“Black Lives Matter, to use an analogy, is like if… if there was a subdivision and a house was on fire. The fire department wouldn’t show up and start putting water on all the houses because all houses matter. They would show up and they would turn their water on the house that was burning because that’s the house that needs the help the most.”
If I had to describe this song in one word, it would be “controversial.”
Macklemore has been known to write songs that discuss social issues. An example is the ‘Same Love’ song that discusses gay rights. This song is no different. It discusses white privilege, racism, the black lives matter movement, cultural appropriation, white supremacy, and an inner battle that rages within himself. My first reaction when I heard this song was along the lines of “YAASS TELL THEM”
But then the more I listened to it, the more I realized that he was actually fighting with himself. Part of him did not want to come to terms with his own privilege. “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 in front of a line of police that look the same as me.” He calls himself by his real name, questioning whether he has privilege, and if so, how can he use it without offending anyone. It’s Almost as if he wants to stay in the bliss that ignorance brings, but as the song goes on, the listener can actively hear his change of mind. And as the song approached its end, he decides that the best stance he can take is using his privilege, his voice, and his fame to bring these issues to light. And in my opinion, he does an amazing job.
White privilege is the first issue that he discusses. One line says “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’.” On top of his own questioning, voice-overs of white and black people who disagree with each other are heard. There’s a piano playing in the distance, and people shouting. All this chaos heightens the listener’s emotions as one waits to hear what he will say next.
He then switches the topic, and talks about the issue of cultural appropriation; especially in the music industry. He talks about how many artists, and himself have benefited from appropriation. “You’ve exploited and stolen the music, the moment, the magic, the passion, the fashion, you toy with. The culture was never yours to make better.” There are some artists that borrow from other cultures, but are careful to give credit to that culture. Eminem does a great job at this. He’s a rapper, but he realizes that hip hop comes from the black culture, and he publicly recognizes that. On the other hand, some artists borrow from other cultures but do not give credit, or appreciate that culture. Elvis with Rock & roll; Drake with dancehall; Miley Cyrus with anything that has to do with twerking; and so many more. This also happens in fashion, hair, clothes, etc.… Considering cornrows as ghetto when it’s on black people, yet they are trendy and chic when the Kardashians have them. Black women being made fun of for their large lips and darker skin; yet white women will go tanning and have Botox to increase their lips, and it is celebrated. The backlash that Zendaya received for having dreads, yet they were praised when Justin Bieber got them… I could go on for a while. By addressing this, Macklemore moves from cultural appropriation to cultural appreciation in his own music.
He moves on to another discussion in his song: the Black Lives Matter movement and police Brutality. This issue is laced throughout the song. Most of the interludes refer back to BLM “Hands up, don’t shoot” and “There’s blood in the streets no justice, no peace.” As I was listening to these repeated phrases, it was hard not to get emotional.
He ends the song by acknowledging how deeply embedded white supremacy is in the American system and society. “White supremacy protects the privilege I hold. White supremacy is the soil, the foundation, the cement and the flag that flies outside of my home. White supremacy is our country’s lineage, designed for us to be indifferent”
This song covers broad topics that often require more analysis and understanding, but he does a great job of letting his fans and the public know where he stands. He uses his privilege to educate. I shudder to think of the backlash that he would have gotten for this song if he were a black man. This song did not become as popular as his same love song, which shows how much the American population picks and chooses which injustice to fight, and which ones to ignore. Nevertheless, this song is definitely a masterpiece, a work of art that should be heard.