Macklemore and Ryan Lewis’s music has never really drawn me in. Initially, I admit it was because the public was so strongly against it I didn’t feel the need. Even when I decided to think for myself and checked out The Heist on my own, there wasn’t much to make me want to revisit it; but that’s just my personal preference. However, the latest controversial song from the Seattle-bred duo, entitled “White Privilege II,” appears to be an exception.
Macklemore has a well-documented history of being accused of cultural appropriation and benefiting from white privilege after achieving critical success in hip-hop as a white man. “White Privilege II” is a deep self-evaluation of what it’s like to be in that unique position.
Throughout the song, Macklemore contemplates what he’s supposed to do as a white ally that’s concerned with the injustices being committed on black bodies. He recollects walking in a march on the night of Darren Wilson’s non-indictment and wonders what his place is and how involved he’s allowed to be as someone that’s essentially an outsider with a new glimpse inside of a community.
He even criticizes himself and other white artists in similar positions – i.e., Miley Cyrus and Iggy Azalea– for taking aspects of black music and culture and benefiting from them mostly because they’re white and viewed as more marketable to the masses.
Each verse is separated with interludes of conflicting opinions about the Black Lives Matter movement and protest chants transformed into hooks. Macklemore’s letting his heart out on the track as he processes thoughts that he’s clearly been sitting with for a while.
You know how there are certain books that are required reading across America? They’re pretty much all considered to be classics, but that doesn’t mean they’re universally liked. As a matter of fact, I personally didn’t really care for a lot of them but still understand that I had to read them for a reason and specific lesson we apparently all need to be functioning members of society.
“White Privilege II” is a song that falls into that category. Whether you like how it sounds or not, (I personally enjoyed it, but would carefully pick when I choose to play it) this is a song that should be added to the list of what’s deemed required listening. The messages it conveys and conversations that it could –and already has begun to– spark are worth a few listens alone.
First, one thing should be made clear. “White Privilege II” isn’t necessarily made for black ears– although there’s nothing stopping them from connecting to it in some way. Macklemore’s audience is primarily composed of white listeners and it’s safe to assume that same group is the main target this time around as well.
Black people can absolutely benefit from understanding what’s likely going through the minds of their white allies. After all, we can’t end the injustices against us on our own and making attempts to understand someone else’s perspective is the first of many steps towards accomplishing that. But this song is mainly meant to help white people “check” their privilege, to borrow an often used phrase.
In an interview with Rolling Stone, Macklemore made it clear that he knew criticism was soon to come after the song’s release. It’s practically guaranteed when speaking on an issue that’s been put on the main stage on a consistent basis over the past couple of years.
He also admits that, in an odd and twisted way, him being able to release this song about him calling out his own white privilege is still an example of that same privilege being put on display. But it’s arguably better to speak out about it and use it to benefit others and break down the system than it is to silently watch from the shadows and wait for someone else to do it instead.
While “White Privilege II” doesn’t suddenly make me a fan of Macklemore’s entire discography, his attempt at telling a story from a perspective that isn’t often explored is something I ultimately respect. If you haven’t given the song at least one complete listen yet, I suggest you set aside 10 minutes or so and give it a spin.
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