Ben Haggerty, or Macklemore as he is known to most, is a rap artist unafraid to tackle some of the world’s big issues. His 2012 record entitled ‘Same Love’ hit the headlines for its support of the LGBT community and same-sex marriage, whilst back in 2005, the track ‘White Privilege’ – a critique of the conscious and unconscious racism the rapper saw around him – thrust Macklemore into ongoing debates surrounding ‘race’. 11 years after the release of his first intervention into America’s ‘race’ problem, Macklemore returned with ‘White Privilege II’ in collaboration with Ryan Lewis, a track which reflects on the conflicting emotions felt by its writer whilst attending a Black Lives Matter rally in Seattle following the fatal shooting of Michael Brown by a white police officer in August 2014.
This backdrop of 21st century America – inspiring a lyrical content moulded from weighty social issues: cultural appropriation, racial advantage – might lead one to think that this is an ‘American problem’. Certainly in Britain, issues with race and racism have often been perceived to be just that, with no traction in British society. That said, Britain, as highlighted by the Macpherson Report in the wake of Stephen Lawrence’s murder, undoubtedly has its own racial issues with which to contend.
The reception to Macklemore’s latest record has been mixed. Unsurprisingly, there were many cynics on social media who wondered whether it was little more than a marketing ploy, noting the hype surrounding this politically-charged track appearing just before the release of his latest album in February 2016.
Others were keen to highlight the hypocritical nature of ‘White Privilege II’, in which Macklemore (a white rapper, remember) attacks Miley Cyrus, Iggy Azalea, and even Elvis Presley for appropriating ‘Black culture’. But, it was not all bad news for the rapper. Indeed, many applauded Macklemore for using his significant global influence to encourage dialogue within white society about the advantages they have received as a result of their ‘race’. Social media is of course a fickle critic, so how would the British media choose to report on the track? Reading various articles with different takes on the song itself and the subsequent fallout, it is difficult to shake the feeling that the point had been somewhat missed.
Instead of focusing upon the fundamental issues ‘White Privilege II’ incites, attention was instead drawn to the subsequent Twitter war between Macklemore and Azalea.
Perhaps the rapper himself is somewhat to blame for this, given the unhelpful name-dropping in
his lyrics. Such a decision unfortunately ignited the celebrity culture machine, allowing sections of the media to focus discussion on this cyber-spat rather than the weighty issues raised by the track. Admittedly, the moulding of debate around such trivial matters is partly an inevitable consequence of the popularity of celebrity culture in the 21st century. Yet, it might be argued that in part it also displays white society’s unwillingness to confront the advantages gleaned from
simply being white. Arguably, to front up to the issue of white privilege might force large sections of society to take action detrimental to their own situation in the name of true equality. Some might argue that the example discussed here is frivolous and, they might have a point. Yet, the fallout from ‘White Privilege II’ undoubtedly highlights just how far the debate on racial justice has yet to travel.
What do you think?
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