“Macklemore, White Privilege 2, White Allies, and Black Liberation”

by Amir Islam

Ours is the story of two young men who grew up just miles apart similar in many ways, but with different paths. I have known Ben Haggerty a.k.a. Macklemore since our childhood days. We grew up together, and although not the best of friends we shared childhood memories, busted raps together, ran in some of the same circles, and later on in life we would keep up with each other, even crossing paths on our road to recovery from drug addiction.

We are both Seattle natives, both have a love for Hip-Hop, a love for art, and a love for the people. Macklemore went on to sell millions of records, and sell out arenas all around the world. While I ended up in and out of trouble, eventually finding my way out of prison, getting involved in black-led community organizing, and picking up arms to fight in the struggle for black liberation.

Recently Macklemore invited me to listen and critique his most controversial single yet, “White Privilege 2”. We met up. We made small talk. He hit play. We listened… Twice.

(Listen to it here)

Amir Islam Photo Credit: Canh Nguyen

Almost immediately my trauma as a black man kicked in. Despite our similarities when I listened to the song, I felt our paths diverge. I felt conflicted knowing that despite his best intentions of dealing with his own privilege, and trying to be an ally, he would still come out as the victor of a war neither of us started, but that hasn’t ended yet… and our situation – myself, and other “descendants of slaves” would remain the same…  Even in their attempts at allyship the grandchildren of our oppressors continue to gain from our oppression. They will still make fortunes, and become icons off our dead bodies once again, while we continue to die every 48 hours at the hands of the fascist ass police.

While Black voices that have always mattered lament in the streets…

“No justice, no peace…”

As I listened to the song my mind was filled with the ways Macklemore and other white folks could actually do something about their privilege. Maybe he could buy a small piece of land in Africa & donate it to black folks call it 40 Acres and a mule land. I don’t know call it freedom town. He could help use his resources to create space for black folks? He could donate to my freedom fund, and directly impact my life.

After all, wasn’t I someone he could leverage the wealth inequality gap right back too? Black folks like me directly in his own backyard. Give us some resources so that we can catch up to him since my ancestors gave their lives unwillingly for his privilege.

I’m sure some of you are getting uncomfortable reading this. Whenever Black people talk about giving up some of that white privilege, that wealth, those resources that flow in such an abundance for white people and start talking about re-allocating it back to the people it was stolen from it get’s kind of uncomfortable. It is hard for white people to give up their privilege. It’s hard for anyone. Who wants to give up their power? And that’s what privilege is. Power.

This is the lens of an everyday black man like me. This is the only lens I’m used to seeing things in.

“White Privilege 2” is a song that will engage people in lengthy debates about race, inequalities, and the white-supremacist-capitalist-patriarchy, but it’s a conversation that is never ending. As I listened again I wondered if it would just be another song, maybe even a Grammy winner, or just another song that sparked yet another dead end conversation before business went on as usual.

The lyrics rang a truth that sounded so familiar “Go buy a big-ass lawn, go back to your big-ass house, get a big-ass fence, and keep people out”. I found myself wondering if he would do exactly that. Macklemore could make off with this song, profit off our dead bodies, go back in that big ass house and we would still be dying in the streets while his privilege gets him yet another Grammy.

I questioned: “Will I be his partner in crime as he rides off in the sunset with more of our culture?”

The image kept replaying in my head of the lavish mansion fortress home of his, with him tip toeing like a burglar safely sliding back to his hide out with a big bag of appropriation. Him opening the door to a scene of white b-boys doing windmills, and air-flairs, and head spins all over his palace.

After all, he himself has proclaimed white folks appropriated our culture, marketed it, and capitalized off it so well. My mind thought “maybe he’s the king of thieves, and this is his lair”.

I told him all of this, and how I felt about the song and he thanked me, inviting me, and others to be a part of the community to hold him accountable, and to use this moment, and his platform as an organizing tool.

