Macklemore’s “White Privilege II” is loaded. He’s a white dude who raps, is an independent artist who has had tons of mainstream success largely because of his whiteness, and who appeals to audiences as an authority on several issues that don’t directly affect him, most notably “Same Love”.
And now, Macklemore comes out with a song specifically for white people that speaks to contradictions in themselves and the system, the ways that white supremacy manifests and how he and other white people benefit from those same systems, all the while using our medium to do it. And it feels annoying. I get it. It feels like we shouldn’t trust it, like it’s a ploy for him to gain even more authority and attention.
But, what if we go deeper?
I do social justice education work. I tell white folks that we don’t actually need them trying to organize in Black movements as we urgently need them to organize in their own communities. We tell them to use the platform and access that they have in order to force uncomfortable moments, leverage their privilege, and incite change.
At the heart of it, that’s what this song does.
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?
Not only does he place himself in it, but it’s a call to join the movement. Calling out other white people appropriating Black culture but doing nothing for the movement. It’s a challenge to white folks around how easily and quickly they appropriate and monetize Blackness but actively erase the Black people who live it.
The hard pill to swallow is that “White Privilege II” doesn’t suddenly reverse the success that he’s had using a medium that has everything to do with Blackness, with a reception where Black folks saying the exact same things would never receive and with an authority that is hardly ever granted us, the experts in the matter.
Some points to consider, “White Privilege”, the predecessor of the song in question, came out in 2005, before Macklemore was popular and internationally renowned. That suggests that this song isn’t some ploy to deceive us. The song has also come out and is free to download on iTunes, suggesting that there doesn’t stand to be capital raised from the song itself, but there is something to be said of social capital and how he will be sought after for his opinion on matters. And lastly, Black folks put in work on this track.
For me, the telling piece will be how he responds to this moving forward, and whether he stays in his lane on being an expert on whiteness through a social justice lens, and not an expert on racism and how it impacts Black people. Furthermore, we will see whether or not he actively creates more space for Black movement builders in the wide armed reception he will undoubtedly get from white people who care about what Macklemore says about Black people more than they care about Black people themselves. It’s about accountability.
The best thing this song has done for Black people is allow for heated debates on whether or not this is the right way to support the movement and how non-Black and white people should be allies.
And more than that, it’s not actually about Macklemore, but about white privilege. It makes sense that a white person with a slew of privilege would perpetuate exactly that in a song about white privilege.
Black folks are actively questioning whether the messaging in the song has less merit because he’s also been appropriative, but I don’t actually believe that that’s the question we need to be asking. We already know the answer. And that’s not our work to do. The best thing this song has done for Black people is allow for heated debates on whether or not this is the right way to support the movement and how non-Black and white people should be allies.
I’m much more interested in the honing in on Black brilliance as we once again decide for ourselves what we want and need in this movement time from our allies than whether or not the song should be silenced.
He did what many of us have been telling white people to do from time, and he did it well. Much of the context surrounding the song just ain’t right, cause white supremacy is real, but the song ain’t wrong either.
Greater clarity strengthens the movement. Our demands of allies will evolve, because we are an evolving movement.
I’m here for it.
Educator, Organizer, Cyborg