Macklemore, the white rap artist from Seattle, recently released a song titled “White privilege II.” In it, he attempts to grapple with complex issues of racial inequity, privilege, and justice from the unique perspective of a white artist in a predominantly black industry. The song is almost nine minutes long, so it’s a quite dense, thought provoking manifesto that gets many things right and many things wrong. Because of its length, density, and breadth of topic, it is necessary to analyze the song verse by verse, much the same way a literary critic would analyze poetry.

Verse one (link to entire lyrics here):

Pulled into the parking lot, parked it

Zipped up my parka, joined the procession of marchers

In my head like, “Is this awkward, should I even be here marching?”

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

Am I in the outside looking in, or am I in the inside looking out?

Is it my place to give my two cents

Or should I stand on the side and shut my mouth for justice? No peace

Okay, I’m saying that 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

Only separated by a badge, a baton, a can of Mace, a mask

A shield, a gun with gloves and hands that gives an alibi

In case somebody dies behind a bullet that flies out of the 9

Takes another child’s life on sight

Obviously, from a libertarian perspective, those final five lines are unambiguously true and incredibly powerful. With those lines, Macklemore simultaneously challenges the grotesque racial injustices that the police state perpetrates while simultaneously pointing out that he and the officers are of the same ethnicity. This presents a consistency problem for white social justice warriors such as Macklemore which the beginning of the verse explicates: is it acceptable for white males aware of their privilege to lend a voice the Black Lives Matter movement? The life of a SJW is a humorously confusing life that often runs headlong into a wall of its own creation.

Beyond this, however, I cannot overstate how important those last four lines are. They are the most impactful, powerful, and true lines of the song. They illustrate something even Macklemore, someone obsessed with perceptions of ethnicity, cannot escape: that the dichotomy is not white officers vs. innocent black Americans, but rather agents of the state vs. innocent individuals. It just so happens that systemic and institutional factors make it such that state Stormtroopers more frequently and violently oppress and tyrannize the black community than any other collective.

The next interlude is a chorus of African Americans chanting:

Blood in the streets, no justice, no peace

No racist police, no rest ’til we’re free

There’s blood in the streets, no justice, no peace

No racist police, no rest ’til we’re free

Blood in the streets, no justice, no peace

No racist police, no rest ’til we’re free

There’s blood in the streets, no justice, no peace

No racist police, no rest ’til we’re free

(Ben, think about it)

There is no disagreeing with this chant. From Freddie Gray, to Tamir Rice, to Eric Gardner, to the countless other African Americans who lost their lives or livelihoods at the hands of state enforcement officers last year, this mantra is entirely justified and quite empowering. I can only imagine how vindictively recalcitrant I would have been in the past year were I a member of the black community. However impactful this chant may be, however, it does lack the nuance required to make it totally true; that is to say, it is systemic and institutional aspects of the criminal justice system and other political institutions that has resulted in the apparent oppression of the black community more so than any other group. In other words, the racism we’ve seen of late is more the fault of various state apparatus than the actual, individual agents of the state (although we can be sure some of those are terribly racist as well).

Verse two:

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

You’re Miley, you’re Elvis, you’re Iggy Azalea

Fake and so plastic, you’ve heisted the magic

You’ve taken the drums and the accent you rapped in

You’re branded “hip-hop”, it’s so fascist and backwards

That Grandmaster Flash’d go slap it, you bastard

All the money that you made

All the watered down pop bullshit version of the culture, pal

Go buy a big-ass lawn, go with your big-ass house

Get a big-ass fence, keep people out

It’s all stubborn, anyway, can’t you see that now?

There’s no way for you to even that out

You can join the march, protest, scream and shout

Get on Twitter, hashtag and seem like you’re down

But they see through it all, people believe you now?

You said publicly, “Rest in peace, Mike Brown”

You speak about equality, but do you really mean it?

Are you marching for freedom, or when it’s convenient?

Want people to like you, want to be accepted

That’s probably why you are out here protesting

Don’t think for a second you don’t have incentive

Is this about you, well, then what’s your intention?

What’s the intention? What’s the intention?

This entire verse, although well intentioned, reeks of vulgar collectivism and shows an ignorance of how cultural institutions develop and evolve. I ordinarily wouldn’t hold a rapper’s feet to the fire for not having read up on cultural development, but he brought it up, so he brought it onto himself.

Culture is an ambiguous concept that is notoriously difficult to objectively define. It changes day-by-day and according to a spontaneous process of voluntary interaction that cannot be adequately described with any brevity, much less explained. However, suffice it to say that culture does not have the clear boundaries that Macklemore imagines it does. Membership in a culture is not contingent upon race, class, or ethnicity, although these factors do obviously influence cultural association. However, people of any ethnicity or race can conceivably identify with any culture. As such, it is silly for Macklemore to proclaim or denounce anyone else’s membership (or lack thereof) in a culture for all of the reasons listed above and many more.

