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Essay: Racism in music

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  • Subject area(s): Photography and arts essays
  • Reading time: 5 minutes
  • Price: Free download
  • Published: November 16, 2017*
  • File format: Text
  • Words: 1,461 (approx)
  • Number of pages: 6 (approx)
  • Racism in music
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“It seems like we’re more concerned with being called racist; Than we actually are with racism”. A concept which artist Ben Haggerty, better known as Macklemore, illuminates in his piece “White Privilege II”. The white rapper uses his music to reach through aux chords and speakers and radio stations and grip his audience for a full eight minutes and forty-two seconds. The piece is riddled with subtle messages and innuendos alluding to the gap in social justice seen amongst the races in modern society. He speaks to the obvious audience, the people that benefit from “white privilege”, white people. But more specifically, he speaks especially to those who deny their privilege, or acknowledge it and do nothing to assist those who suffer under its regime. He speaks to the white men and women who spew diminishing comments like all lives matter and “this is the generation to be offended by everything”. People who benefit from the current order of society and who’s only desired outcome is for to life to be quiet and remain the same. These people assert that what Black Lives Matter members are protesting are merely “perceived slights” and belittle the intentions of the Black Lives matter movement and members. He speaks to all those who use and abuse and benefit from black culture; all while turning away from, or participating in, the blatant disregard for black people and culture. The artist speaks to his audience through verbal appeals, being heaviest on Pathos and Ethos as a means to portray his message. And the message is simple; do something. Acknowledge the power in your privilege and do something, because it is everyone’s place to stand up for injustice; because “injustice anywhere is still injustice everywhere”.
As could be foreseen, there are a couple issues with Macklemore, a white rapper, making this piece. The obvious being that he is one of the most overt perpetrators to take advantage of directly benefit from the very culture and people that is seeking fair treatment. The artist does an excellent job combatting such restraints, first by deliberately acknowledging this fact. The piece begins with sounds of chanting and the clear depiction of a march for the Black Lives Matter movement. The artist ignites his ethos appeal by stating that he feels uncomfortable with his participation in the event. He states feeling like he’s being seen as disingenuous and wondering if it is his place to be there, as he clearly does not suffer from the same stigmas as those around him. This is an attempt to catch the attention of his audience, as some white people may have his same concerns and discomfort. This is a ploy to assert himself, his character and his word, as having upstanding moral character in order to gain the trust of his listeners. He says “In my head like, “Is this awkward, should I even be here marching?”. Many of the lines in this piece are similar to this one and the artist uses these lines to appear to be reprimanding himself. The artist indicates his perceived illegitimacy in a way which a person of color likely would by expressing sentiments such as “If I’m only in this for my own self-interest, not the culture that gave me a voice to begin with; Then this isn’t authentic, it is just a gimmick”. Yet again utilizing ethos appeal by questioning his legitimacy and intentions. The artist admits that he has “exploited and stolen” from this culture to which he owes his career and lifestyle. Macklemore even goes so far as to call out others who have so flagrantly hijacked black culture, and garnered no repercussions from such actions; “you’re Miley, you’re Elvis, you’re Iggy Azalea”. This subtle dig to the other culprits of privilege abuse and culture theft not only increases awareness within his audience, but also incites conviction in the song amongst his listeners of every pigmentation.

He works around his constraints with statements about how it is up to all of us to resolve this issue, and he is ready to do his part. “So what the fuck has happened to my voice if I stay silent when black people are dying”. Dying. A statement meant to yank on the audience’s emotions and evoke guilt and anger and solemnity amongst peoples of every color, but especially his audience. Because, as Macklemore put, “If I’m aware of my privilege and do nothing at all, I don’t know”. There is a moment of silence, followed by a sigh just before his enervated statement “I don’t know”. This manipulation of his voice and terminology conveys that he isn’t ready to find out what would happen, and that his audience should not be either. This line is meant to make the audience ponder their own actions and reactions concerning the treatment of black culture and people.

Riddled throughout the piece one picks up on names and terms that allude to recent social traumas within the black community. Macklemore uses logos appeals in this manner, while still pulling in pathos appeals that could easily slip by a listener; “My success is the product of the same system that let off Darren Wilson. Guilty”. Macklemore denotes that he is the product of such a system. A system where he has not only been allowed to survive, but has been supported in order to thrive; all while the same system effectively ruins and ends lives. With this one casual line, he brings up the entirety of the Michael Brown case.

Initially one realizes the factuality of the case to which the artist alludes. The fact that a black man was killed at the hands of a white police officer. The undisputed facts that Michael Brown was unarmed, had his hands up, was shot in the back, and was killed. Macklemore coerces the subconscious mind of his listeners to memorialize the case by simply saying the name of a man’s killer. Then as the cherry on top, Macklemore takes a pause, and says one word; “guilty”. This shows his perspective on the matter, one which is shared by many in the black community and beyond. The conclusion that Darren Wilson was guilty; when in an aggravating turn of events, he was vindicated. The emotions that this one word ignites for black listeners is intense, and is meant to be shared by white listeners. Bringing guilt upon the conscience of his audience, and juxtaposing it with the emotions provoked by the knowledge that it is particularly the job of the privileged to assist and disenfranchised.

The mention of the Michael Brown case was a complex logos appeal however, as it brings up the memory of so many other instances of lawlessness regarding the lives of black men, women, and children at the whim of the privileged. All who listen are forced to remember names and faces and cases beyond memorable quantitative account. Cases, each with distinct heart-wrenching differences, that painstakingly blur together due to their overwhelming similarities. Majority-minority discord, skin color, maltreatment of divergent peoples, hastiness to raise a hand, grab a gun, pull a trigger; racism. A clear lack of compassion leading to the weak-minded paradoxical execution of one human being, defended in reverence ones own life. All with the preconception that there is no further complexity to a human being than the melanin in their skin. Purely selfish deaths prompted by trepidation and stereotypes. Deaths that did not have to happen. That is the underlying similarity that the mention of this one case incites.

The opportunity was clear; we are existing in a time of racial, social and political turmoil. We live in a society of anger and fear and misunderstanding; unrest lives in every crevice of modern society, and we are society. Macklemore recognized that we are all capable of inciting positive change, and singled out the privileged white; a demographic that has not done their part. Macklemore is an artist who utilized his fame, talent, and forum to convey to his audience that it is time to see the interactions around us on a grander stage, and reflect, and answer the call to action. Music speaks to people of every ethnic and socioeconomic background. For millennium music has been the foot soldier of advancement, marching onward and guiding society it’s peaks of existence. Music of all types has been written and sang and performed to portray a message. ”Hip-hop has always been political(…)It’s the reason why this music connects”. So in White Privilege II, Mr. Haggerty jilts his listeners with a final summation; “We take all we want from black culture, but will we show up for black lives”?

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