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Macklemore’s White Privilege II Is The Rachel Dolezal Of Protest Songs. Here’s why.


Another day, another song by rap-entrepreneur Macklemore on the struggles of being a psychologically tormented White artist disgustingly rich and succeeding in a black musical space at the cultural expense of more talented, creative Black artists. This time, White Privilege II, the sequel to 2005’s White Privilege. The song is consciousness-baring plus pathos plus chaos plus innocuity, with little to zero lyrical substance on how Whites should develop solutions to the problem of practicing white allyship and prioritizing activist voices and organizers of color. 

In any case, it’s doing its “job”, I guess. Right? Everybody online is like “Have you heard that new Macklemore song? What did you think?”; and editors are pitching some variation of the “… write-up on the innate white privilege of a white rapper making bank rapping about white privilege” concept.

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So, yeah. That’s what we’re doing here.

Musically, White Privilege II is out there.  You can read some choice words on the out-thereness of it here. For my part, I’ll put it to you like this: its aesthetic template is ‘Mo Better Blues meets Karen Clark Sheard’s “Balm In Gilead” meets Def Jam Poetry. But its cultural blueprint is Elvis co-opts Muddy Waters meets Eminem evolves Beastie Boys meets Judy Garland cluelessly wondering through and enchanted by the soulfulness of, Diana Ross’s Oz.

If you’re a black listener hot potatoeing the lyrics around in a low whisper, trying to figure out what the hell you’re listening to and why the hell you’re listening to it, you may all of a sudden find yourself wearing a zebra-prison uniform, irritated by callused, swollen ankles suffocated by a hobble, and your skinny-brown, purplish hands gripping a raised spike hammer as you ready to labor on some rocks. That’s the kinda vibe it gives off. Remember the movie Life? Ray, Claude, Jodeci, and the inmate obsessed with cornbread? Yeah, just like that.

So it’s obvious White Privilege II, as protest, as art, was meant to clear up the nebula in the brains of white hip hop heads.

Only the rhymes neatly stitched to the end-corners of the poem and the seemingly extreme self-awareness of the song’s first-person speaker keep Macklemore’s mom-friendly rhetoric from completely tumbling downhill into oblivion. There isn’t enough muscle power in his catharsis to catalyze white bodies to make amends for their trollweevil ways and stand firmly on the side of black lives in and on every available platform — social media threads, the streets, the barricaded hearts of nonbelievers. Doubtful his social awareness or what activist call “race consciousness” filtering through the disjointed stanzas translate to little more than reverse victimization. In all likelihood, avid suburban white fans won’t leave any more clued into white privilege than they were when they came to this “rap shit.”

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What it does have going for it, what it can bank on, is the intensity of the political moment. For the country’s current political mood — street demonstrations popping up all over the country, press conferences boldly hijacked by activists — mean that songs like White Privilege II can, and do, the bare minimal: appreciate the muddle-mindedness of unconverted Whites on, or thousands of miles away from, the fence separating black lives matter from “all lives matter.” What else does it do — keep the conversation going.

Most Whites still believe white privilege is an illusion of the black imagination. That it doesn’t exist, or ever has. On this thought, most whites don’t know, or care a damn thing about, the subtle machinations of colorblind racism or take the time to educate themselves on how gruesome the legacy of white supremacy in America is, and how thoroughly our social institutions embody racial bias.

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Trapped in an intrawhite social dynamic, one where human actors are either low order hicks on the come-up, high order fat cats with one foot on democracy and another on poor Whites, or a white-collar drone wedged between the two, these privilege-deniers can’t be bothered with history, except when they’re ignoring or distorting it.

Songs like White Privilege II, and similar profusions of solidarity, may be flipped into opportunities for thoughtful commentators to offer fill-in-the-blank point programs, suggestions, or “steps” to liberal-minded Whites (conservative, far right Whites aren’t included in the demographic … they’re too far gone) on ways to recognize, admit, and overcome their privilege. That doesn’t mean they’re epoch-making, and they shouldn’t be treated as such, especially when artist like Macklemore spin on and on and on about the agony of indecision of said fragile liberal whites, who, though down and in the political know in every other arena of “progressive politics”, know not, in the area of race relations, whether to support, speak out, and acquire a more in-depth knowledge of, the culture they’re appropriating and parrot.

White Privilege II illustrates hacking and Hamlet, not useful allyship. If anything, credit should go to the flippers, not the flipped.

Done in this way, songs like White Privilege II become nothing more than the Rachel Dolezal of protest music — poorly executed attempts of a white hip hop artist to align with black culture and black issues whose ulterior motive — whether intentional or not — become all too apparent, tilting the spotlight away from black victims to his white selfhood.

Image Credit: Olivia Blanco, via Flickr Creative Commons


Antwan is an educator, cultural critic, actor, and writer for Wear Your Voice Mag (WYV), where he focuses on the dynamics of class, race, gender, politics, and pop culture. Prior to joining the team at WYV, he was an adjunct professor in the African American Studies Department at Valdosta State University in southern Georgia, where he taught African American Literature. He has traveled the U.S. and U.K. showcasing a fifty-five minute, one-person play titled Whitewash, which focuses on the state of black men in the post-civil rights era. Antwan received his B.A. in English and Literature from California State University, Dominguez Hills, and M.A. in African American Studies from University of California, Los Angeles. He is a Ronald E. McNair Scholar and NAACP theater nominee.

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