Macklemore’s White Privilege

Its impossible to have a conversation about Macklemores influence in the hip hop industry without considering how much his presence has gentrified the culture. But it seems like he is fully cognizant of the sentiment. It also serves as the genesis of the critiques aimed at the Seattle rappers release of White Privilege II, an eight-minute mea culpa of his complicity in appropriating hip hop.

The song revealed a remarkable capacity for self-reflection that few of his white peers namely, Iggy Azalea, who he seemingly dissed in his track have demonstrated. Macklemore acknowledges his critics feelings that white supremacy, not his talent, is likely the primary reason he is successful:

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

Fake and so plastic, you’ve heisted the magic

You’ve taken the drums and the accent you rapped in

You’re branded hip-hop, it’s so fascist and backwards

That Grandmaster Flash’d go slap it, you bastard

All the money that you made

Certainly, his lyrics are far more reflective than the first version of White Privilege, which he dropped in 2005. In 2016, it appears he is ready to have uncomfortable conversations with his fan base and others about whats really driving his success.

Others, however, are more suspicious of his intent:

But Macklemore has plenty of supporters as well:

The wide spectrum of reactions reveals how polarizing an artist he is in the hip hop world, even while attempting to acknowledge his complicity, intentional or not, in gentrifying it.

What is most critical to understand about White Privilege II, though, is that its not directed at black people anyway; it is a musical soliloquy primarily intended for white ears to eavesdrop on.

For those white fans who choose to listen, Macklemore is challenging them to ponder their support. Do they really like his music or is their fandom is based on preferring a black-sounding white guy to rap and speak about racism over a black artist doing the same thing because the black person makes them feel uncomfortable?

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(Photo Credit: USA Today)

He explores this question in verse 4:

But the one thing the American dream fails to mention

Is I was many steps ahead to begin with

My skin matches the hero, likeness, the image

America feels safe with my music in their systems

And it’s suited me perfect, the role, I’ve fulfilled it

And if I’m the hero, you know who gets cast as the villain

White supremacy isn’t just a white dude in Idaho

White supremacy protects the privilege I hold

White supremacy is the soil, the foundation, the cement and the flag that flies outside of my home

White supremacy is our country’s lineage, designed for us to be indifferent

My success is the product of the same system that let off Darren Wilson guilty

This is a very powerful self-reflection of his position in Hip Hop that should compel his white fans to consider why rappers like Dej Loaf, for example, dont get half the accolades Iggy does. (And if you dont know who Dej Loaf is, your making my point)

What is equally important to take away from that verse is that the polarizing position Macklemore holds in Hip Hop is not of his own making. The white supremacy from which he benefits was in full effect long before he was born.

He should, nonetheless, use his popularity to boost black artists whom the industry ignores, because it is believed they do not have mass appeal (translation: white people wont like them)   

That is what many black people are asking Macklemore to do: “OK. You admit you have privilege. What actions are you taking to use it for the benefit of black people?”

It is a legitimate request for a man who is expressing an interest in using his platform to reverse the racism he feels aided his rise. It is also fair to ask if White Privilege II is a marketing stunt to promote his album thats scheduled to drop next week.

Such  skepticism not unreasonable. He was criticized in 2014 for posting to Instagram a private text message to Kendrick Lamar lamenting that the Compton-based rapper should have won the 2014 Grammy Award for Best New Artist, not he.

“You got robbed,” the text read, in part. “I wanted you to win. You should have. It’s weird and it sucks that I robbed you.”

Drake and others criticized him for making it public and that doing so came across as insincere.

Did Macklemores white guilt compel him to let the world know he believed his white privilege got him the hardware instead of his talent?

If it was, he simply should have posted that on Instagram and left Kendrick out of it.

But I think White Privilege II is making up for that. The single is a sign of his growth and acknowledgement of his privilege in a very public way. What better way to do this than through his music? Thats why I dont share the view that the songs release is a mere publicity attempt. Gauging the veracity of his sincerity is fine, but I do find it troubling that he is being harshly critiqued for attempting to be sincere at all.  

The message behind White Privilege II is here: “Im successful in large because I am white.” Period.

How far Macklemore is willing to use this awareness for the benefit of black artists who are marginalized by the same people who support him remains to be seen. If he is slow in doing so, he will be rightfully admonished.

Moving forward, the rapper is officially on notice to use his popularity to deconstruct the white privilege he claims to abhor.

But what I respect most about White Privilege II is that Macklemore seems to know this already, and is prepared to be held accountable, no matter how uncomfortable that journey of self-exploration will be.

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