Racialicious has a piece today about the Macklemore and Ryan Lewis song "Same Love" (featuring Mary Lambert), and people seem to care about it. The gist of "Race + Hip-Hop + LGBT Equality: On Macklemore's White Straight Privilege" by Hel Gebreamlak is that because Macklemore, a white indie rapper based in Seattle, did not say something the way Hel Gebreamlak would have said it, Macklemore is wrong. How internet of Gebreamlak.
See, for a compassionate person, it's tough to argue directly with Macklemore's cloyingly naive message of equality ("No law's gonna change us / We have to change us"), but this is the internet and you can certainly try. A generalization from Ellen Degeneres ("Here's why you need to care about our next guest. No other artists in hip-hop history have ever taken a stand defending marriage equality the way they have.") leads Gebreamlak to proclaim the heterosexual Macklemore "the voice of a community to which he doesn't belong" in hip-hop, which leads to a further discussion of whether Macklemore has a right to comment on homophobia, to criticize hip-hop, or even to rap in the first place.
All of this is written like technical copy. If this were a stylistic choice it would be almost admirable, as this is the sort of monologue that does not account for the economy of discourse, the way that no one person has it quite right but that it's possible for people to try their best and express something to the masses, even if that something is as cheesy as "Same Love."
"And none of the artists featured on ‘Same Love' have been openly accountable to the fact that they are profiting in a genre that does not belong to them at the expense of queer artists of color," writes Gebreamlak, and I think that's a good place to start because it is a very clear sign that we are dealing with someone who chooses his battles unwisely. This battle was lost decades ago. Sure, hip-hop is black music (as is, oh you know, rock and roll, for example), but white people rap. It's just how it is. The idea of ownership starts and ends with how a rapper wields the mic, regardless of color, race, creed, or sexuality. Because for that matter, hip-hop's major players have rarely not been straight-identifying. So by Gebreamlak's logic, hip-hop cannot not "belong" to the black-and-queer artists Gebreamlak believes are being crowded out by Macklemore any more than it can "belong" to the white-and-straight rapper.
(Gebreamlak, by the way, never accounts for the likes of Le1f, Mykki Blanco, Zebra Katz or House of Ladosha, relevant artists who were discussed often in 2012 think pieces about the current state of queer rap.)
Then there is the idea that Macklemore has no right to criticize hip-hop or its culture, as he does at the top of the second verse of "Same Love": "If I was gay I would think hip-hop hates me." I am gay and I do not think that hip-hop hates me. That is but one of the ways that Macklemore and I differ, and I'm fine with that. Certainly, I can see his case, given the combined thousands of instances of "fag," "faggot" and "homo" that reverberate throughout the genre. Surely, no other genre can boast the degree of explicitly expressed anti-gay sentiment that hip-hop can. It's ludicrous to think that Macklemore, because of the makeup of his identity, should not comment on culture that is only ignorable if you are trying to ignore it. I can say with certainty that Gebreamlak is not a rapper, and I know for damn sure that he is not Macklemore, and yet there he is, writing about rap and Macklemore.
"Though Macklemore may not be blaming Black people for homophobia, by focusing on homophobia in Black community spaces as opposed to the pervasiveness of homophobia everywhere, white people get to remove themselves from the problem," Gebreamlak writes. Except, instead of removing himself from the problem, which I think is a main reason why people bring up the concept of white privilege in critique, Macklemore is addressing the problem. His song does not claim, "The homophobia in hip-hop is the worst of it." It does not negate other places that homophobia exists. It simply, specifically says, "It is here, in this genre that I care about enough to devote this phase of my career to."
Gebreamlak effectively suggests how Macklemore could have crafted a song that would have been more suited to Gebreamlak. He takes Macklemore to task for not acknowledging his white privilege, which he does as Gebreamlak points out in another song called "White Privilege." This piece seems outraged that Macklemore doesn't apologize for who he is or his benign and utopian opinion. It doesn't take into account lyrical angle, focus, or meter, and at one point bemoans Macklemore's use of the word "faggot," while acknowledging that "he is condemning the use of the slur." Had Macklemore employed a euphemism like "the f-word," he would have sounded guilty, fearful to say what he was saying and confusing, in the process annoying other people. Like me, for example.
And look, about the white privilege thing, yeah, Macklemore is a straight white guy. He can only be what he is and we can only accept him for that. Where his song fails is in its obviousness, his nails-on-chalkboard earnestness, his dramatically grave articulation, the wack beat that wouldn't offend your grandma. It doesn't fail in his identity.
Let's not forget that the ability to debate privilege is privileged. The ability to debate privilege on a computer is more privileged. The ability to debate the privilege of debating privilege is privilege and you can wring your hands about this exponential privilege from someone whose peaceful intentions are obvious or you can find an actual, obvious homophobic racist to confront. Your choice.