In 2005, Macklemore released a song entitled “White Privilege”. This was prior to the killings of Eric Garner, Michael Brown, and Trayvon Martin, and prior to the spread of the Black Lives Matter movement. White privilege isn’t a construct of the 21st century, but only in the 21st century has it received a platform from the mainstream media and both black and white celebrities. Eleven Years later, Macklemore releases a second installment of his privilege- focused commentary, revealing that despite the decade that has passed, white privilege is still very real and race relations still need improvement.
In the first installment of the white privilege series Macklemore focuses on cultural appropriation, rap, and his relationship with the two. This song was on his first LP The Language of My World (over five years before The Heist exploded his celebrity). He points out the ways that rock music was in a sense hijacked by white people. Elvis and Jerry Lee Lewis stole rock and roll from Chuck Berry and Little Richard. This song seems to be a lament on how while Macklemore has the rap flow, he doesn’t feel that rap belongs to him and he doesn’t feel comfortable overshadowing black artists. Rap was birthed from the struggle of being an African American that has yet to receive their mule and forty acres. Macklemore doesn’t know that struggle and recognizes that he has a leg up compared to black rappers.
Over the years, white privilege doesn’t disappear and race-relations aren’t mended (although we do elect a black president). The last two years have seen large demonstrations in response to the many killings of African Americans by law enforcement officers. These events taking place over half a century after Martin Luther King Jr's I Have a Dream speech disturbed a great many of us, and Macklemore utilized his celebrity to comment.
In “White Privilege II”, Macklemore comments on the awkward position of the white male who wishes to assist in the Black Lives Matter movement. He expresses his guilt for the profit he has reaped from the cultural appropriation of rap music by white America. And above all else he recognizes that it is the same culture that fosters white privilege that has created his
celebrity, and because of this he states that he has no choice but to use his platform to assist the Black Lives Matter Movement.
Whatever your opinion of Macklemore might be musically, the position that he takes in these songs is not one that has received widespread recognition. Most People don’t remember that before Led Zeppelin and the Rolling Stones there were Howlin’ Wolf and Muddy Waters. While white Americans associate Hip Hop with African Americans, they forget why it was created in the first place. Whether you see Macklemore as a talented rapper or a glorified slam-poet, you must admit that the points he makes in the lyrics of the White Privilege series are powerful and timely.
By Charlie Hindman