Macklemore's 'White Privilege II': Roles for White People in Black Lives Matter

Macklemore's song may have found a distinct tune in the race relations conversation and may be an engaged answer to, "what should white people do or not in response to racism?" Macklemore's song is relevant, sure, but is it necessary?
01/28/2016 11:15 am ET Updated Jan 28, 2017

Macklemore and Ryan Lewis recently released "White Privilege II" (feat. Jamila Woods), a nearly nine-minute song in which Macklemore attempts to understand his place in black culture, specifically that related to hip hop music and Black Lives Matter demonstrations. Meanwhile, white, wealthy politicians and celebrities have integrated themselves in the Flint water scandal; everyone has an opinion on the Oscar boycott; and we are back to having very white presidential candidates vying for black votes. Macklemore's song may have found a distinct tune in the race relations conversation and may be an engaged answer to, "what should white people do or not in response to racism?" Macklemore's song is relevant, sure, but is it necessary?

Why is it necessary politically? It's necessary because black communities have the political power in this conversation--which Macklemore recognizes. Black communities have the political assignments. Their homework is outward. Having been involved in intersectional movements from an LGBTQ lens, I know how vital it is for allies to talk about the institution of discrimination and how fine the line often is between support and appropriating. Macklemore's frustration throughout the song encapsulates the supreme whiteness paradox of "why can't I fix this"? It's a perfect vocalization of how it should feel--specifically for a straight, white, rich, American man--, as if the situation is out of control, because control is the whole point. But it's not out of control, it's simply out of control of the privileged. The most necessary thing Macklemore can do is stand and bear witness.

Politically, it's a shift in power because the person with the least privilege, by definition, has the most experience to share about oppression--thus, these people should be the clearest and first voices on the microphone. Those who are privileged cannot speak to the plight of the minorities in a way that can create lasting change, unless it is an amends. Because of the power deferential, it is a requirement for the disenfranchised to rise in their own way, not a way paved for the status quo--this is essential for equity. Politically ("political" meaning ways of influencing people), it is essential that Macklemore sing songs about his limits in this particular cause. He may help fan the flame, but it must be the minority group to ignite the first spark, and determine when the job is done. Politically, the accomplishment rests in the movement, no rapper, presidential candidate, not even Abraham Lincoln with the Emancipation Proclamation could rid America of racism. It has to rest in the collective.

Why is it necessary spiritually? Because the non-black (specifically white) communities have the spiritual homework. White people cannot speak to a black person's response to racism or classism or integrated hate. However, white people can consider the racism in themselves and acknowledging the unhealed trauma of black v. white in America. Whereas the majority of white people today might not be actively aggressive toward black people does not negate that there is an untended to, inherited wound that left black communities disadvantage, thus inequitably elevating the status of non-blacks. Responsibility stems from an ability to respond, not react; a responsible country and generation would note this. Where have we, as white folk, reacted when we should have responded to these systems? This issue asks us to not just move on, but undo. The race relations can only experience a collective healing if there are enough people doing the inner work to purify their own hearts and histories of racism, making it possible to not pass it down another generation.

Racism, as a spiritual issue, is a white person's issue because it is the white person's mind that needs a new understanding which requires transcendence of old ideas, not building off of old ones. We do not need incremental steps but a shocking shift in perspective. Our race relations need to be leveled out. We do not need black communities to make strides in their own right (as they already have and do) to compete in the world of white people's rules and systems that automatically favor whiteness; we need to deconstruct what diversity means religiously and spiritually. A country founded on the spiritual principle of unity would be destined to deepen what it means to be united. We are experiencing division and confusion, not because of our diversity but in spite of it. Diversity is a pre-requisite to unity. Unity holds no value in uniformity, assimilation or sameness. Unity is, in fact, impossible unless that which comes together is diverse.

Macklemore is on the outside looking in and the inside looking out as he questions in his lyrics, but most importantly he is looking, and watching, and witnessing and hopefully leaving enough room for the voices of the oppressed to rise, not because he or the majority of white people did anything wrong, but because as a united country, it is our responsibility to hold a space for healing no matter how uncomfortable it may be.