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Macklemore’s “White Privilege,” is an eight minute song that expresses a diverse perspective on the Black Lives Matter movement. Usually, when one hears about the movement, it is from the voice of an African American. Though, this work provides the view of a white advocate, specifically, Macklemore. With dramatically varying timbre and dynamics, the listener is drawn in and educated about the cause itself, the unjust reasons to support the cause, and cultural appropriation. Macklemore flawlessly expresses his view on the movement as a whole in a unique and smartly melodic way.
Black Lives Matter is a modern, international activist movement that campaigns against violence toward black people. This violence stems from corrupt, white policemen who have unjustly killed many african americans. “White Privilege” starts with chanting, similar to the sound of gregorian chant. This chant contributes to the integration of society by uniting the activists. Later on in the chorus, this wordless chant begins to take on very powerful lyrics; “Blood in the streets, no justice, no peace, no racist police, no rest ’til we’re free.” These lyrics explain the basics of the cause and encompass another function of music that Anthropologist Alan P. Merriam has described in his work, “The Anthropology of Music;” Communication. Through the lyrics, the activists are explaining why they are marching and that they won’t stop until the unjust actions come to an end.
Macklemore also does a great job in explaining his part as a white american in the movement. He is someone who is deeply involved in the cause, though he feels like others only show their support for their own self interest. For example, the song states “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.” Before this verse, there is a chorus with no other instruments except the voices of the chanters. Though during this verse, the timbre switches to predominantly piano. The timbre switch provides a more solemn feel and allows for emotional reflection. The piano is mainly in the minor mode, which also contributes to emotional expression of disappointment and sadness. I have experienced many people who have committed many of the acts Macklemore has explained. People from my old high school have posted all over social media about Black Lives Matter, though their actual knowledge on the subject is limited.
Cultural appropriation usually involves a dominant group exploiting the culture of less privileged groups. Macklemore explains this idea in such a simple and realistic way. For example, he states “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…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.” Here, Macklemore is explaining that the entertainment industry is filled with white artists who take inspiration from black music. Though this inspiration is not with the right intention because white artists profit from their more “glamorized” version of black culture while black culture gets no credit. The seriousness and passion of this topic is displayed in the dynamics of Macklemore’s lyrics. The beginning of this verse starts of with a rather soft volume. But towards the end, (“Go buy a big-ass lawn, go with your big-ass house. Get a big-ass fence, keep people out.”) the volume of his voice increases dramatically. The use of dynamics really hits the audience hard, and intensifies the message being presented.
The first time I heard “White Privilege,” I was truly changed. I immediately looked more into the movement and tried to educate myself. With a cause that is so frequently addressed, I realised it would not be right for me to not be involved. Despite the color of our skin, we are all human and I believe that that is what Macklemore is trying to get across in this song. We must not try to take from each other, but help each other to support the end of violence. This song touches upon almost every aspect of the matter while educating listeners about the roots of racism.
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