Opinion: Macklemore asks more from white Liberals, and we must heed that call

By Annie Burky

Feb 10, 2021 | Editorials, Reviews | 0 comments

//Photo from YouTube. 

Macklemore’s newest video titled “Trump’s Over Freestyle,” was pointedly released to coincide with President Biden’s inauguration. In the two and a half minute freestyle he said what we’ve all been thinking.

The despot is gone. Now what? 

Macklemore’s 2015 video “White Privilege II” fell flat with activists for getting lost in a whirlpool of self-minded shame, but this time he offered the tangible step of naming the unnamed. 

As Macklemore, and anyone who vaguely pays attention to American history, has realized, the issues that infused our air these last four years are not new and not emanating from one man. The toxicity is a symptom of over 400 years of oppression, subjugation and genocide. 

But this is what we don’t talk about. Yes, even us on the left. Toward the beginning of the video, Macklemore rapped about the pervasive silence within white culture.

“And all you liberals out there being silent while Black people dying at the hands of police violence/that care more about animals rights and recycling and bicycling and the climate and toothpaste with iron/you too are complicit, you too brought up/I’ll give it to you pro bono, U2 are the problem,” Macklemore rapped. 

While certainly, global climate change is an existential threat to the future of humanity, we must ask: Who is dying today? 

When we talk about genocide we tend to think of the Nazi death camps that killed over 10 million individuals. We like to think about how American soldiers liberated those camps. However, the definition of genocide is the systematic destruction of a group of people, including the systematic destruction of a culture. 

The largest cultural genocide in world history was enacted upon the Native Americans. Many scholars argue that the chain of slavery to Jim Crow to mass incarceration is cultural genocide against Black Americans, outlined in the 1619 Project. We, white Americans, don’t like to think about that. 

This history is what President Trump was seeking to bury with his 1776 Commission promoting “patriotic education.” If you try to visit the page today you’ll find a virtual dead end, but the commission’s inception is indicative of a larger problem in how we educate one another.

I was educated in the suburbs of Denver. My mother is a social worker and my father was a teacher. Kindness was at the center of our home. They taught us to respect the office of the president and stand at the Pledge of Allegiance. But during these past four years whenever their Trump-supporting neighbor would ask them if they were “patriots,” it gave my mother pause. 

“What do you think he means by that?” she would ask me. We both knew the answer and we both knew that to call my mother anything less than “patriotic” was ridiculous. The woman stands and cries for “America the Beautiful” even when it’s through a television set. I grew up spending a fair amount of time rolling my eyes. 

These last four years have brought many uncomfortable conversations. We read The New Jim Crow and watched 13th and realized we had most certainly not been patriots in the true sense of the word. 

One night after another movie Buzzfeed told us we must watch, my father eased himself out of his recliner, kissed me on the forehead and proceeded to walk up the stairs. Halfway up he stopped and without looking at me, or anything really, said, “You know, we’ve talked about it, the way they’re treated. We’ve talked about it and agreed it was wrong but we’ve never done anything, we just talk.”

My father later told me about the time a Desi man was shopping at our local King Soopers. A white man walked by and made a comment about how the Desi man smelled. “I didn’t say anything. I just stood there. I should have told him that he was welcomed here, that we all don’t think like that. Next time I’ll say something.” 

I didn’t tell him about how on a diversity committee for the government agency I worked for, a superior referred to the entire staff as white. My Black coworker was outraged and made it known. I backed her up with mousy restraint. While the point seemed to be vaguely heard, she was branded the “angry Black woman” while I was deemed “rational” and became a liaison between the group and upper management. 

I hadn’t told my father this and still haven’t, because I know it was wrong. I was, in Dr. King’s words, “the white moderate.” I chose the comfort and ease and privilege of a “negative peace,” telling my friend to wait for a more convenient hour to be irate over the stripping of her identity.

Macklemore seems to have realized the immediacy of Dr. King’s words and the necessity of transcending guilt. His freestyle was graceful and sharp with rhymes that reminded white America that just because Trump is gone the fight is nowhere near over. 

However, what made it further stand apart was the inclusion of his daughter. The same daughter Macklemore shared videos of taking her first steps while he and his wife held one another, weeping. In the video, she plays a small role by repeating “you’re fired” in the chorus until the conclusion of the song where, in a playfully childlike manner, she gives her father instructions on how to conclude the song with her help. It is sweet and straightforward but also a reminder of how to include those we love in difficult discussions. 

With the release of “White Privilege II” in 2016, Johnny 5 from Denver’s Flobots felt compelled to write an opinion piece in Westword. He spoke to the use of relationships to pull white people out of the quagmire of unproductive white guilt and into the light of productive action. 

“Communities are the space in which talking about injustice can lead to action. These actions are the bridge between acknowledging privilege and dismantling white supremacy. Communities can pave a path from ‘awareness’ to genuine opportunities to dismantle structural racism,” Johnny 5 wrote. 

This is how we change America, loving one another enough to push past the pain of naming and into the business of equity. Not saying “next time,” but “this time.”

To my fellow well-meaning white Americans, if you are also finding yourself in your bed at 2 a.m. realizing you are complicit, I suggest we leave our white guilt and grief behind and take a step forward past inertia. 

Transcend the guilt of realizing that our ancestors committed atrocities that we benefit from. Grief is about us, it’s about the loss of the glorious ancestry we told ourselves was ours. Acceptance is the final stage of grief and the first stage of healing as a nation. 

And the initial step of constructing any new system, as it always has been, is in the use and art of language. We must name what was done and what is being done. White supremacy and genocide must be labeled from sea to shining sea. Atop Colorado’s majestic purple mountains we must educate one another on Japanese American Concentration Camps and the Sand Creek Massacre and the Denver Chinatown Riot of 1880. We must dig beneath the amber waves of grain and find the buried bodies our forefathers killed. 

We must admit our personal faults and do better, today. 

As President Biden said in his inaugural address, “Our history has been a constant struggle between the American ideal that we are all created equal and the harsh, ugly reality that racism, nativism, fear, and demonization have long torn us apart.”

Or, as Macklemore said, “(They’re Patriots), no those are terrorists.”  

Maybe in the next installment, he’ll figure out how to manifest structural change beyond song lyrics.

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