Privilege Check! A Look at Macklemore’s “White Privilege II” and its Impact on the National Race Conversation

By: Jasmine Adams

#OscarsSoWhite #BlackLivesMatter #BlackHistoryMonth…

In the midst of hashtags like these, Macklemore’s pre-album release song, “White Privilege II” dropped at a particularly strategic time. Let me make a disclaimer that this is not a song review…you can listen to the song here. However, I will say that the lengthy piece that Macklemore, Ryan Lewis, and Jamila Woods (a black female singer and writer) has more of a spoken word feel than the traditional “Thrift Shop” hook-and-verse song that we are used to Macklemore creating. That being said, I do commend Macklemore on the way he articulated the concept of white privilege. I appreciate that he recognizes that he has benefitted from white privilege and notices the mistreatment of other races. What I most appreciate though is that he—a white man—meaningfully contributed to the conversation that was already in play for some and that, as a result of the song, will start for others.

Now, for the skeptics: I know, I know, I was reluctant to listen to the song initially. The last thing I wanted to hear was “Thrift Shop” Macklemore putting out a close to 9-minute song about white privilege when he will very likely be making money off the song. In addition, I cringed at the idea that his white privilege would be the only reason people listened to the song and the only reason he would receive such a wide, public platform to voice the concept. Honestly, I did not take the song or him seriously at all. Until I actually took a listen.

After having a couple of days to simmer over the song, I am left with mixed feelings. On the one hand, I am excited that a white person is publicly voicing an opinion that can be played over and over again for anyone to hear. I am excited that the conversation about white privilege will reach a wider audience and may fall on ears that will actually listen (albeit only because of who it is coming from).

On the other hand, the song gives me pause and fills me with more questions than anything else. For example, does and will the song reach the right audience? With 2 million YouTube views accumulated within 5 days, will this song have the reach we would hope? Will the people who need to hear it most, those who do not believe such a concept as white privilege exists, hear it?

Probably not, but maybe their children will and just maybe a conversation will start then. Maybe the song itself will be a conversation starter for a white person who does not know how to broach the subject with others, either black or white. This song, in my opinion, is about encouragement. I think it was meant as a nod toward the Black Lives Matter movement, but ultimately that it was aimed to also encourage others to acknowledge the privilege that they possess (whether you are white or a minority—because even some minorities experience privileges outside of race) and to do something about the injustice that occurs because of such privilege.

Another question that then occurred to me: why did it take Macklemore, a white rapper, for people to listen? Let’s face it, white privilege is not a new concept. Just google the phrase and look at all the think pieces that result.

This is something that has been developed and articulated by countless minority intellectuals for years. Moreover, it would take years for other artists and activists who have spoken out on race and white privilege to gain such publicity as Macklemore concerning their acts. All Macklemore had to do was put out one song (that a black person helped him write) to receive widely pronounced attention. That, ironically, is white privilege.

Even with these questions and internal conflicts, I can honestly say that I am left with an “it’s about time” feeling. So claps, snaps, and kudos to Macklemore for speaking out publicly concerning a very controversial issue during a time of high tension in the nation. It’s not easy or fun to speak out to a group of your peers (for Macklemore, white men and women) on a topic as controversial as race and its implications, especially when there are many that just plainly disagree with you—just ask Stacey Dash.

Whether it’s something that others (minority artists and intellectuals) have articulated before or whether its something others (black people) feel you should already be saying, that Macklemore actually and directly said something about his privilege should be, at the very least, acknowledged and somewhat appreciated. From me, he receives a round of applause for his boldness to speak about something too many people are unwilling to recognize or admit exists. So, to Macklemore and all others who have and will continue to say “something” about race and privilege…thank you.

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