This is about so much more than hip hop or awards shows; it is instructive reading for any white person. Because we want to acknowledge racism but we don’t want to give up any cake in the process…
The Grammys have long been a source of disappointment because of the recording academy’s lackluster record of acknowledging the gifts and artistry of black musicians. The 2014 Grammys proved to be just more par for the course. The first award given during the live broadcast was to Macklemore and Ryan Lewis for best new artist followed by a performance of Lorde’s “Royals.” Lorde went on to win song of the year for “Royals,” a critique of gratuitous consumption in hip-hop culture.
The most egregious error of the night was seeing the brilliant Kendrick Lamar get totally shut out. Everyone knows he’s the best new artist. Macklemore on his best day can barely hold a candle to Kendrick on his worse day. Even Macklemore acknowledged that he “robbed Kendrick,” via a text message that he then sent out screenshots of via social media. However, Macklemore claimed that fear prevented him from taking a courageous stance and saying exactly that when he went up to accept his award. But Kendrick Lamar can’t do anything with a private apology, Macklemore. Far too often, allies refuse to speak up in public while asking for absolution via private confessions. Macklemore failed to use the white privilege that he has readily acknowledged to challenge this structure of power in a moment when the world was watching.
Simultaneous to us witnessing this whitewashing and erasure of the black bodies and black artists who helped create the sound of folks like Macklemore, Justin Timberlake, Pink, Katy Perry and Robin Thicke, the Grammy’s force-fed us a lie of American progress in the form of a diverse marriage ceremony performed near the end of the show, featuring 30 couples, including straight, same-sex and mixed race pairings. As Queen Latifah, who many folks believe is queer, pronounced these folks married, we saw a spectacular display of American multiculturalism. A putatively queer black woman performed a marriage ceremony for the likes of America’s post-race, post-hetero progeny, as Macklemore, rap’s newest great white hope, serenaded the lovers with his hit song “Same Love.”
We know America is no more post-race than it is post-hetero, but each of these lies fuels the other. Macklemore is so popular in part because his music critiques gratuitous consumption and homophobia, both of which are figured to be problems endemic, not to American society, but to hip-hop culture in particular. Thus both he and Lorde scored big awards, he as best new artist, and her song of the year, because the view is that these white folks have come to a transnational consensus, that hip-hop culture is what ails us, and their critiques constitute a cure.
From Brittney Cooper (one of the best new writers around) in Salon with “Macklemore’s useless apology”.
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