Interrogating the politics of the privileged

2015-01-05 11:36

Last week, an interesting interview with Macklemore surfaced in which the American rapper spoke about how he benefits from white privilege.

Macklemore, who’s white in case you’ve been napping, told hip-hop radio station Hot 97: “White people can simply turn off the TV when we’re sick of talking about race.

“White, liberal people want to be nice. We don’t want to be racist. We want to be: ‘Oh, we’re post-racial. We don’t want to talk about white privilege and it’s all good, right?’

“I can cuss on a record and have a parental advisory sticker on the cover of my album, yet parents are still like: ‘You’re the only rapper I let my kids listen to.’ If I was black, what would my drug addiction look like?”

In a world where getting white, male, straight, cisgendered (people whose gender identity matches the sex they are born with) or middle-class people to admit their privilege – the unearned benefits that come from belonging to a group with social, cultural and/or economic power, whether one wants them or not – Macklemore admitting his privilege seems like a revolutionary act.

But it’s not. All he has done is admit he is aware that there is an unequal and unjust system at play that benefits him and that he voluntarily benefits from it. There’s nothing revolutionary there.

In fact, for me, it’s almost more offensive than those who vehemently deny benefiting from white, male and class privilege.

Admitting you are privileged and leaving it at that does nothing. It doesn’t challenge the status quo, nor does it shift power to the people deliberately disempowered by the very thing benefiting you.

In fact, it’s just a stumbling block. Recently, writer TO Molefe put it nicely when he tweeted: “Low-risk antiracism is not antiracism, dear ally.”

The act of admitting privilege is between you and your chosen deity. It’s not an overarching act of restorative justice or redress.

Neither is expressing latent “regret” for having done nothing to fight the apartheid system.

And the answer to “so what should I do?” is also not to be demanded from the people your privilege oppresses.

People who are unjustly treated cannot (all at once) survive being oppressed or deprived, teach the oppressor about their privilege and then also tell them what to do.

Where does that leave the privileged?

The real meaning comes from what we then choose to do to address and ultimately destroy the system that privileges us. Until then, it’s all talk and we all know the value of that.

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