I know as much as anyone how hard it is to be politically correct. It feels like now more often than not, we walk around holding our breath and tip-toeing around each other. It’s so easy to offend, so the less we say, the fewer people will be at risk of taking offense. The problem with this is when we say nothing, nothing changes.
On January 22nd, an ongoing dialogue hit a little closer to home when rapper Macklemore, as a sequel to a previous song entitled “White Privilege,” released his new song “White Privilege II.”
“It seems like we’re more concerned with being called racist than we actually are with racism,” he raps, expressing how sick he is of the attitude of complacency our country has adapted when it comes to the subject of race. The buzz following the song was instantaneous.
On January 31st, 6 days after the release of “White Privilege II,” Syracuse University put on its 31st annual Martin Luther King Jr. celebration dinner, the largest University run MLK remembrance event in the country. The Dome was packed with over 1,000 community members, faculty, and students recognizing Dr. King and celebrating his enduring legacy. The theme for this year, “Remember. Celebrate. Act.” was enforced through the words of Marc Lamont Hill, one of Ebony Magazine’s 100 most influential black leaders in America and the keynote speaker for this event. Along with student performances of dance and song, Unsung Hero awards were given to five Syracuse students and members of the community that were recognized for embodying the spirit and morals of Dr. King.
I left the event inspired and truly ready for action. However, with all the events surrounding the Black community on campus and in pop culture, I was surprised at the lack of buzz about the topic. I wanted to talk about change! I wanted to see what I could do to help, how I could spread awareness of these social issues, but few people around me seemed to feel the same way.
And then I heard Macklemore’s song for the first time. And it suddenly made sense to me.
Let’s not be afraid to state the obvious. Macklemore is a white male rapper. And he’s known for pushing the envelope. There is still buzz about “Same Love,” his song released in 2012 that the LGBT community has turned into something of an unofficial anthem. It turned heads and sparked a conversation that is still relevant, if not more so, four years later, even with the backlash he received from those who didn’t support the content of the song. So without surprise, the release of his new song has many raising the same question. What gives him the right to even comment about a situation that seemingly effects him in no way?
And the answer is beautiful. Many of us, whether we accept it or not, connect with his experience of feeling awkward and displaced in this issue, but want to still be involved. The issue here isn’t people oversharing, it’s people not acknowledging that there’s an issue at all. Many of us are put into a difficult situation. You want to know more and lend a hand in support but you just…don’t…know…how. How many times have you seen the #BlackLivesMatter hashtag on twitter and wanted to know more but didn’t speak up? Have you seen the injustices and court case after court case on the news and felt helpless and disconnected from the community that seemed to be constantly broken? Have you wondered how about these issues have affected you directly, but your friends and family members don’t want to bring awkward silence to the dinner table and instead skirt around the subject and squeeze past the elephant in the room. Macklemore’s song isn’t just a beat with some bars attached, it’s a clear call to action.
So what do we do?
Simply put, we speak. We open a dialogue that we know for a fact will make us uncomfortable and we have it anyways. Talk to your roommates, your friends, your professors. Call your mom, ask her how she feels. Read about protests and riots, educate yourself and form your own opinions. Don’t know how to start? Neither did I. So I grabbed some friends, sat them down and let the music start the conversation for me. I won’t lie, the loaded silence that followed was a bit uncomfortable, but the content of the conversation we came to was entirely worth it.