I don’t know about you, but I’ve been trying to make sense of what the popularity of the great white darling, Macklemore, says about the state of race relations in the US. Most notably, his recent Grammy sweep.
What does white privilege and white supremacy have to do with his chart toppers? Is it just that his tracks are catchy, fun and progressive? Or, has he risen to success because he’s easier for white folks to swallow than say, Kendrick Lamar? And what about the queer rappers — where are they? Certainly not in the headlines.
So while I’m still trying to pull the white privilege and hetero-normative planks from my own eye I’ll defer to a few of the super smart thought leaders I look to for direction when dismantling culturally covert oppressions.
It was a categorical and poignant reminder that whilst black creations are themselves most welcome, when it comes to marketing them, a white face is preferred.
And, is it revolutionary for white people to get mainstream recognition for talking about homophobia in hip-hop, when queer hip-hop artists of color are routinely ignored? The fact of the matter is the success of “Same Love” is largely due at least in part to white audiences being more receptive to white straight men talking about oppression than oppressed people, as well as the comfort of being able to remove themselves from misogyny and homophobia because the oppression at hand is the fault of Black people in hip-hop. What could be more revolutionary than that? How about listening to queer people of color?
Both also fit into a longstanding narrative in American popular music. White musicians play music of black community origin. Then, buoyed by systemic privilege, they enjoy mainstream success prior to the black artists they were initially inspired by. And they attempt to allay the guilt by deferring to said black trailblazers.
It’s 2013, and I don’t want baby steps. I don’t want James Franco and Macklemore telling me it’s okay to be gay. I don’t want to see Jared Leto go frail and wear a dress for a role I could have seen when I was 12. And I sure as hell don’t want to see the first major movie about AIDS in 20 years to be about a goddamned queer-hating hick. I want to see Le1f, Frank Ocean, and others like them performing unapologetic songs and speaking for themselves at awards shows.
Regardless of what you think about Macklemore and his music, he seems to be living a very public lesson about white privilege: You will endure righteous criticism and skepticism of motive, for saying and getting credit for what we (marginalized, underrepresented, oppressed people) have been saying for YEARS and gone unheard. From that “outsider” position you are affecting change, and that’s your burden.
No Black Artist Topped the Billboard Top 100 in 2013 – Tinora Locke [Mass Appeal]
As, Keli Goff, author and commentator for The Daily Beast and The Root, explains “It almost reminds me of the ’50s and ’60s when you had a lot of music that was being made by white artists and being popularized by them but it was coming from black artists. It’s much easier to sell a Macklemore and Ryan Lewis, an Eminem, a Justin Timberlake, to mainstream audiences than it is to sell a Jay Z. It is still a preferred feeling in mainstream pop culture that if we can find an attractive white act to do it, why not?
Macklemore is the first non-homophobic, non-violent rapper in the same way that Elvis was a ground-breaking initiator of the Blues. In fact, the first Grammy for Best Rap Performance ever given out went to DJ Jazzy Jeff and Fresh Prince (you may know him as Will Smith) for their happy-go-lucky fun lyrics more than 20 years ago.
Homo Hop began in the mid to late 90s as a necessary mobilizing tool that allowed openly queer hip hop artists to come together. A major movement then, Homo Hop had its coming out party with festivals like the PeaceOut World Homo Hop Festival, founded in 2001 in Oakland, before making its way to the birthplace of hip hop and the modern LGBT rights movement, New York.