Listening to “White Privilege II” (Macklemore)

By now, you’ve probably heard the controversial track that Macklemore dropped a day or so ago: “White Privilege II.” The meandering 9-minute song addresses (among other things) white appropriation of black culture, his own burgeoning involvement with Black Lives Matter, his feelings about his role in culture, and what awareness looks like. Is it an earth-shattering piece of artwork that will change the shape and trajectory of hip-hop? Surely not. But that’s never been Macklemore’s schtick—he’s the posterboy of palatable rap, toe-ing the line of wholesome while borrowing the voice, the look, and the affect of blackness. And he knows this.

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
We want to 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?

By now, you’ve probably heard the controversial track that Macklemore dropped a day or so ago: “White Privilege II.” The meandering 9-minute song addresses (among other things) white appropriation of black culture, his own burgeoning involvement with Black Lives Matter, his feelings about his role in culture, and what awareness looks like.

17130711447_ca7635c0cb_o.jpg
Image from flickr

Is it an earth-shattering piece of artwork that will change the shape and trajectory of hip-hop? Surely not. But that’s never been Macklemore’s schtick—he’s the posterboy of palatable rap, toe-ing the line of wholesome while borrowing the voice, the look, and the affect of blackness. And he knows this.

The response to this song has been…varied, to say the least. Some commentators argued that Macklemore was “exploiting social issues for relevance,” while others pointed out that no matter what, he continues to benefit (and benefit greatly) from the very white privilege he begins to indict in the track. (Buzzfeed has collected some of the responses on Twitter if you’re interested in more specific examples.) Others called him the human embodiment of a liberal arts college, which I take to mean: self-satisfied in his own “woke-ness” but ultimately out of touch?

The thing to understand about this song, though, is that it was created for a very specific audience, and as such, can serve a useful and similarly specific purpose. This song is not for people of color who are aware of the massive amounts of work to be done in order to move toward racial justice and systemic change in this country. They don’t need to listen to this song in order to know. It is not for those whose activism places them at the center of this fight. As Macklemore’s collaborators Hollis Wong-Wear and Jamila Woods note, this song was written for the white audience that has lifted Macklemore to acclaim and success (whether you think he deserves it or not), and if this song has the power to change even one opinion or begin a single process of introspection in that white audience, then it has done its job.

Macklemore_The_Heist_Tour_1_cropped
Macklemore, The Heist Tour | Image via wikimedia commons

In fact, the white privilege Macklemore is rightly criticized for benefiting from makes him the perfect voice to amplify this issue, because his white privilege broadens the reach of his message. The same white privilege that made “Thrift Shop” so “safe” for a white audience can carry these thoughts about power and privilege to new ears. To paraphrase Audre Lorde: the burden of educating the privileged too often falls upon the oppressed, draining their energy away from more productive avenues. Why heap scorn on Macklemore’s head for attempting to do what activist people of color have been asking white people to do for so long? Of course, his song is a drop in the bucket. Of course, his lyrics are not perfect in their self-awareness. But to fault him for even trying is surely counterproductive.

Yes, Macklemore continues to benefit from a system in which white artists have been accustomed to taking as they please from black culture, and reaping the benefits. He names this in his song’s brief lineage of exploitative white artists: Miley Cyrus, Elvis, Iggy Azalea. There is no way for him to exist without reaping the benefits of his white privilege. As we know, white privilege is all-encompassing, and white supremacy is embedded in every facet of our society. The song’s inherent flaws come from its place atop this system, but that also gives it the potential for opening dialogue.

What is the alternative that critics of this song ask for? That the beginning steps toward activism and awareness belong exclusively to people of color or white allies who have somehow never benefited from white privilege? That is an impossible thing to ask, since such allies doesn’t exist. Instead, we should take this song for what it is: an attempt to bring even a small ray of awareness to Macklemore’s core audience. We should all remember that activism and the fight for racial justice is an ongoing process of education for everyone. This song can spur dialogue, which in itself will never be enough. But it is something.


 

Lyrics of “White Privilege II” from genius.com

[Verse 1]
Pulled into the parking lot, parked it
Zipped up my parka, joined the procession of marchers
In my head like, “Is this awkward?
Should I even be here marching?”
Thinking if they can’t, how can I breathe?
Thinking that they chant, what do I sing?
I want to take a stance cause we are not free
And then I thought about it, we are not “we”
Am I in the outside looking in, or am I in the inside looking out?
Is it my place to give my two cents?
Or should I stand on the side and shut my mouth
“No justice, no peace,” okay, I’m saying that
They’re chanting out, “Black Lives Matter,” but I don’t say it back
Is it okay for me to say? I don’t know, so I watch and stand
In front of a line of police that look the same as me
Only separated by a badge, a baton, a can of Mace, a mask
A shield, a gun with gloves and hands that gives an alibi
In case somebody dies behind a bullet that flies out of the 9
Takes another child’s life on sight

[Hook (x3)]
Blood in the streets, no justice, no peace
No racist beliefs, no rest ’til we’re free
There’s blood in the streets, no justice, no peace
No racist beliefs, no rest ’til we’re free

[Interlude 1]

