexism when there are plenty of Black artists just as forward-thinking but with far less fanfare. Nevertheless, it’s not Macklemore’s problem that he has more ears tuned into his material than many of his Black counterparts. Though he has been known to apologize for his advantages, it doesn’t change the fact that he’s white and he’ll wake up as that day after day until he dies. Macklemore has acknowledged his white privilege in a way that Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton has not. The same goes for every other person running for president.
Will that acknowledgment solve the larger problems that Macklemore speaks to? No, but as an artist – an independent one at that – there’s only so much he could do to fix certain lingering prejudices and the racial disparities they produce. What he can do, though, is lend a voice to these problems and speak directly to the folks who need to be educated, who ought to be pushed to see their own biases, and who should be talking about the realities the marginalized people of society face.
For that, I am thankful. I am not happy that a white man says something many others have been saying and immediately gets more traction for it (to wit: within an hour I had been asked to cover this subject for multiple outlets), but at least the white man in question is trying. That’s more than I can say about some of the very people Macklemore called out on this track.
Again, I’ll never listen to this song after today, but that doesn’t matter because Macklemore didn’t make it for me. He made it for the people who look past all those who I share a community with. How much it changes their perspective remains to be seen, but efforts matter.