Macklemore recently released “White Privilege II,” a song that is so painfully hypocritical that it is almost unbearable. As a black student activist, I tried to ignore the song when I saw it trending: I highly doubted the guy who wrote “Thrift Shop” could tell me something about racism that I did not already know. Lo and behold, leave it to one of my friends, who, despite a few enlightening conversations, has never attended a Black Student Association event, to send me the link because it was a “good song.” I made it through the first minute, and closed it. Listening to Macklemore navel-gaze for almost nine minutes seemed a little excessive.
Listening to the song and some of Macklemore’s interviews, I find myself uninterested. This is not the first time Macklemore has spoken about white privilege, nor is it the first time, as a cisgender heterosexual white man, that he has used other people’s struggles to create pop anthems to buttress his own legacy and line his pockets. Although, to be fair, they have a vague mission statement that says they are “[investing] our time, resources, finances and creative capacities towards supporting black-led organizing and anti-racist education & discourse.”
Regardless, there is something deeply patronizing about someone from a privileged position speaking for the oppressed (or, whitesplaining, if you will). It’s like sitting in a meeting where your boss keeps ignoring your ideas until the douchebag with the terrible haircut starts pitching them and getting praised for it. “They were her ideas,” your douchebag coworker mentions offhandedly, while accepting a raise.
The thing is, while Macklemore is actually the worst, what hurts more is how well he is received in the media (something he even brings up in “White Privilege II”). It is a glaring reminder that no matter how many black people speak about white privilege, no one will take it seriously until a white guy says it.
The issue with racism, classism, homophobia, transphobia, ableism, colourism, and the plethora of different dimensions of oppression that are ideologically ingrained in us is that they are hard to shake. Within activist movements, hierarchical patterns become recreated so that even within these alleged “safe spaces,” certain lived experiences are rendered silent, while others are amplified. A perfect example of this is within the Black Lives Matter movement and the misogynoir it exemplifies by focusing on solely cisgender black men.
I am not angry that Macklemore decided to speak about an issue I care about; I am angry because it forces me to acknowledge two things. Firstly, the blatant disparity between whose voices have social gravitas and whose do not. Secondly, the fact that there are some people in the world who might learn about white privilege, for the first time ever, from a subpar rap by a white man who appropriates black culture. It becomes especially salient when one thinks about how many other people have explained the basic tenets of anti-racism, only to have it fall on deaf ears.
The question becomes not what are you listening to, but who are you listening to? Who are you rewarding for speaking up about certain issues, and who are you marginalizing further into silence?