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Macklemore: Can You Stop Taking Up Space?

By   Follow Me on Twitter     Message Jesse Ruth       (Page 1 of 1 pages)     Permalink    (# of views)   4 comments, In Series: Jesse Takes On Pop Culture

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By now, I'm sure we all know who Macklemore is, and I'm also pretty sure that everyone has seen the recent ACLU ad featuring Macklemore, but for those who haven't, here is a link --

I don't want to attack the ACLU, but if they funded this promotion, they need to be held accountable. I had so much respect for this organization, but now how are the marginalized and oppressed groups the ACLU purports to represent; People of color, women, queer folks; how are any of us supposed to trust them after this blatant and public failure to properly represent any of us? Literally any person who is not a white man would have been a more appropriate spokesperson than Macklemore. I mean, really, you couldn't find a single queer person to represent the organization? What, was Margaret Cho busy that day? Hell, even Katy Perry would have been better representation.

Seriously, the last thing I needed to see when I first clicked that link was Macklemore's ugly, smirking face talking about how, as a rapper, it would be inconvenient for him to be tazed, beaten, or pepper-sprayed for speaking his mind. Let me be perfectly clear, until I see a video of Macklemore being tazed, beaten, and pepper-sprayed, I will go ahead and assume he has experienced zero of those things. I would also assume that his lack of experience in that arena may or may not be related to the fact that he is a straight, cis, rich, white, dude. I'm not saying he deserves to have any of these things happen to him because of his political beliefs, but this transparent attempt at relating to Occupy folks, queer folks, poor people, and people of color who have been singled out as the targets of police (or general) violence is not impressive. Even less impressive is his attempt to appeal to queer youth and vagina-owners with his official straight male approval. It's good to know that you approve of your "gay friends" marrying "the hell out of each other" and that I can do whatever I want with this vagina that I own. Before you came along, I was afraid I'd have to wear that chastity belt forever. Also, the tagline is "The only card that can buy freedom," really? Look, this is not an exchange of goods and services. I do not need to "buy" my freedom, it's already mine. Nobody is going to give me my freedom and nobody can sell it to me, it's mine and I will take it for myself. This ad is literally just some straight white guy with a stupid haircut showing off his new ally card as if to say "you can't hold me accountable for appropriating and profiting off of other peoples' struggles, I'm an ally. I HAVE PROOF."

Well, Mack, that's where you're wrong. The first time I even heard of Macklemore was on the Colbert Report and I think I can honestly say, I hated him instantly. He seriously makes me want to puke. I mean, really, who does he think he is? In his interview with Colbert, he stated that he'd noticed there was a lot of misogyny and homophobia in mainstream rap music and he felt that it was his responsibility to change that. How very good of him. Now he can bank on stealing the spotlight from queer artists of color who have a much better understanding of the struggles faced by those who suffer in a racist and patriarchal society. In fact, if you are interested in actually good music by real queer artists from diverse backgrounds, here are a few you might consider checking out instead of giving your money and attention to some obnoxious trendy cis/het self-proclaimed ally -- Angel Haze, Azealia Banks, Brooke Candy, Big Dipper, Big Freedia, Tori Fixx, Cakes Da Killa, Deadlee, House of Ladosha, Deep Dickollective, JbDubs, Le1f, Mykki Blanco, Zebra Katz, God-Des and She, Johnny Makeup, Juba Kalamka, Katastrophe, the list goes on and on and every single one of these artists is better than Macklemore on top of being more qualified to speak on queer issues.

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For those who have not heard his music, either because you're just lucky to not have run into it or because you actively and deliberately have avoide d it, let me just break down the messaging in the hit single "Same Love" that has gotten him all of this unwarranted attention:

By now, we have all heard (or heard of, at least) "Same Love", which won "Best Video with a Social Message" at the MTV Video Music Awards this past year, and is currently up for a Grammy for "Song of the Year". According to MSNBC reporter Sarah Muller, "the hit single by the Seattle rappers overtly embraces marriage equality at a time when recent polling suggests the nation appears to be shifting its mood in favor of same-sex marriage." In other words, it's an awfully convenient moment in time for an opportunistic  straight white guy to jump in the spotlight in support of an issue of debatable importance compared to literally every other queer struggle (read: LGBT workplace and housing discrimination, hate crimes, and lack of trans-inclusive medical care, to name a few).

