white privilege ii

Is Macklemore’s “White Privilege II” Problematic?

There is an ongoing dialogue about the place of white people within hip-hop, and Macklemore isn’t afraid to address the issue (again) on “White Privilege II.” This is the follow-up to his 2005 release, “White Privilege.” It touches upon race relations, the Black Lives Matter movement, and the role of white supremacy throughout America’s history. It draws upon sounds that are undeniably rebellious, but the narrative itself is unsure at times, as it seeks resolution.

The song starts from the perspective of Macklemore, a 32 year old white man from Seattle, pondering his place within a ‘Black Lives Matter’ protest, as he wrestles with his outsider status as an ally of the movement, and attempts to find his place. The second verse takes to task white artists such as Elvis, Miley Cyrus, and Iggy Azalea, all of whom have undeniably taken cues from black culture and profited from it without standing up for the black people who created the culture.

“We take all we want from black culture, but will we show up for black lives?”

The third verse recants a conversation that Macklemore has probably had a thousand times in some way, shape, or form; as a white woman praises him for making positive hip-hop; “the only hip-hop [she] lets her kids listen to.” The fourth verse ties everything together, as he states blatantly, “my success is the product of the same system that let off Darren Wilson, guilty.”

As a black man who lives in America, immersed in hip-hop culture, well versed in sociology, and acutely aware of the system we are living within, I didn’t hear anything unfamiliar in “White Privilege II.” We’ve been through this. As someone who lives with the undeniably weighty label of being a black man in this country, I didn’t necessarily get anything of value from this song, at all. The concepts themself aren’t eye opening. In fact, this record could be seen as opportunistic. This is the same man who publicly showed the world his “apology text” to Kendrick Lamar for winning the 2014’s Best Rap Album Grammy, instead of recognizing him publicly during the ceremony itself.

That text seemed like a major play for attention to many. It’s also relevant to how we evaluate “White Privilege II” today. Fact is, there are way too many people of all colors attempting to capitalize off of the black struggle without taking the cause itself to heart. It’s tempting to listen to Macklemore’s song and think, “congratulations, you can see the obvious. Now, hush up and let us speak for ourselves.”

I don’t think that this is the right approach, though, in the grand scheme of things. This song is not intended for black audiences. Not directly, at least. This is a song by a white man, to white people. Macklemore is white. As hell. He’s also successful. As hell. As a white rapper. So, he chooses to address it head on. He doesn’t pretend to be oblivious to the privilege that he holds, unlike a lot of our coworkers, neighbors, and acquaintances. He challenges himself in this song in ways that could force others to reexamine themselves. He admits that he needs to do more, in his position.

Many of us complain when white entertainers such as Miley Cyrus, Iggy Azalea, and many others steal from black culture. Here we have a man actually making an attempt, after taking part in dialogue with musicians, activists, and teachers in and out of Seattle. He asks himself what would happen if he “actually read an article, actually had a dialogue, actually looked at myself, actually got involved?”

People will overly praise Macklemore for this song. It’s already happening. Words like “hero,” “savior,” etc will be inevitably given to him due to his white skin. So, yes. It is a huge issue that white people coming out to decry white privilege will get exponentially more attention from a number of people than the words of black people who actually live through it. It’s problematic that this song addresses a “hot issue” in America that black people have lived through since America’s inception during a time when Macklemore is starting to build up buzz for his album. This song might make Macklemore and Ryan Lewis a lot of money, directly or indirectly.

Is the song “White Privilege II” itself problematic? No, it’s the reaction. The fact that it’s seen as “exceptional” for a white rapper to make a song like this is the problem. If it was the norm for white entertainers to be culturally and socially self-aware, this would be interpreted as simply another sign of support from an ally. I hope that Macklemore isn’t the last white entertainer to make a song like this. Will we ever know Macklemore’s true intentions? Well, no. It’s impossible. There is no way to tap into this man’s head and gauge his true intentions. Like any person who’s ever advocated for a cause bigger than them self, the most we can hope for is that Macklemore’s actions and words continue to line up, as we continue to ask the same of ourselves.


Agree, disagree, or indifferent? Leave your thoughts with Michell via Twitter at @MichellCClark.

  • I think when you look back at “White Privilege,” off an album before they hit big, this turns into an important shift in the conversation. It’s been part of his concerns all along, and there is no easy answer. I’m really glad he’s continuing the conversation, though.