It’s hard to trust the gratitude or the invitation. With good reason. Black folks are used to white America taking the very life from us, and capitalizing on our bodies, and appropriating our soul. Why should we be so trusting? Does the rape victim trust the rapist, no matter how friendly the face?

Black folks see that Japanese and Jewish people received reparations for crimes committed against them, and wonder why we have not been compensated as well. We are bewildered, and appalled that America has never corrected this grave injustice, and moral tragedy, and we will never feel at home here until it is corrected.

Have not our mothers given the very milk from their breast to nourish this nation literally giving it life while their own children have perished away? There is a difference between saying sorry and actually making an amends. Making an amends involves action. It means to do something right for the wrong you have committed against someone.

I’m thankful to have the opportunity to be included in this process, to be valued for my expertise around the subject matter. I’m grateful to be in this moment and help shape history, but my gratitude is tempered by my anger. Nothing changes the fact that so many countless black, and brown bodies have been oppressed, and killed. Their screams for freedom remain unanswered.

Will one, rich, powerful, famous white male voice still be centered and heard over the screams, and call to action liberation for the most marginalized and oppressed?

Ultimately this conversation on white privilege is necessary, but in order to move forward it must be accompanied by action. As Frederick Douglass once said: “Power concedes nothing without demand.” It is time for our allied to join us in demanding that our nation/government provide reparations for slavery. We must find ways to directly compensate black people for our ancestor’s contribution to the construction of this country and to balance huge wealth inequality directly made off the backs whites whipped it off.

Bernie Sanders just recently said no to reparations, yet “he marched with King”. There can be no ally-ship without action.

I was a part of the Bernie Sanders interruption here in Seattle at Westlake, and hearing the hate that came out of the mouths of the “most progressive so called liberal white Americans” in 2016 makes me rejoice to the heavens that I played my part. I’m sure our ancestors are smiling down on us.

My real appeal is not to white America or the European. That is not my place. That is the work of my allies. My message is to all Africans throughout the diaspora. It is time for a “Black Magna Carta” it’s time for liberation throughout the African diaspora. We know the white man will stay in a place of privilege for some time longer, but what are we going to do about it?

We must continue to divest, continue to resist, continue to interrupt, continue to change the narratives and push for our full freedom, and liberation. By any means necessary. We must continue the fight for black liberation.

Amir Islam is a Seattle native, born and raised in the Central District of Seattle. He is also the Co-founder of the United Hood Movement. Islam is a Black man, and community organizer who’s ancestors call him daily to continue the fight for Black Liberation. He an be followed on Twitter @amirislamsworld and contacted via his E-mail: AfricasStolenSon@gmail.com

Author’s note: An original draft of this article originally named Native Americans as recipients of reparations from the United States government,  but has been removed by the author.

30 thoughts on ““Macklemore, White Privilege 2, White Allies, and Black Liberation””

  1. Native Americans received reparations? When did that happen? Pine Ridge and Rosebud reservations are two of the most impoverished places to live in this country. If not the two most impoverished. And, how do you know Macklemore isn’t putting some of his money back in the Black community? I’m certain he does because I’ve seen it.
    In any case, people who make art and music and poetry do that. They can’t not do it. Macklemore is doing what he was born to do. Your argument would hold more weight with me if no black rappers had also won Grammies and made obscene amounts of money from their rap. But they have. So one white guy does too. So what? He’s trying to be accountable about it and responsible but he has no obligation to shut up as an artist. And I believe his gratitude; I think he says what he means.

    1. I’m glad you took the time to read the article. There is nothing for me to explain that I haven’t already said in this article. Maybe you should read it again. If you support Bernie Vote for the Bernie. Your also very correct we don’t need anymore Al Sharpton’s. Thank God I’m Amir Islam. Peace be upon you Sir.

    2. Was there some attack on him I made in this article saying that he shouldn’t have made this song or that he isn’t doing anything for black people? Or that he should “shut up” as a artist? Anyway’s I’m glad you read the article, and took the time to responded to it. That’s what’s up!