Now, we all know the song and we've all heard criticisms of it, but this is what I hear every time this song plays. I hear some straight white wannabe savior complaining about homophobia in the church and in hip-hop and rap music while comparing the liberal mainstream gay-rights movement to Civil Rights, claiming that "there is no difference." So, uh, let's start with the church and move through this, shall we?

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In the very first verse, Macklemore immediately "outs" himself as a straight guy, which calls attention to his personal identity rather than the struggle he is championing. He spends the rest of the verse calling out the church for homophobia, which is nice and all, but by now, who hasn't? That is practically a requirement at this point. Actually, the problem that I have with this is less about calling out the church and more about using the "born this way" argument combined with biblical morality to do it. The accompanying music sounds like it came right out of a hymnal, because that's what we need: some straight ally a**hole preaching at us about our own issues that he knows nothing about (haven't heard that one before). This is an all too common, useless, and overall insulting strategy. "Born this way" or not, it doesn't matter. The "born this way" argument uses made-up, bad science to support itself while negating and trivializing the entire concept that one's sexuality might be subject to change and fluidity. It also treats heterosexuality as the biological default, making alternative sexualities some sort of genetic mutation. It's bad enough when cis gay folks use this nonsense combined with Bible quotes to defend their precious marriage rights against the church, but when this presumptuous straight white savior did it in a rap song, my blood just began to boil.

Macklemore's next big focus is mainstream hip-hop and rap music, which he accuses of misogyny and homophobia. He starts the second verse with "if I was gay, I'd think hip-hop hated me" -- yeah, but you're not gay, are you?  There is no "if I was gay," alright? You can't say "oh, if I was [insert marginalized group here]" and then go on to make a claim about how you would handle that experience because you simply do not know. The fact is, you are not gay, you don't know what it is like to be gay or lesbian or bi or trans* or queer in any other sense so can you just not? You know, "if I was queer," I'd think all of society hated me, and I would probably want straight allies to stop capitalizing on queer struggles, you know, "if". Now, I'm not saying that there isn't a lot of heterosexism and cissexism in mainstream rap music, but it is not this straight white boy's place to call it out. Especially when there are numerous gay and queer-identified artists (see above) doing just that. Macklemore, by taking it upon himself to use his privilege as a means of speaking for the queer community, distracts from, trivializes and erases the attempts of queer artists everywhere who have been working and struggling for years to challenge these issues in the hip-hop industry. Macklemore's message is not an informed criticism of the issues challenging queer folks in the hip-hop industry, nor does it attempt to inspire a change in attitude within the industry itself, but rather encourages cis gay folks to distrust black media. The implication is that all other hip-hop artists are homophobes and the entire industry is saturated with hatred for "the gays," but now that the white savior is here to call out the hateful hip-hop industry, everything is better and you don't have to be afraid anymore. Seriously, dude, get over yourself. The hip-hop world is more queer than you know.