  • Evon

    This guy has been mentioning his privilege since like 2005 and even had a couple of verses on various song on the Heist dealing with similar issues. I can see why people don’t like his music, thats understandable. But here he is trying to bring up the issue instead of ignoring it he has some people trying to taken him down for it.

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  • ambermoonchild

    This song is definitely intended for white ppl to hear. I understand that this isn’t new to most black ppl, but it IS to many white ppl. Segregation still exists, and bc of it, white ppl and black ppl tend to grow up with different information. White ppl know what they were taught in school. Black ppl know what they see and hear about in their communities which gives them first-hand knowledge that there is something wrong with the books labeled “history.”

    Media has also played a big role in how white ppl see the world. For instance, I grew up believing that the Black Panthers were the opposite of the kkk, bc the media taught my family that. Also, when I saw video of Rodney King on tv, I was told a tale that he was on very powerful drugs that made him able to jump out of a 5 story window, get up, and keep running… until the cops caught up and had no choice but to beat him bc he had the strength of 10 men. I didn’t think that made sense even as a little girl, but no one was around to refute it.

    I’m not using this as an excuse for being blind. My point is that this song will resonate with a lot of white ppl waking up to a hardship we’ve had the priveledge to ignore, bc a lot of us white ppl are struggling with the guilt that it’s taken a 17 year old boys’ life to create the media storm that woke us. It’s hard to determine our place in a movement when we know our ignorance has played a role in its necessity. Not to say that I created the problem, but my indifference has helped to perpetuate it.

    I’m not looking for pity, but I will say that I’m confused about my role. I hear some say “silence is compliance,” and I want to speak. Then I hear from someone else that I have a white savior complex, and I want to shut back up. Macklemore addresses his own confusion. I can identify with that.

    Also, Macklemore does acknowledge that he was wrong for the tweet you mention here in an interview with Ebro from hot 97. Good interview I think.

    • Hugh Ozumba

      Great honest thoughts man. I appreciate that.

  • Derk73

    This song wasn’t written for the black audience to learn from. It was written for the types of clueless white people who truly believe that racism is a thing of the distant past.

  • A White Male

    I agree with you that Macklemore (I’ll shorten to Mack for the sake of space) did not write this song for a black audience. I think it was for a white audience such as myself. I also tend to disagree with a lot of your interpretations of his song. Just like I will never know what it is like to be black, you will never know what it is like to be white. I believe this song is his expression of what it is like for a white male who feels horrible about the Mike Brown disaster to stand up and show support.

    I think it is first important to look at the bigger picture. Mack’s songs are never truly about the underlying issue that he sings about, but always about his life experiences about them. As much as Same Love was taken as his advocacy for same sex marriage, a lot of LGBT supporters did not like that a straight white male sang it. And really, it wasn’t about his support, but about how he thought he was gay and was afraid of it because he couldn’t make it in hip hop. He then advocates for his beliefs, like “this is stupid that because I thought I was gay I wouldn’t be who I am.” Mack has always been very self-centered with his music, and this is no different. He doesn’t want to be a hero or savior, but people make him out that way. He just sings about himself.

    “As someone who lives with the undeniably weighty label of being a black man in this country, I didn’t necessarily get anything of value from this song, at all.” This sentence is the only reason I am writing this long post. The song song was supposed to give you something of value, and I’m guessing you either missed it, or maybe just don’t have the right perspective to understand the value behind the song.

    Verse 1 as at a rally like I want to support this cause, but I don’t know if I can. He then uses verses 2 and 3 to address two different perspectives on his situation. Verse 2 appears to be from a black perspective; he starts each line with “you’ve” and it seems to be addressing him. I’m sure he hears all the time he is picking and choosing what parts of black culture he wants, just like Miley and Iggy.

    And, no offense, but it is articles and comments like yours are exactly what he is talking about. You say “there are way too many people of all colors attempting to capitalize off of the black struggle without taking the cause itself to heart.” He wants to take it to heart (which is why he is there). But because he is white and this is a big huge issue and celebrities use their positions to voice their political beliefs, he is encumbered by opinions like the one’s in your article that he cannot be sincere, but has to be trying to make money off of it.