  2. I’d like to hear more about what you are doing in the black community? Can you give us some specifics about what you are doing to actually uplift the black community? I mean you no offense but we have enough Al Sharpton’s in the world, and our fair share in Seattle. No disrespect but your idea about Macklemore donating to your freedom fund makes me wonder what your motivation is. The shutting down Bernie is also suspect. Bernie marched with King. Bernie is out there trying to make things happen. You want to throw Bernie under the bus so that Hillary can get the presidency? What is her and Bills history? Do you remember her attacks on Obama during the campaign or the disrespectful thing Bill said about the president? I don’t mean any disrespect but this article has me wondering if this article is just a way to try to get more money out of the mayor by setting yourself up as the neighborhood expert on black culture. I’d love for you to show me I’m wrong by giving me some examples of what you are doing to uplift those around you. Thank you for your consideration.

    1. Getting money from the Mayor? Expert on Black culture? Al Sharpton, and Bernie marched with King? I’m glad you took the time to read the article.

      There is nothing for me to explain that I haven’t already said in this article. Maybe you should read it again. If you support Bernie Vote for Bernie. Your also very correct we don’t need anymore Al Sharpton’s.

      Thank God I’m Amir Islam. Peace be upon you Sir.

      If you would like to know what I’m doing for the black community why don’t you email me at unitedhoodmovement@gmail.com and come help us out here in the Black community.


  4. Thank you for posting this. It’s important to make it clear that talk of “privilege” is just a smokescreen for “give me money, I want free stuff.”

    1. I will most def push for a retraction of my statement if you could just educate me. When we see things like this http://www.cnn.com/2012/11/26/politics/american-indian-settlment/

      and more. It goes back to what we perceive as compensation. This is what I was referring too. However I am not above critique, and my attempts to paint my picture was not to cause any malice. Just what is perceived by myself, and others like me. Let me know.

  5. Could you change or edit the line about Native Americans getting reparations please? That’s so not true, and we are struggling deeply to undo this untrue stereotype. I would appreciate you editing that line.

    1. I will most def push for a retraction of my statement if you could just educate me. When we see things like this http://www.cnn.com/2012/11/26/politics/american-indian-settlment/

      and more. It goes back to what we perceive as compensation. This is what I was referring too. However I am not above critique, and my attempts to paint my picture was not to cause any malice. Just what is perceived by myself, and others like me. Let me know.

      1. That was not reparations by any means–that was literally money/wealth in land ownership that the federal government had been managing on behalf of Tribes “in trust” (managing land accounts, etc)….The feds were holding “money accounts” for tribal people that represented fractionated land assets to begin with, managed by the feds–mismanaged very badly, like the money was “stolen and lost”, so this lawsuit was “calling the feds on their mismanagement of tribal assets.” That “award” was a fraction of what the feds stole….AND it was literally already tribes’ lands (waaaay after reservations were created, etc.–this was individual tribal lands that the feds were holding “in trust”)–so most tribes who had these accounts not only lost the land, but also the money that could have been theirs if the feds hadn’t mismanaged it. It’s kind of complex, but even from that article, with all due respect, I’m not seeing how one could read it and interpret it as “reparations”–if anything, the Cobell lawsuit was “more theft” of Indian land and property (the feds mismanaged assets and mostly got away with it).

  6. I hear you on this article, but I have always been under the impression that you had land reservations, and that tribes have reached settlement’s with the government. You said this was a untrue sterotype so it’s not like I was making up something to mislead the people. This is literally what people think. I respect where your coming from however, but I think the fact remains that is what it looks like is america and certain tribes reaching agreements on land and money.

