From Miley to Macklemore: The Privilege Spectrum – Hip-Hop and Politics

From Miley to Macklemore: The Privilege Spectrum

By JLove Calderon and David Leonard

Originally Published at Hip Hop and Politics

miley-cyrus-2014Miley fatigue is in full effect, but we feel it is important that we as white people speak up, and hold our folks accountable to their racist behavior. The burden far too often falls on people of color to respond, to explain, to teach, to protest.

This year’s Video Music Awards were yet another historical moment where whiteness reigned supreme. Black and Brown cultural creators and innovators were for the most part invisible, or worse, used as evidence of acceptance or racial progress. Jon Caramanica highlights how the VMAs were a window into a larger history within American popular culture: “Mr. Timberlake was on trend in way, though: this was a banner year for clumsy white appropriation of black culture who were recipients of three awards, including best hip-hop video.”

In this context, the question of appropriation matters – power, privilege, stereotypes, and centuries of racism play through both the appropriation and the resulting responses. To be clear, we are not against white folks embracing the art and culture that speaks truth to their hearts and souls, as hip-hop culture is still our first love, rather we are advocating for acknowledgement, accountability, and action. We are calling for examination of how stereotypes and blackness within the white imagination are often present within these moments of appropriation.

MacklemoreOn the privilege spectrum, we find ourselves appreciating Macklemore at a certain level, who is beginning, by at least acknowledging, in his lyrics, that white privilege is one of the reasons he is successful. Honest and courageous. In a recent interview, he noted, “I do think we have benefited from being white and the media grabbing on to something. A song like ‘Thrift Shop‘ was safe enough for the kids…. the fact that I’m a white guy, parents feel safe.’”

His rhetorical and lyrical stance doesn’t mean he isn’t cashing in on his privileges. The awards, the celebration of him as “exceptional” and different, the erasure of artists like 9th Wonder, Azealia Banks, Murs, Angel Haze, dead prez or Jasiri X from discussions of independent and conscious artists, and his popularity among white youth all speak to the centrality of whiteness. For him, and for us, the next step is to take that and be accountable by being in action for racial justice. Using his platform to impact the movement toward racial justice.

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