Macklemore, Civil Rights, and Good Intentions

Image courtesy of

You would have to have lived in a cave or under a rock for the past 2 years to not have heard of Seattle rapper Macklemore (and Ryan Lewis, the mute Teller to Macklemore’s boisterous Penn). I’ve inhabited a weird plane where I’ve been aware of his existence but did not hear the entirety of one of his songs–including the anti-consumerism smash “Thrift Shop” and gay rights anthem “Same Love.”

The latter song is an interesting craw that stuck in my mind-vice. As a gay rights supporter, I was intrigued that young Mackle of More tackled a subject taboo in the hip-hop community. And as millions heard his LGBT-championing hit during the Grammys a few weeks back, the soundtrack of 33 couples getting married at the ceremony by Queen Latifah under the watchful eye of Bishop Don Juan Madonna, I wondered if the song deserved such praise.

madonna queen latifah
Bishop Don Juan Madonna and Queen Latifah. Image courtesy of

Fast-forward to today: I still have not heard the song, but I was reminded of its existence by comedian Cameron Esposito via the podcast “My Brother, My Brother and Me” during a discussion of pop culture. Her wonder about the tune’s ascension in the gay community centered around the homophobia in the song’s first eight bars, a young Macklemore frightened of being–GASP!–a gay! She sold it by the following:

“Any song saying that is in favor of you having rights that starts with a, like, one-minute explanation of how that person thought they might be like you, they cried A LOT, is REALLY tough to get behind.” 

So now I was intrigued: not intrigued enough to LISTEN to the song, but intrigued enough to Google the lyrics. And WHAT lyrics! The gay panic of the song’s narrator could fuel 20 sitcoms from the ’90s. Here’s some food for thought:

When I was in the third grade I thought that I was gay,
‘Cause I could draw, my uncle was, and I kept my room straight.
I told my mom, tears rushing down my face
She’s like “Ben you’ve loved girls since before pre-k, trippin’ “
Yeah, I guess she had a point, didn’t she?
Bunch of stereotypes all in my head.
I remember doing the math like, “Yeah, I’m good at little league”
A preconceived idea of what it all meant
For those that liked the same sex

His youthful confusion about his sexuality based upon his drawing skills, his cleanliness and his uncle’s proclivities for men, while somewhat understandable, seemed a bit misguided to show empathy for a maligned portion of society. (Good thing his mom was there to play down her boy’s fears, leading him to realize, “Oh, I’m good at sports! GAY PANIC OVER.”) It is like trying to identify with a homeless person by griping about your parents cutting off your trust fund.

(The rest of the song is marginally better, though it ranks along Lily Allen’s “Hard Out Here” video and Lorde’s “Royals” as recent pop-culture lectures of black stereotypes–including homophobia and materialism. It’s been a banner year for racial tut-tutting.)

Whatever inspired yon Macklemore to create the song, its message is now in the public’s collective consciousness. But what if an artist like Macklemore of the ’60s supported civil rights for African Americans through song? Would people have propped up a song with lyrics like this?

When I was in the third grade I thought that I was black,
‘Cause I could play basketball and liked fried chicken as a snack.
I came out to my mom, tears streaming down my eyes
She said “Ben, you’re as white as mayo on fries”

Or, hell, if Italians had their own Macklemore rooting for them during the mass immigration to the U.S.–and resulting discrimination and violence they faced?

I suppose my mother had a point
An assortment of preconceived notions in my head.
I remember adding with my fingers, “I’m not a Mafioso and I’ve never had pasta”
A trivial though of notions misspent

And ladies! Could Macklemore the first have been an honorary suffragette?

When I was a young lad I thought I was a lady,
Unable to vote and a desire to look pretty.
I ran to mother, tears flowing down my cheeks
She said “Ben, you’re a boy, not second-class like me!”

Basically, I have two points: one, good intentions, while admirable, should be examined for their content as well as their emotional desire; and two, let’s calm down about anointing minority groups with labels and things because a majority member endorses it. Reverend Jesse Jackson does not speak for all black people, despite the belief that his camera-hogging nature suggests otherwise. And maybe we should slow our roll before crowning a possible 9/11 truther as a civil rights champion.


One thought on “Macklemore, Civil Rights, and Good Intentions

  1. The operative couplet:

    “A preconceived idea of what it all meant
    For those that liked the same sex”

    He’s talking about how, as a child, he thought he was gay, and he’s highlighting how stereotypes played into that assumption and how his fear of being gay was part of a larger social landscape. It’s not an attempt at empathizing, but rather it’s an invitation to look at how society affects individuals from a young age.


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