    1. Love your article and definitely give it 👍🏾👍🏾, only critique would the the Native reparations remark. What ‘benefits’ Native folks receive from the government come from concessions that were made in treaties. Basically Native folks were forced with a gun to their head (of course not in all cases, cause there’s 567 diff Nations) to drastically change their way of life and sense of self. Those treaties ultimately spared many peoples & Nations from the onslaught of the genocidal war that was being waged upon them by USA government and its settlers . These settlements are nothing more than Native people attempting to hold the government to those commitments made in those treaties. To hold the government accountable for any misuse of agreed upon conditions. These settlements are not reparations for any past wrong doing rather the government being caught with their hand in the cookie jar and the courts forcing them to pay up.

      1. I have requested that it be edited. Please bare with me as this may take some time.

  7. I hear you Amir and relate to so much of this, especially the lack of trust in the “White Privilege” movement. It is one thing to gain awareness and sensitivity, and yet another to translate that into action to help those who have been systematically disenfranchised. Giving up power, helping artists of color, redirecting money to your “freedom fund” – these are real things Ben Haggerty could do if he was serious about change. But it’s just a song, just entertainment, just more lip service.

    1. Step one to selling records is to make records that are relatable and don’t suck. Selling albums isn’t the end all be all. This is art after all. But blaming Ben for his success is pathetic and petty. Do something for yourself.

      1. I know right. I’m so petty…. You found out! Noooooo I can’t face myself any longer. I hate looking in the mirror!

        Thank you for reading my piece. I’m glad it struck a nerve!

  8. Its not possible to educate someone on the Cobell lawsuit or the thousands of other legal issues between indigenous Americans and the US government in a tiny little comment here. Amir Islam, you’ve heard from several people here that you’ve got the reparations thing wrong. Saying, “This is literally what people think” is just as messed up as repeating something that white Americans typically believe about the reality of Black people. I believe you are sincere in your statement that you are open to learning more but please understand that education can’t really happen here. Please trust that these folks know what they are talking about and retract the statement about reparations to Native Americans. Then take the time to read up on some NA history. Thank you for your thoughtful writing. The more people speak up, the more we can all understand.

  9. I’m glad that a conversation happened here about this issue of Native American reparations. I am compelled to comment, though, that the editing of this piece – rather than the addition of a new statement about the writer’s apparently changed feelings on that issue – is hiding an important piece of dialogue. Deleting the reference does not give the reader any information on how this dialogue worked, and how the writer’s thoughts evolved since this piece was published. I wish we could have seen an affirmative statement from Amir about his new thoughts, rather than an erasure of his previous thoughts.

    1. You want to know how I feel about it, and why I changed the piece about the Native folks? People sent in educational document’s, and I looked at it. I understood it. So I changed it. Thank you for reading!

  10. Amir,
    I love how your write from your heart and soul. It’s very refreshing to hear so deeply from a brother.
    White Privilege is something that I believe a person will never give up. Who would really give up that type of power? Some of it can’t be because it functions unknowingly by many. In many ways it functions like the heart beats, blood circulates and people breathe, invisibly. It’s only been recently visible to those that have it. Too many still won’t acknowledge it.
    For me people have to change how White Privilege functions or how they personally use it. Interrupt it when it’s doing damage, use it to stop the damage it is doing to people and the environment.
    I read all your comments, I am glad that you listen & acknowledged the Native Americans concerns. My nieces & nephews are natives and receive payments very infrequently and in tiny amounts from the Cobell settlement. So to me they are still being cheated out of what’s rightfully theirs.
    I’m glad to see that you looked into what they were saying and self-corrected and explained your decision to amend the article.
    The best advice I received from one of my teachers from the City of Seattle’s Race & Social Justice Initiative training is……
    “Who is writing the article, what perspective are they writing it from & why?”
    We have to break down our American socialization process and rebuild it with truth and real facts about our history and our perceptions of other people. “Learn the truth and the truth will set you free” is a very wise proverb.
    I really love how you stick to your convictions when you respond to your critics. You are an amazing writer! I look forward to reading more of your work.