The Gospel According to Macklemore: White Privilege II

I woke up late, enjoyed a slow morning, and made a cup of coffee while #Blizzard2016 stirred outside.

A quick scroll through Twitter showed quips about canceled school, last minute trips to the grocery story, and impending winter weather. And then I saw someone comment that in the middle of her kitchen on a normal Friday, a new song from Macklemore wrecked her. I wondered what song she was talking about.

A few minutes later, I sat in my corner chair with coffee in hand to read a few web articles and stare out the windows at the intermittent rain-snow mix. I saw a Medium article about Macklemore and Ryan Lewis—one of my favorite hip-hop outfits—who wrote about creative freedom and expression, while promoting a new album out February 26 called “This Unruly Mess I’ve Made.” The standout line was this:

“If you aren’t scared of what you’ve created, you aren’t done yet.”

Then I saw the title of the new song and I knew it would be provocative and enlightening, challenging and beautiful all at once.

Macklemore and Ryan Lewis: White Privilege II

It’s no surprise Macklemore would address controversial matters. In previous projects, he’s called out consumerism, religion, wealth obsession, and more recently released a song about overmedication and prescription drugs with soul singer Leon Bridges (“Kevin”), in which Bridges sings, “Doctor, please give me a dose of the American Dream.”

And now he’s revisiting race and privilege, already having released songs like the original “White Privilege” (which I previously wrote about here).

Macklemore and Leon Bridges. (image credit: J Koenig)

Macklemore and Leon Bridges. (image credit: J Koenig)

The newest song, “White Privilege II,” exposes Macklemore’s own struggle with privilege and his desire to advocate for what’s right and standing in solidarity with people who’ve been wronged—by things like disproportionate police brutality, systemic injustice in schools, cultural appropriation, and more.

Even years before the Civil Rights Movement, W.E.B. Du Bois declared “the problem of the Twentieth Century is the problem of the color line.” Macklemore and Ryan Lewis address it in their own way:

In my head like, “Is this awkward, should I even be here marching?”
Thinking if they can’t, how can I breathe?
Thinking that they chant, what do I sing?
I want to take a stance cause we are not free
And then I thought about it, we are not we
Am I in the outside looking in, or am I in the inside looking out?
Is it my place to give my two cents
Or should I stand on the side and shut my mouth for justice? No peace
Okay, I’m saying that they’re chanting out, “Black lives matter“, but I don’t say it back
Is it okay for me to say? I don’t know, so I watch and stand

Struggling in Community

The message of Macklemore and Ryan Lewis isn’t just theirs; from the number of voices in the song, as well as all the names on their website for this track, it’s clear they’ve wrestled with the concepts of race and privilege in community for some time.

It sounds less like an answer to a problem and more like compounding questions. “White Privilege II” doesn’t give us a clear solution; the artists want us to wrestle with it together. And when we all wrestle with difficult, uncomfortable, longstanding issues, we might actually find the ability to see beyond ourselves and care about others.

You can join the march, protest, scream and shout
Get on Twitter, hashtag and seem like you’re down
But they see through it all, people believe you now
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?

Navigating Our Real Intentions

As a white male in the United States of America, I am privileged. At times in my life, I’ve been confused, happy, frustrated, conflicted, and convicted about that fact. There were even times, years ago, when I wished I wasn’t white because it was so common and convenient. It’s embarrassing to admit something like that, because it was naive and foolish. I had—and still have—no idea what it’s like to be in a minority, let alone the obstacles and pain experienced by black men and women or other marginalized groups of people.

It’s not wrong to be white, and it’s not wrong to be black. But the way we assign value to one characteristic of a human makes a dangerous move to minimize people to their labels.

I know I’m late to the game—I haven’t spoken or done much about racism and privilege. I know I need more friends and to hear more voices who don’t share my skin color, my nationality, my socioeconomic status, or my religion. I know we all have misunderstandings and frustrations to work through, and some are more urgent and obvious than others. And I know God is deeply concerned with the way we think about and treat other people. But I don’t know much else, so I will begin by admitting I have a lot to learn and a lot of love to communicate.

Macklemore’s line struck me:

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

My intention is not to offer a perspective that hasn’t been heard before, because this one has. This is simply me admitting I have a lot to learn, in the midst of a process, asking for your patience and grace—especially if you’re someone in a group of people who’ve been marginalized in some way.

I believe justice and kindness are possible, but they require tenacity and humility.

I have more questions than answers, and I don’t have much to offer you today, except to say that I’m not content to leave things the way they are.

Dealing With the Problem

Racism and partiality are problems we can’t ignore or run away from. They’re issues today, as they have been throughout history, including when the Bible was written. And like the writers of the Bible, I believe justice and kindness are not too much to ask—they’re exactly the kind of qualities God wants to permeate the world. Ultimately, reconciliation of all people to each other and to God is possible because Jesus changes our minds, our hearts, and our lives.

“Every step towards the goal of justice requires sacrifice, suffering, and struggle,” Martin Luther King, Jr. reminded us. So we will keep struggling with the questions and conditions that often leave us weary, hoping for a better tomorrow.

The lesson I’m walking away from Macklemore and Ryan Lewis’ new track is this: If we’re still comfortable with the divisive, unjust world we’ve created, we’re not done yet.

What’s your response to Macklemore’s new song? Listen here and leave a comment (but please be respectful and stay on topic).

7 responses to “The Gospel According to Macklemore: White Privilege II

  1. Thought provoking John. It is quite possible that you will some day be in a minority in the United States.

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