Last Thursday night, rapper Macklemore released "White Privilege II" — an almost nine-minute exploration of his experience as both a white man in racist society and as a white artist succeeding in a historically black music genre. Of course, some People of the Internet (including yours truly) devoted a good amount of time on Friday dissecting the song, which has its fans and has its critics.
Personally, I like the song. I'm not a hip hop connoisseur, so I leave critiques of the song's composition to others — but, that being said, I am 100 percent down with the message.
In contrast to some of the more common arguments against "White Privilege II," I don't think Macklemore is pandering to black people (they aren't his fan base), and I don't think he's prying the microphone away from black voices (he's talking about his life, which is what rappers do). Rather, I think "White Privilege II" is an honest look at the weird space occupied by white allies against racism who are acutely aware of how much they profit from racism.
White allies are a fairly common motif within Christianity, and (probably because I'm a religion journalist) when I was reading all the Macklemore think pieces tumbling down my social media feeds on Friday, the predominant image in my head was one of a white missionary ministering to brown people. I think there's an inherent similitude when any white person leverages his or her privilege to address racism.
On the one hand, it's admirable, and it's what we would hope people with any kind of privilege would to do — help those less fortunate than themselves. On the other hand, a white person taking on racism as a cause leaves her open to accusations of trying to be a white savior. Why do you think black and brown people need your help, your voice, your contributions? What are you offering that is so necessary?
To be fair, that accusation was almost always true in the early days of missionary activity. Both Catholics and Protestants believed they were saving savage peoples from themselves — an ideology based very much in racism. In contrast, today, most missionaries, of all races, take care to respect local cultures. The imperialist mission model is gone, or at least it's supposed to be.
But that doesn’t mean even well-intentioned missionaries' actions and motives aren't subject to scrutiny. And it doesn't mean that we should be careless in the ways we celebrate white allies. At Global Sisters Report, we try to ensure that the images we use don't tell the story of a world in which black and brown people succeed only when a compassionate white person intervenes.
Which brings me back to Macklemore.
I think Macklemore did two things with "White Privilege II." One, he expressed his personal struggle with what it means to be white ally, and, two, he used his privilege as a celebrity (that he admits was buttressed by his privilege as a white person) to put the issue of racism on the table for his fans — other white people.
I applaud that. I do worry, however, about what happens next. Even if Macklemore isn't posturing himself as THE celebrity face of anti-racism, it's not impossible to think that such a posture will be created for him — that he will become the musical equivalent of that white missionary holding the black baby. Isn’t he so brave? It's so good that someone is finally talking about these issues/caring for those children/doing something about this.
And that's what I think so many "White Privilege II" critics are afraid of.
[Dawn Araujo-Hawkins is Global Sisters Report staff writer, based in Kansas City, Missouri. Follow her on Twitter @dawn_cherie]