Macklemore is back in the spotlight with a new song titled White privilege II. True to its name, the song is a nine minute effort to make sense of being a white person — a white hip-hop artist, no less — at a time of significant racial unrest.
The response has been varied, with some seeing the effort as an honest and open struggle to understand and learn, while others see it as a pure indulgence in privilege.
— Talib Kweli Greene (@TalibKweli) January 22, 2016
All shade aside, I hope some white folks understand privilege and co-opting blackness better after hearing this. https://t.co/rA8uFYCYkT
— Jamil Smith (@JamilSmith) January 22, 2016
I think my issue w/ Macklemore’s “White Privilege 2” is that much like “Same Love,” Macklemore’s “consciousness” is discussed the most.
— Charles Wade (@akacharleswade) January 22, 2016
Leave it to Macklemore to use someone elses social issue & make it into a song thatll probably get him a Grammy nomination #Mackslifematters
— Otis Reed (@IamOtisReed) January 23, 2016
Honestly, the project is a bit of both of those things. Much of art is an attempt at self-expression and exploration into your own motivations, or a critique and analysis of the world around you and your place in it. Almost inevitably the creator is at the middle of the final product. Macklemore exists in a weird place at an even weirder time; a white rapper — in an era of Black Lives Matter where people of color are more able than ever to call out cultural appropriation and privilege. For someone as literal and straightforward as Macklemore, his art is going to reflect this.
But where does that leave the listener?
Well, first it depends on who you’re talking about. As a black man, I’ll say that there’s nothing in this song that I haven’t read before in a book or on a blog, seen in a tweet, or discussed in an email conversation or over brunch with friends. More importantly, there’s nothing in this song that I haven’t heard a person of color express with equal or greater eloquence. It doesn’t mean that I don’t appreciate the effort — I’m merely stating that there’s nothing groundbreaking here.
But I’m not every listener — and for some, this is a new message. For some Macklemore is the first person they’ll hear utter the words ‘white privilege’ — and perhaps the first person they’ll listen to with a sympathetic ear.
This is a good thing. And I don’t begrudge Macklemore’s ability to reach a white audience in a way a black rapper or artist can’t. Or, more precisely, I understand that macklemore is a more palatable messenger to white people — I’ll always take umbrage with the broader idea that white people have trouble hearing or empathizing with black pain when it comes from black lips. But that’s partly what allies are for — to get in undercover, to speak and stand in solidarity with communities of color, to make space.
But merely uttering the phrase white privilege and grappling with the ideas of white supremacy is not an ends in itself — it is not enough. And that’s why I’m also happy to see accompanying the release of the song is a website which features thoughts and opinions of the various artists and activists of color who helped to shape the song. The website also links to black led organizations that listeners are encouraged to visit and donate to, including Black Lives Matter, People’s Institute for Survival and Beyond, Youth Undoing Institutional Racism & Freedom School, and Black Youth Project 100.
When I started this piece, I wasn’t entirely sure how I felt about the song, but now that I’m here I guess I’m ok with it. Not everybody will be, and that’s fine too. As long as they don’t expect any kind of special praise, I’m alright with white people grappling with the issues of white privilege and white supremacy. Regardless of whether or not you think Macklemore is a great rapper (meh), this seems like a decent effort at being socially responsible and aware.