Last, but most certainly not least, Macklemore's song "Same Love" has the audacity to compare the current liberal mainstream gay-rights movement to the civil-rights movement. Let's just get one thing straight right now -- people need to stop comparing "gay rights" to the civil-rights movement. First of all, the current mainstream gay-rights movement is afraid of doing anything even half as badass or radical as civil-rights activists did. And, furthermore, the gay-rights movement, for all its talk about how much like civil rights it is, is awfully white, cis, and middle class. They like to use the LGBT acronym, but we all know that the "T" is just an afterthought and for all this focus on "equality," nobody seems to bat an eyelash when a queer woman of color is raped, beaten, murdered, or imprisoned because of her identity, her race, or both. Above all, the civil-rights movement was not single-issue. Actually, it was dynamically intersectional, tackling inequalities on a number of fronts including race, gender, sexuality, and class among several others. By contrast, the gay-rights movement has focused primarily on the "right" of cis, white, middle-class gays and lesbians to achieve a privileged status in society through assimilation and marriage at the expense of other, much more vital queer issues. LGBTQ issues are also intersectional, hugely so -- there are queer folks from all ethnic, racial, religious, and economic backgrounds and their struggles matter. But this movement, this liberal gay-rights movement is for the cis white middle-class gay, lesbian and ally club and to compare that to the civil-rights movement is downright insulting, especially when the comparison is made by a rich cishet white rapper. Since when did MLK Jr. care more about interracial marriage than equal rights to services, employment, and housing? And on that note, since when was gay marriage in any way, shape or form, the same as interracial marriage? Do I really need to spell out why this comparison is inappropriate and useless? Let me just explain a bit about the actual weight of the interracial-marriage issue back in the day: anti-miscegenation laws were meant to enforce racial segregation on a personal level.  They did this by criminalizing interracial marriage, and sometimes even sex between people of different races. Let me say that word again -- criminalizing. This means that interracial marriage wasn't just illegal, it was a crime for which [the person of color in the relationship] could be arrested and, as often happened, hanged. Of course, I know that there are sodomy laws still in a number of places, but those are rarely, if ever, enforced. And while there are definitely queer hate murders which go unmentioned in the mainstream media or get trivialized/erased due to apathy and intolerance, to compare the current gay-rights struggle to the civil-rights struggle is not only presumptuous and inappropriate, it is appropriative and it trivializes the importance of that struggle as its own fight. Even if these comparisons were correct, there is really no point in making them -- it offers no tactical benefit. But if we must find one similarity between the two struggles, here ya go: gay marriage will not end homophobia any more than interracial marriage ended racism. So, just because straight white people and cis white gays still think it's appropriate to compare these two very different struggles, doesn't make it okay or useful.

Aside from all of these things, it's just not even a good song. Who did he kill to get so popular? The lyricism is awful and lazy, and any mildly clever wordplay is completely drowned out by the general meh-ness of the subject matter. He's not saying anything new or special and his music is not interesting or unique. Beyond that, he clearly has no stake in the matter. There are songs about his personal experiences which are much better because they are relatable and he knows what he is talking about, but in this song, he literally says "I thought I was gay because I could draw," not exactly lyrical genius. Basically, Macklemore is just a motivational speaker with a rap gimmick. If it's not inspiration porn, it's guilt-driven exploitation.

All of the above reasons and more attest to the fact that Macklemore is completely undeserving of any of the praise that he has been given by the other straight white pioneers of the Bad Ally Club. The fact that his video with its flimsy and ill-informed "social message" won two VMAs and critical acclaim at the expense of so many other, much better queer artists who truly deserved that spotlight, acknowledgment, and respect makes me physically ill. And to pour salt on the wound, the ACLU had to use this a**hole in their ad and now he's up for Grammys in half the musical categories.

I know that allies are important, but this is not allyship. An ally does not presume to speak on behalf of the marginalized groups they claim to support. An ally does not horde the spotlight, but rather turns the public attention toward the folks who are working to liberate themselves. An ally does not appropriate and capitalize on the struggles of marginalized and oppressed folks. And, perhaps most importantly, an ally does not decide their status as an ally, nor is that status by any means permanent or universal. You wanna help queer folks in their struggle against cisheteropatriarchy? Awesome, then listen to what we say and help the way we want you to help, not the way you think we need your help. Macklemore does not represent the queer community, but all of the above listed artists do. Everything he has done since he's been in the spotlight has been to appropriate and capitalize on queer peoples' struggles, except for those that he has erased (what does that "T" stand for again?). Queer folks do not need the approval of straight white men to be proud of who we are and challenge the oppression of the normative social structure and we really don't need the straight people we have to deal with daily trying to show how open-minded and supportive they are by buying into this whole shtick. Pro tip: it's good to be ahead of the curve and acknowledge people as people before Macklemore tell you to.

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A recent graduate from Flagler College, Jesse Ruth has been working as a freelance writer since April, 2013. Jesse is a GLBTQ activist who identifies as genderqueer or agender and prefers (more...)

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