    This is seen at the end of the second verse:

    “You said publicly, “Rest in peace, Mike Brown”
    You speak about equality, but do you really mean it?
    Are you marching for freedom, or when it’s convenient?
    Want people to like you, want to be accepted
    That’s probably why you are out here protesting
    Don’t think for a second you don’t have incentive
    Is this about you, well, then what’s your intention?
    What’s the intention? What’s the intention?”

    Like your posts, it seems like the black perspective about this song, having an opinion about Mike Brown, or being at the protest is that he is only there to serve himself or look good; he cannot be sincere or mean it. Rather than judging his actions or words because of the color of his skin, he just wants to stand up for what he supports.

    Likewise, verse 3 is pretty obviously from a white mom perspective. She is saying how great he is and how positively he influences kids, which kinda tears at him. She seems to like his music while having no idea what he is actually singing about, hence the wrong song name. I think he finds this very frustrating, as the construct (white privilege) that he wants to fight against is what gives him all of his support.

    The fourth verse starts, “Damn, a lot of opinions, a lot of confusion, a lot of resentment.” He seems to be struggling that he wants to support writes him off as being fake. And he calls out the voices telling him he is fake: “If I’m only in this for my own self-interest, not the culture that gave me a voice to begin with, then this isn’t authentic, it is just a gimmick.” It sounds sarcastic. And by doing so, he just paraphrased your article and several other like it that think he has to be preaching about BLM rather than being selfish and singing about himself as he always does.

    Mack addresses the other side of the coin to. He says, “So what the fuck has happened to my voice if I stay silent when black people are dying. Then I’m trying to be politically correct?” This seems to be his response to the previous line that if he says something he is self-serving. But if he is silent, then it is a PC move as a white guy not getting involved with the issues. He cannot win either way.

    At the end he says, “But the one thing the American dream fails to mention is I was many steps ahead to begin with.” The problem is how deep and old the underlying racial problem in America is. It isn’t an issue we can just change today, but we need widespread support to right the ship. Unfortunately, because of he is white, he feels he cannot support the movement as he wants. That is the what the listener should take from this song.

    Mack didn’t pick to be a white male, and neither did I. It was the accident of birth. But because of who we are, even with our white privilege, what can we do about solving this problem? He says am I out looking in or in looking out because he honestly doesn’t know how or what position he can take without the other side of the polarized divide chastising him. He wants to support BLM, but he doesn’t feel like he can because of his race and position as a rapper.

    So in a sense, I think you were right that “This song is not intended for black audiences. Not directly, at least. This is a song by a white man, to white people.” It is about people like Mack and myself who, because of our white skin, cannot honestly be believed to support or care for these issues. We are not black, and we do not know what it is like to be black in America. We never will. But that doesn’t mean we cannot empathize and support a position that doesn’t in some way further our own gains.

    I also agree with your final point: “Is the song “White Privilege II” itself problematic? No, it’s the reaction.” But I think we have a different view on the reaction to his song and why it is problematic. Your view seems to be that the problem is “words like “hero,” “savior,” etc will be inevitably given to him due to his white skin” when this is truly a black issue and those dealing with it are not being heard. I think the biggest problem is the reason why I made this post. This song is his plea to help fight a war he did not start, but he cannot be taken seriously because of the color of his skin, even with his white privilege.

    Do I know for a fact that my above interpretation is what he meant? Of course not. Like you said, “there is no way to tap into this man’s head and gauge his true intentions.” But as a white American, I identify with his words in this song. I know I have white privilege, and I won’t say I do not notice it.

    I felt horrible when I was approached by a black man while walking down the street a couple weeks ago who simply asked for directions. As he approached he held his coat open and said “I don’t have any weapons on me.” I wasn’t worried when he approached me, but because of the racial divide started before the birth of our nation, he felt the need to assure me I was safe. This is likely only amplified by the fact that these racially targeted murders so often occur by the hand of white men. I felt a personal connection to the injustice, but how can I (as a privileged white male) voice my opinion or show my support without being perceived as self-serving or insincere?

    I’m far from saying I know what that man felt when he needed directions, I’m sure it was infinitely worse than how I felt. I believe Mack deeply wants to fight racial targeting and discrimination. But due to his media attention as a famous rapper, he is in a harder position than I am to show his support. I assume he feels like his support of a cause is not wanted by the very people he is trying to help, and that is the eye opening concept that should have been absorbed.