Further, there’s no way Macklemore could possibly know the intentions of his fellow white hip-hop performers when they proclaim support for the BLM movement. It is also astoundingly counter-intuitive that Macklemore would denounce other rappers for supporting the BLM movement because they may have a selfish incentive to do so, or that their intention may not be entirely altruistic. If they are supporting it and “fostering a dialogue,” as the BLM movement has proclaimed its primary goal to be, then how can that possibly be a bad thing? This also begs other philosophical questions that Macklemore could not possibly answer: does anyone ever really do anything out of nothing but pure “altruism?” is this even an admirable goal, or a proper standard by which to judge conduct?

Do you even Rand, Macklemore?

Verse three (sounds of a coffee shop in the background):

Psst, I totally get it, you’re by yourself

And the last thing you want to do is take a picture

But seriously, my little girl loves you

She’s always singing, “I’m gonna pop some tags”

I’m not kidding, my oldest, you even got him to go thrifting

And “One Love”, oh, my God, that song – brilliant

Their aunt is gay, when that song came out

My son told his whole class he was actually proud

That’s so cool, look what you’re accomplishing

Even an old mom like me likes it cause it’s positive

You’re the only hip-hop that I let my kids listen to

Cause you get it, all that negative stuff isn’t cool

Yeah, like all the guns and the drugs

The bitches and the hoes and the gangs and the thugs

Even the protest outside – so sad and so dumb

If a cop pulls you over, it’s your fault if you run


Macklemore has suddenly veered back into the land of the justifiable with this verse. First, I would point to the creative genius of how this verse begins: the sounds in the background of the song are meant to indicate Macklemore has just stepped off of the streets of the Black Lives Matter protests and into an upper class, white coffee shop. The contrast this creates combined with the words of this random fan brilliantly illustrate the dichotomy between cultures this entire song is meant to illuminate. Further, Macklemore’s work on progressing the plight of LGBT individuals is laudable as well.

Most importantly from this verse is, once again, the impact of the last two lines. This sentence illustrates both the privilege upper class white Americans hold regarding treatment by law enforcement and the oppressive nature of the state against minorities simultaneously. There is a deeper point to be fleshed out here, however: both parties to this conversation lack a full understanding of the singular location of blame for the problems both of them wish to draw attention to. That recipient of blame is the state as a whole.

It is the state who has systemically oppressed and disenfranchised the LGBT community for decades. It is the state who has likewise systemically oppressed and destroyed the black community with its victimless crime laws and social welfare programs that destroys the physical, psychological and material well-being of the black community. It is the state who has imbalanced power relations between whites and blacks such that topics such as “privilege” have any meaning whatever. It is the state that has created and enforced this inequity for decades. It isn’t “racism,” it isn’t “lazy thugs (read: black men),” it isn’t “sexism and misogyny,” it’s the state and its oppressive and tyrannical utilization of the monopoly on violence it so gleefully wields against us all.

Interlude two (random excerpts of interviews with white people):

So, they feel that the police are discriminating against the, the black people?

I have an advantage? Why? Cause I’m white? What? Haha. No. People nowadays are just pussies.

Like, this is the generation to be offended by everything.

Black Lives Matter thing is a reason to take arms up over perceived slights.

I’m not prejudiced, I just-. 99% of the time across this country, the police are doing their job properly

I don’t even know where to begin with these people in these interviews. The BLM movement has a valid point: most white Americans aren’t aware of the systemic racism to be found in the criminal justice system and the privilege they receive as a result of that systemic racism. When confronted with this idea, many white Americans recoil in anger and disdain. This negative reaction is the direct fault of the BLM movement, however, as they insinuate that privilege is a thing to be ridiculed and embarrassed of rather than something all should covet. They focus so heavily on bringing the privileged down to their level of oppression when they should be focusing on freeing everyone from the shackles of state tyranny. Instead of advocating for the freeing of all, they advocate for the regression of those who don’t have to deal with state interference in their daily life rather than the progression of those who are shackled by the state out of this state of constant fear and enslavement. To be fair, the only logical way to advocate for “fixing privilege” is to de-privilege everyone by bringing the state to oppress them all instead of the few, or to conversely advocate for the total obliteration of the state edifices that create the privilege in the first place. Why they pursue the first option rather than the second is beyond me.

If the BLM movement were a voluntarist anarchist one, they could achieve logical consistency and I’d be one of their loudest proponents. Unfortunately, it’s the opposite.

There is one last verse, but I don’t think it’s worth responding to, as it’s nothing more than a rewording of things Macklemore has already said, and I’m sure you’re tired of reading this by now.

In summation, the well intentioned Macklemore, much like the entire SJW contingent, has improperly diagnosed a real problem, then prescribed a worse solution and advocated this solution in the most counter-intuitive manner imaginable. Only with the reduction of or, ideally, outright removal of the state institutions that perpetuate privilege and racism can true progress and equality be realized.