The Gospel According to Macklemore: White Privilege

First of all, if you haven’t seen the introduction to this series, get an idea of what this is, how we’re exploring cultural exegesis, and what “shadows of truth” are by reading it here.

photo credit: Ryan Lewis Productions

It’s nearly inevitable to delve into issues of race and black culture when seeking any honest evaluation of hip hop or rap music. Within the DNA of the genres, there seems to be a heavy concern with survival, socioeconomic status, and injustice. Often, the perspective of urban artists can tend toward the negative, only cynical, without consideration for what positive aspects may also be present.

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African American history no doubt tells us a narrative of struggle, oppression, and pain, which is to be acknowledged. Even as we observe Black History Month, the nation turns its ear to the stories of those who’ve passed before us, African Americans exemplary in leadership, integrity and catalyzing change in our world. These stories must be retold. New stories must be told. Martin Luther King, Jr., Rosa Parks, The Tuskegee Airmen, Harriet Tubman, Frederick Douglass, and thousands more lived in ways that vibrantly impacted American history and society. Their stories are to be valued, because in them, we find the common threads of humanity, of struggle and perseverance, of vision and progress.

It is out of the broad base of African American heritage that Macklemore pens “White Privilege,” his self-aware Caucasian humility brushing up against the injustice he’s seen against Blacks in both history and modern culture:


I feel like I pay dues but I’ll always be a white MC
I give everything I have when I write a rhyme
But that doesn’t change the fact that this culture’s not mine
But I’m gonna be me so please be who you are
This is something that’s effortless and shouldn’t be hard
I said I’m gonna be me so please be who you are
But we still owe ’em 40 acres now we’ve stolen their 16 bars
Hip hop started off in a block that I’ve never been to
To counteract a struggle that I’ve never even been through
If I think I understand just because I flow too
That means I’m not keeping it true, nope

So here comes history and the cultural appropriation
White kids with do-rags trying to practice their accents
From the suburbs to the upper class mastering a language
But hip hop is not just memorizing words
It’s rooted in authenticity, something you literally can’t learn

Shadows of Truth

  • It’s honorable that Macklemore not only acknowledges his privileged, white upbringing, but embraces it as part of his own story. Just because one is born into or experiences more privilege doesn’t mean it’s not valid or acceptable. Conflict and oppression manifest differently for different people and social groups. “Hip hop started off in a block I’ve never been to, to counteract a struggle that I’ve never even been through.”
  • Mac’s intention is not to demean all white rappers (or discredit himself), but to call out the hypocrisy of those in the scene who’ve tried to falsely claim the whole of black hip hop culture as their own. In this way, he’s rejecting hypocrisy and upholding personal identity, much like Jesus does throughout Scripture. “White kids with do-rags trying to practice their accents, from the suburbs to the upper class mastering a language.”
  • This track is a siren song for a refocus of the hip hop scene; stop stealing heritage, cease the cliche racially charged confining labels, and create something unique from your own core. “I said I’m gonna be me so please be who you are, but we still owe ’em 40 acres now we’ve stolen their 16 bars.”
  • Authenticity is a value interwoven through a great amount of Macklemore’s work. The man’s got a deep conviction for being honest and real, not hiding behind things or labels or icons, but embracing one’s own identity. “But hip hop is not just memorizing words, it’s rooted in authenticity, something you literally can’t learn.”

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What do you see in these lyrics? Is it okay for Caucasian hip hop artists to “borrow” heritage or conflict or terminology from African American culture?

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Read more on The Gospel According to Macklemore:

Wings.
White Privilege.
The Town.
Church.
Life Is Cinema.
Otherside
Make The Money.

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