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Editors’ Reactions to Macklemore’s “White Privilege II”

Kelly Kimball, Social Media Editor

Macklemore’s latest single, “White Privilege II,” is a lot to unpack – and no decent opinion on its content is without a great deal of nuance.

This Grammy-award winning rapper pulls apart an experience marching in the Ferguson protests in Seattle following the shooting of Mike Brown. In doing so, he laces in several interludes of dialogue and anecdote that attempt to sum up the many contending sides of the Black Lives Matter movement. Towards the end of the piece, poet, singer and teaching artist Jamila Woods offers a final word to the entire song’s sentiment of bravely speaking out despite the luxury of silence.

Above all, White Privilege II is a rumination on the ugly forms white privilege may take in social justice contexts. This rumination calls out white privilege and white people’s often inauthentic attempts to offer support on such causes that directly affect Black Americans. For Macklemore, showing up to protests or tweeting about it is just the surface level. Facing the pervasiveness of racism and learning along the course of this struggle is something completely different. A line repeated often throughout the song is: “We take all we want from Black culture, but will we show up for Black lives?” It’s a question that remains in negotiation even after the nine-minute song ends.

In an interview with NPR last week, Macklemore shared one of the many intentions behind the song, stating that “It started with being silent for a long time around these issues and not wanting to mess up, and realizing that … the greatest tool that I have as an artist is to make a song … I still want to say something, knowing that it is never going to be perfect, but knowing that at the end of the day, I think it’s more important to say something than to remain silent.”

“White Privilege II” does not attempt to answer any questions; rather, it stirs up a multitude of important questions that privileged folk should ask themselves. The song boldly faces the singer’s whiteness and the singer’s privilege with a mindful discipline; he calls out subjects of cultural appropriation like Miley Cyrus and Iggy Azalea, and openly interrogates how his own music is appropriating Black culture; he openly wonders if he is disrespecting the art of rap by making more pop-like hits despite the genre originating from political — and therefore more serious — roots.

Say what you will about how ironic Macklemore’s success and popularity is upon producing this single. At the end of the day, awareness of internal dialogue and an articulation on how an ally could more authentically contribute to a cause are the first steps to transcending the uglier sides of privilege; they’re also the first steps for those weary of subscribing to a Black liberation movement to finally begin interrogating themselves on the origins of that indecisiveness. Only after this internal decision-making can real change actually take place with more people on board.

Cheyda Arhamsadr, Arts & Entertainment Editor

On January 22nd, Seattle-based hip hop duo Macklemore and Ryan Lewis released “White Privilege II.” Clocking in at almost nine minutes, the song is a dramatization of white rapper Macklemore’s internal dialogue regarding his place and his privilege in the Black Lives Matter movement, the hip-hop industry and American race relations in general; he calls out himself and other white artists for appropriating Black culture, while also questioning his personal motivations behind wanting to be involved in Black rights movements at all. While many have lauded Macklemore for his self-awareness, my only reaction is…give me a break, dude.

Macklemore first found his way under my skin with the 2012 release of “Same Love,” the Grammy-nominated Billboard chart-topping song that, in one fell swoop, achieved marriage equality and engrossed every American adult in discourse surrounding LGBTQIA advocacy; at least, that’s what the critical response to the song would lead you to believe. No, all that really happened was a heterosexual cisgender man spoke on behalf of a community he doesn’t belong to, and made quite a pretty penny off of it, too. News of “White Privilege II” had much of the same feelings stirring inside me again; when will people of privilege stop speaking for others and, instead, learn to listen?

The main issue I take with “White Privilege II” is the performative nature of it, the reeking insincerity of making a song that brings attention to the great benefits your whiteness affords you, while subsequently reaping those benefits from the very self-aware song that was apparently intended to help deconstruct a flawed system. With both financial gain from iTunes store purchases and social capital from the enlivened discussion surrounding the song, the question regarding the legitimacy of Macklemore’s intentions weighs heavily on my mind.

Macklemore is known for attention-seeking sorts of behavior; in 2014, Macklemore’s “The Heist” won the Grammy for Best Rap Album over a number of Black artists, most notably Kendrick Lamar and his acclaimed “good kid, m.A.A.d city”. Soon after, Macklemore posted a text conversation with Lamar on Instagram, remarking on how Lamar was “robbed” and how he was sorry he didn’t have time to “mention that during the speech.” The resulting social media fervor made Macklemore’s Grammy win a topic of conversation for weeks. Is it any surprise that Macklemore’s second studio album is dropping in less than a month? The well-publicized “White Privilege II” controversy will surely carry him through February.

I want to present Macklemore with some options here. Rather than continue making songs advocating on the behalf of others, amplify the voices of those actually affected instead. And yes, I mean more than featuring them on a song; Mary Lambert and Jamila Woods have undoubtedly benefited from their collaborations with Macklemore, but they’re still just token friends used to legitimize an otherwise disengaged piece. Macklemore: next time you want to make a song about a movement that isn’t yours to advocate for, don’t. Instead, find a Black or queer or relevant artist to support, and put your 2.8 million Twitter followers to good use.