Staff Writer, Michaela Peterson
Image Curtsy of whiteprivilege2.com
On January 21, Macklemore and Ryan Lewis released their new single “White Privilege II. In the track, Macklemore talks about being a white man and ally in a culture that was created to allow the voices of the oppressed to speak.
In the media and especially online, there has been an almost violent reaction to the song. Several people have praised Macklemore for talking about his privilege, and for acknowledging its existence, including DeRay McKesson, a civil rights activist, who said in a series of three tweets “Macklemore didn’t discover white privilege, y’all. & in this song he isn’t purporting to say he did. Macklemore is not a hero, a savior, or a prophet for discussing white privilege. & he is not saying he is. & you shouldn’t either. Does it go far enough? Perhaps not. But I’ll never accept that changing minds is not disruptive.” Others say it’s hypocritical for him to call out other artists for their access to opportunity as white, but not himself.
When the song first came out, it didn’t really pay much attention to it. I saw posts about it on Facebook, but I didn’t pay them any mind. But, after the 17th or 18th post I saw, I wanted to know why everyone was talking about it. So I went on Youtube, and listened.
After checking the track out for myself, I understood why people were talking. Macklemore is known for writing songs about social justice issues, but I think this is the most confrontational song I’ve heard from him. The majority of the songs he has written, even if the subject content was a serious one, are upbeat and sweet. This one, however, is different.
From the very beginning it is uncomfortable and introspective. This was the part that has resonated most, especially with the white majority of Macklemore’s audience, myself included. The first verse begins with: “Pulled into the parking lot, parked it/ Zipped up my parka, joined the procession of marchers/ In my head like, “Is this awkward?/ Should I even be here marching?”/ Thinking if they can’t, how can I breathe?/ Thinking that they chant, what do I sing?/ I want to take a stance cause we are not free/ And then I thought about it, we are not “we”.”He talks about what it’s like to be white and support the the Black Lives Matter movement, and where our place is in a fight that’s not our own.
There have been very mixed reactions to the song, from both the white and the black community. Many people, both white and black, are praising Macklemore for talking about this. However, that is where the unity of the two groups ends. There are, of course, white people complaining about the song, saying that white privilege doesn’t exist and that Macklemore is an idiot Social Justice Warrior, but that is always to be expected.There are also black people who are saying that this song, in and of itself, is an example of white privilege.
Macklemore has addressed is white privilege in the past. It is also important to note that this is a follow-up song. The first “White Privilege” was released by Macklemore in 2005, long before he had any sort of spotlight pointed at him. This first song is an answer to many critics claims that while he talks about other people’s cultural appropriation, he doesn’t talk about his own. The main point that “White Privilege” makes is that white people, himself included, are gentrifying hip-hop. While it may be a little presumptuous of Macklemore to assume that everyone who listens to “White Privilege II” will look up “White Privilege” on youtube, it is there. The song wouldn’t be call “White Privilege II” if there wasn’t a first.
I asked junior Kwame Johnson about the song, since it was his post online the got me to listen to the song. When I asked him about his original reaction to the song as a person on the opposite side of white privilege, he said, “I really liked it. He called out other rappers, other artists who culturally appropriate black culture like, Iggy and Elvis.” Johnson also mentioned an appreciation for Macklemore’s willingness to talk about an issue he could easily avoid.
I asked Johnson about the fact that Macklemore acknowledges other people’s privilege, but not his own. Johnson was unconcerned about this.
“I feel like he knows he what he’s doing. He is knows he’s appropriating black culture. I’ve seen interviews with him, how he recognizes his white privilege and how he understands his place in rap,” said Johnson.
I did try to find a voice for the opposite side of the argument. The one that says Macklemore is a hypocrite and just wants attention before his new album drops. The thing is, I couldn’t find anyone with that opinion within SLA’s walls. I don’t know if that is because they feel outnumbered by the majority, or if they simply want to be left alone.
In the end, “White Privilege II” is hard to ignore. The song it’s diverges greatly from anything else Macklemore and Ryan Lewis have released together. While they have commented on some heavy topics with their music before, “Same Love” being the best example, they have never openly commented on such a politically volatile issue with their music. The song is dark and purposefully uncomfortable. While it isn’t the best song in the world, it achieves what it set out to do. It starts conversation and, in the end, gives black activist, poet, and singer Jamila Woods and the Black Lives Matter movement the last word, which is the way it should be.