[Macklemore, speaking over voices]
Oh, what are you doing Ben? What are you doing here? Ben, think about it

[Various indistinct male voices]
Probably shouldn’t be here, you have white supremacy, don’t fuckin’ come here. You don’t give a shit about us. “Black Lives Matter”, say it. Wow, Black Lives Matter, Black Lives Matter, Black Lives Matter, Black Lives Matter. You should not have done that. Why the fuck would you do that? You always react.Just let it go, man. White racist. It’s the Grammys

[Verse 2]
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
All the watered down pop-bullshit version of the culture, pal
Go buy a big-ass lawn, go with your big-ass house
Get a big-ass fence, keep people out
It’s all stubborn, anyway, can’t you see that now?
There’s no way for you to even that out
You can join the march, protest, scream and shout
Get on Twitter, hashtag and seem like you’re down
But they see through it all, people believe you now?
You said publicly, “Rest in peace, Mike Brown”
You speak about equality, but do you really mean it?
Are you marching for freedom, or when it’s convenient?
Want people to like you, want to be accepted
That’s probably why you are out here protesting
Don’t think for a second you don’t have incentive
Is this about you, well, then what’s your intention?
What’s the intention? What’s the intention?

[Interlude 2: Protesters (x13)]
Hands up? Don’t shoot

[Verse 3]
Pssst, I totally get it, you’re by yourself
And the last thing you want to do is take a picture
But seriously, my little girl loves you
She’s always singing, “I’m gonna pop some tags”
I’m not kidding, my oldest, you even got him to go thrifting
And “One Love,” oh my God, that song, brilliant
Their aunt is gay, when that song came out
My son told his whole class he was actually proud
That’s so cool, look what you’re accomplishing
Even the old mom like me likes it, cause it’s positive
You’re the only hip-hop that I let my kids listen to
Cause you get it, all that negative stuff it isn’t cool
Yeah?
Yeah, like, all the guns and the drugs
The bitches and the hoes and the gangs and the thugs
Even the protest outside, so sad, and so dumb
If a cop pulls you over, it’s your fault if you run
Huh?

[Interlude 3: Various male and female voices]
So, they feel that the police are discriminating against the – the black people? I have an advantage? Why? Cause I’m white? [Laughs]. What? [Laughs]. No. See, more people nowadays are just pussies. Like, this is the generation to be offended by everything. Black Lives Matter thing is a reason to take arms up over perceived slights. I’m not prejudiced, I just–.99% of the time, across this country, the police are doing their job properly

[Verse 4]
Damn, a lot of opinions, a lot of confusion, a lot of resentment
Some of us scared, some of us defensive
And most of us aren’t even paying attention
It seems like we’re more concerned with being called racist
Than we actually are with racism
I’ve heard that silences are action and God knows that I’ve been passive
What if I actually read a article, actually had a dialogue
Actually looked at myself, actually got involved?
If I’m aware of my privilege and do nothing at all, I don’t know
Hip-hop has always been political, yes
It’s the reason why this music connects
So what the fuck has happened to my voice if I stay silent when black people are dying
Then I’m trying to be politically correct?
I can book a whole tour, sell out the tickets
Rap entrepreneur, built his own business
If I’m only in this for my own self-interest, not the culture that gave me a voice to begin with
Then this isn’t authentic, it is just a gimmick
The DIY underdog, so independent
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
We want to 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?
We want to 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?

[Interlude 4: Various male and female voices]
Black Lives Matter, to use an analogy, is like if, if there was a subdivision and a house was on fire. The fire department wouldn’t show up and start putting water on all the houses because all houses matter. They would show up and they would turn their water on the house that was burning because that’s the house that needs the help the most. My generation’s taken on the torch of a very age-old fight for black liberation,but also liberation for everyone. Injustice anywhere is still injustice everywhere. The best thing white people can do is talk to each other, having those very difficult, very painful conversations with your parents, with your family members. I think one of the critical questions for white people in this society is, “What are you willing to risk? What are you willing to sacrifice to create a more just society?”

[Outro: Jamila Woods]
Your silence is a luxury, hip-hop is not a luxury
Your silence is a luxury, hip-hop is not a luxury
Your silence is a luxury, hip-hop is not a luxury
Your silence is a luxury, hip-hop is not a luxury
What I got for me, it is for me
What we made, we made to set us free
What I got for me, it is for me
What we made, we made to set us free
What I got for me, it is for me
What we made, we made to set us free

Acro Collective Greatest Hits: Celebrating 100 Posts!

I don’t know about you, but I can’t believe that this little project has already reached 100 posts! Thank you so much for continuing to grow with us and for supporting this community of thought, discourse, and love.

To celebrate our first major milestone, I highlight some of our most popular and beloved posts, in case you missed them or feel like revisiting the ideas they present. Stick with us! We love having you, and the best is yet to come.

I don’t know about you, but I can’t believe that this little project has already reached 100 posts! Thank you so much for continuing to grow with us and for supporting this community of thought, discourse, and love.

To celebrate our first major milestone, I highlight some of our most popular and beloved posts, in case you missed them or feel like revisiting the ideas they present. Stick with us! We love having you, and the best is yet to come.