Acknowledging Whiteness

I understand the idea that we can’t ask celebrities and people of that ilk in the public eye to be representatives of political agendas. But it’s odd to say they’re wholly independent of them.

People and their artistic creations exist in a cultural context, and that cultural context exists within a continuum of social and political agendas. Sinking all your hopes on representation on a celebrity may be ill-founded—just look at the racist reactions by white actors to the #OscarsSoWhite campaign. But claiming that means we shouldn’t expect artists who devote their lives and waking hours to contemplating bigger questions and honing their respective craft to have something to say on it is misguided.

Though I’m no fan of him, Macklemore’s “White Privilege II” shows that he is (and has been) contemplating his grander place in the context of hip hop music. The song itself isn’t much of a song, almost more of a personal essay than spoken word, but it’s a public proclamation of him falling in line with Black Lives Matters and at least beginning to acknowledge the privilege he benefits from in the world and the rap community. Whether it ultimately succeeds is another story. But the fact that it’s out there—and for once in Macklemore’s career speaking from his own lane to people within that lane—is something.

It’s no coincidence that two years running has seen Hollywood award exclusively white performances. In the Academy’s mind there’s a certain type of “Oscar worthy” performance. And when that comes to narratives of people of color it’s even more focused. It’s images of black bodies in pain, being rescued. Not proving themselves, whether in the face of the music industry, a multimillion dollar sports organization, or the shadow of their father’s legacy. It’s latinX people winning awards for trafficking drugs, not being enigmatic tech geniuses. It’s white men portraying trans women as tragic figures, not trans women of color playing themselves in a modern farce. It’s a problem that has roots deep in Hollywood, far beyond the Academy, about the stories we choose to tell when it’s not a cis, straight, white, able-bodied man.

And it may not be their job to speak out on these issues. But it seems clear that it’s their job to properly portray them.