White Privilege II: Inadequate Yet Important

Macklemore recently released White Privilege II, a powerful, honest track where he pours out his heart in 9 minutes of fervent self-flagellating lyrics. My initial thoughts? His actions are hypocritical, but this song is important.

We listen to a sorrowful, well thought out argument for white involvement in black liberation movements. He touches on his own participation in hip-hop music and lightly acknowledges how much white privilege is an issue in America. He comes to the realisation that some of his white fans are still ignorant to the issues that have prompted black liberation movements and describes how white indifference helps perpetuate the way blacks are castigated and characterised as villains.

The whole song is permeated with his feeling of discomfort and awkwardness with his privilege, recognising how different he really is to the suffering people around him. If you are a Macklemore fan, you’ll be pleased with more of his typical cogent and empathy drenched rhymes.

  • The song begins with a nervous Macklemore giving a stream of consciousness at a black lives matter march. He shows us how indignant he feels about the lack of justice, but questions the validity of his voice in this struggle. He has to question what he can say because of how it might look, despite how good his intentions are. The point he makes is logical, but why make this track if you are aware your voice may not be welcomed in this conversation?
  • “It’s all stolen anyway, can’t you see that now? There’s no way you can even that out” Macklemore uses the second verse to acknowledge the fact that his music, and possibly even the whole of America, is heavily influenced by the contributions of blacks. Some previous articles have critiqued this use of pathos, but what would you rather a hip-hop artist do? This style of rapping isn’t new, a lot of hip-hop that gives a message is expressed from the perspective of a victim.

If Macklemore had wanted to make a true stand against white privilege, why not release it on a black-owned website or give BET the world exclusive so it really hits home?

Good for you, Macklemore, to come to terms with it in such a mature, insightful, respectable way. I’m proud of you for that. You might even deserve gratitude for your genuine alliance with our struggle and congratulations on your bravery and artistry. People will be glad this conversation is happening. White Privilege II is accompanied by a website, that gives a paragraph on the ways Macklemore is giving “time, resources, finances and creative capacities towards supporting black-led organizing and anti-racist education & discourse.”

But you could have done that in a different way. For you to continue to profit from black music, whilst being aware of how wrong it is, is hypocritical. The song lacks strong conviction against white naysayers, and is less informative than it is emotional (to the point where it becomes rather cloying). And it is quite self-obsessed. If Macklemore had wanted to make a true stand against white privilege, why not release it on a black-owned website or give BET the world exclusive so it really hits home?

It ends with the black vocalist Jamila Woods singing my favourite part, “What I got for me it is for me. What we made, we made to set us free.”

It’s an important conversation, and the song is good for broadening hip-hop. But if Macklemore writes more self obsessed black liberation narratives like this one it will be a problem, because it distracts from black voices telling our own struggles and being heard independently. Then again, he was insightful enough to ask, “Should I just stand on the side and shut my mouth?” Perhaps in the future he should.


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