“White supremacy isn’t just a white dude in Idaho” – Macklemore

Macklemore and Ryan Lewis’ new song White Privilege 2 has made some waves as of late. The title alone raises eyebrows, bruises egos, and creates a conversation that America continues to try to avoid. I held off on listening to this song for a bit because a white man’s perception of white privilege in, of all places, the hip hop community could be a disaster. As a minority and someone who has a very intimate proclivity for not only hip hop music but the culture, I was waiting for that disaster and what I ended up hearing very literally left me in tears.

In a time when there is a candidate running for president who is clearly so racist that there are men being beaten and called “monkeys” at his rallies and he applauds them, at a time when children are being shot down by police and no one is prosecuted for that child’s death, at a time when towns of predominantly black impoverished American’s water is intentionally and knowingly poisoned and because of it children are dying and being hospitalized by the very government that is set in place to protect them, this was a brave move in the right direction. These are not things of the 50s and 60s these are things that are occurring right here in the United States, right now.

Macklemore isn’t saying anything that hasn’t already been said by many so hip hop artists before. Cultural appropriation and institutional racism is not a new topic in hip hop. People of color have always used the hip hop culture/music as an outlet to artistically express the inadequacies and feelings of helplessness in a society that turns a blind eye to their plight. The fact that he’s addressing these issues is not what makes this song incredible, it’s how it is done. Macklemore seems to have realized that he can talk until his face turns blue but if people can not relate to what he is saying they are never going to understand the issue, it will always be foreign to them. So what did he do? He threw himself under the bus. He used someone that his white fans and white people can relate to and showed them through himself, what white privilege is and why the “Black Lives Matter” movement isn’t about them, it’s about justice and equality for those that are still being mistreated because they happen to have more melanin in their skin, so stop saying “All Lives Matter.” Of course all lives matter, thats the point.

We’re introduced to the song with horns reminiscent of something you’d hear in an old jazz number followed by a verse that describes his inner turmoil with his previous attempts to support the black community through protests, where the police look more like him than the people he is there to support lending insight to the reality of the life of the rest of that crowd. Thats realization for him is the first of many.

The hook, “Blood in the streets, no justice, no peaceNo racist beliefs, no rest ’til we’re free,” sings like a chant, a march, a movement of strength and determination. This is followed by another verse that continues to build. Macklemore puts himself up and tears himself down to very small pieces, pointing out all the ways in which he, himself has benefited from cultural appropriation as a white man in the hip hop community. Listening to him struggle and yell these truths about himself through the lyrics is heartbreaking and liberating all at the same time. The aha! moment.

“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

Your brand of hip-hop, it’s so fascist and backwards

That Grandmaster Flash’d go slap it, you bastard

The fourth verse is just as ruthlessly honest. Macklemore puts the validity of his success as an indie artist under the microscope and exposes the realities of the white privilege he has benefited from throughout his journey a white male in American society. Granted he is talented, but he acknowledges the reality of the world we live in and his relatability because of the color of his skin among other things.

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

Towards the end of this same verse he goes as far as to critique even the trivial pieces of his personality and how he has been shaped as an individual through black culture, right down to the way he walks and talks. His transparent admission of appropriation whether purposeful or not, through admiration or ambiguity is of no importance. The importance is recognizing the appropriation for what it is and deciding whether or not he is going to just stand by while the people of the culture that society has always admired are being systematically executed.

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?

The phrase “SILENCE IS AN ACTION” from a hip hop colleague is what prompted Macklemore to put it all on the line for lives that he feels matter. Not talking about race and pretending that there isn’t a problem only continues to perpetuate an already broken system. Macklemore gave what only he could, an abrasive lesson about white privilege to his demographic, young, white… privileged.

I will leave you with a quote from the end of the 8:45 long song that I feel sums up the disconnect that some people have with the “Black Lives Matter” movement. Bravo Macklemore, bravo.

“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.