    The point of his song is pretty obvious from the beginning if you know where to look. He felt a connection and wanted to show his support: “I want to take a stance cause we are not free. And then I thought about it, we are not we.” There are privileged white men who want to support black lives and rights. Probably a lot more than you would think. But because we are not black and will never know what it is like, we do not feel like we are on the same team. It sucks, and that is a problem.

    These are my opinions. Feel free to disagree or have your own. Just wanted to spell out what I took away from this song, which I believe is a much more powerful message than the message that is easy to take away.

    • ambermoonchild

      Although it’s an awkward position to be in, it’s understandable why there are black people with deep distrust for white ppl. If you look back on American history, white ppl have been very fickle with their support for black ppl. The support has had a tendency to end about the same time things get too uncomfortable for whites. So I guess in this age, we’re probably damned if we do or damned if we don’t. So we have to decide what we really believe in and stick to that. If we can’t get over scrutiny from black ppl over our true intentions, how can we stand strong when our own lives are at stake for taking a stand against the powers that do not want black ppl to ever achieve equality amongst whites.

      • jdelaney44

        People have been fickle with their support of people. The hot second anyone looks like a liability they are shunned. If you happen to have brown skin, all the worse.

    • jdelaney44

      I am pissed off about how Black folks, in particular, are screwed over. That my voice is, according to some folks (Black & white), lesser than a Black person’s is hurtful. Still, I am not going to give up my voice. Many Black people DO appreciate our white voices. Keep on keepin’ on.

      • My impression of American black women is that the vast majority act irresponsibly by giving birth to baby after baby out of wedlock.

        Most of these children are from different fathers as well. These irresponsible men simply roam like wild beasts in heat from one woman to another and impregnate as many as possible without regard for the women or their children, dodging accountability as they go.

        These foolish women allow themselves to be used by these sexual predators and continue to give birth to babies who grow up without fathers. And, with fathers ducking responsibility, the welfare system picks up the tab for a big percentage of these illegitimate children.

        The irresponsibility of black American men and women is creating a cycle of poverty, mental disorders, and violence within the black American community. This is not the result of white racism but immorality and the lack of character!

  • Looking at the immediate response on youtube, twitter etc. by a majority of white people….being dismissive, talking shit, and ramping up the racism without even listening to it. I wouldn’t say this will change the world, but in the son even points out how a lot of people only let there kids listen to him. So let’s say the parents watch fox news, say all lives matter, and generally poison there minds with this twisted image of minorities(black, hispanic etc. basically trump fans. whatever), and they listen to this on spotify…maybe it will resonate a bit. Another thing that bothers me is the “ohhh last time it was the gay song…now it’s black lives matter. He’s just trying to capitalize on it”….or maybe he actually cares(and believes what he says), and music is his outlet he decided this is the best way to speak about it.

    + What has Eminem said….

    ++singles aside. Some of his songs are pretty good “Otherside”, “Make the Money”, “Starting Over”.

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  • The man had a song called “white privledge” over 10 years ago, before most of us even knew the term. So I’m pretty sure his intentions are in the right place, but more importantly his execution of this sequel is impressive.

  • jdelaney44

    << White guy here. I see too many white people still saying that we are past racism in America. It's not just a few. It's a lot. In my mind, ANY white person who is willing to step out of line and call Bull S@#$t needs to be encouraged. But yeah, he's not a savior or anything. He's doing what ought to be done. I say: Right On!

  • Flavia Caracciolo

    The problem is not the song, which is completely valid, the problem could be the reaction of the people when they hear the song. A really good post about White Privilege.

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  • See Watts

    I don’t know this man personally nor can I claim to know his intentions behind creating this song. I will give him the respect he is due for addressing a topic that most artist (black or white) are afraid to touch. His WP affords him the luxury of speaking on racism and acknowledging its existence in 2016, but from a protected space. He will not be labeled a racist – a ploy used to discredit the character – by those that also share in the protection of WP. They may call him a traitor for revealing some facts, but that is the extent of it.

    Will this song change the minds and the perspective of young white boys and girls in America, I sincerely doubt it. Will this song have a ripple effect and somehow level the playing field for generations to come for the victims of WP, in my opinion that would be a negative.

    WP exists, he benefits from having it and he’s calling out his people on their bullshit. #SALUTEFORTHAT

    Now that one of their own has exposed what WE outsiders and targets of WP have been screaming from the mountain tops for decades, does anyone really expect something to happen next?

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