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Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Macklemore and White Privilege

 The new Macklemore song is about Black Lives Matter. It is about cultural appropriation. It is about Hip-Hop and the place of people like Macklemore and white people as a whole in the context of racism and Black Lives Matter.

To borrow a line from Andrew Jackson Jihad, "I am white and I've got everything I need."

If there was one line that could get to the heart of a large portion of the conflict of this song it would be that one. Macklemore is well aware of his privilege and his, as well as other white artists (Elvis, Iggy Azeala, Miley, etc.) ability to co-op an entire culture and what that means. In the fictional narrative of this song Macklemore is confronted by a fan, the middle-class white crowd he speaks to and everything that Macklemore loves and appreciates about hip-hop is long on this person.

Throughout this song, Macklemore is conflicted. It's clear he understands how he benefited from his privilege. At one point he even states it. It's also clear that Macklemore is unsure of what to do. On one hand, this is the culture that has inspired him and allowed him to become who he is, even if that means building off the inherent, institutional racism that America was founded upon. On the other hand, Macklemore worries about how he will be perceived. He argues with himself, unable to deal with the fact that he may be looked at as a leech, cashing in on the struggles of a group of people.

This may seem whiny. It may even seem like Macklemore is distracting from the argument. That he is trying to make this whole issue of racism about him, the very thing he seems so frightened about. However, we need only look at the bridges between verses in which Macklemore complies clips and bits of people saying things for and against Black Lives Matter. These are here to make the listener uncomfortable. Between these bits and the words, we are supposed to be confronted with an honest fact that, the big issue is that people are either too busy trying to manage their own image to get involved or they have their head so far up their own asses that they vomit out dumb shit, ("What, I've got an advantage because I'm White?" "People today are pussies, this is the generation of getting offended").

Macklemore knows full well that this is a problem. He even knows that, though he himself loves the culture and desires justice, he is part of the problem. His very privilege and status in the American music scene make him a powerful voice, but also one that may be seen as putting forth empty sentiment to sell records.

The conclusion that Macklemore comes to is that between his love of hip-hop, a genre he finds inherently political, and his privilege, he is left with no choice but to speak out against the racism that he sees in the world and use his power to support Black Lives Matter instead of being so worried about his image.

The answer is clumsy. It isn't a solution to all the problems and, to put it bluntly, it is very personal. This isn't the best answer. However, Macklemore does provide an insight into a big, and terrilbly complex problem. Macklemore shows on this track that he is thoughtful and not afraid to compromise his fame for the sake of what he believes in.