Whiteness, Hip Hop Culture, and Invisible Backpacks

We wanted to save this video for Friday, but in light of Macklemore winning Best Rap Album and then tweeting his apologies to Kendrick Lamar, this video exploring white privilege in the hip hop community is worth a listen. Longtime community member El Guante is joined by The Big Cats, Rapper Hooks, and Chantz Erolin break down why Macklemore’s race isn’t the problem, but how defenses designed to ignore racism continue to harm the community. Lyrics after the jump.

The transcript from Guante (and there is additional commentary on privilege and hip hop on his site:

[Verse 1: Guante]
I don’t identify as white
But I identify as white enough, to get that indie rap writer buzz
And benefit from, a system set up
For rappers who already have advantages to get love
Think about it, how many music writers are white?
How many bloggers, how many booking agents?
How many college radio DJs?
How many publicists, concert-goers and critics got white faces?
Cause you can watch 8 mile and assume
White rappers got it hard, but it isn’t really true
This is America, even if you’re not racist
Racism’s in the foundation, face it
I’m not saying white people can’t participate
Obviously, I’m just saying please eliminate
The myth that it’s just about hard work and lyrical ability
’cause it’s about responsibility
Know the history, put people on, build community
‘cause not everyone who works hard earns it
And if they ever make you a monument
Scratch your name out, break it, spit on it, burn it
Yo, it’s so messed up how
You talk about whiteness and half your fanbase shuts down
So nod your head, you ain’t got to understand us
Just put your hands up, put your fucking hands up

[Verse 2: Chantz Erolin]
Ayo white kid, yeah, yeah, I hate to say it like this
But I’m trying to help you get enlightened to having light skin
Don’t trip, I don’t hate kids, and someone’s gonna called me racist
But I’m running out of patience so I gotta say this
I know it’s hard for you to see it conceive what it means to be me
Well, not me, but be defined by what society sees
They say I’m to believe
We’re post racial but still, I feel confined by police
This dude called the cops on the crib the other night
Saying that I robbed his wife or well some dude that wasn’t white
Maybe Native, maybe Asian
Either way, three squad cars hit my crib at 3 AM
And no white boy, in no way is that your fault
You may hate pigs and think that profiling is awful
But understand that you would not be in that position
Just for smoking on your porch with your particular pigment
You got the privilege to not having to deal with your race
While my relatives are off putting bleach on their face
I used to wish I was white, but I’m disgusted by skin cream
I was bullied and cried without knowing what chink means
Have severe doubts you’ll be bumping this song or humming along
You’ve been taught that skin color means nothing at all
And whiteness is considered normal and neutral
You may not notice race when them white rappers do shows
It’s crazy in a rap show devoid of brown and black folk
Hearing white kids saying words they should get smacked for
This shit was built on the backs of our oppression
Now you think it’s just your raps that’ll leave impressions? Hands up.

[Verse 3: Rapper Hooks]
Foolish in my glory tap dancing, drinking 40’s
Don’t judge me if you do not know my story
And I’ll do the same, it’s more than just a name, nigga
Mainframe spinning like I’m twister knowing
Most of these listeners won’t understand
Race and change, I guess it’s time to grow up
If you can’t acknowledge how you get here then don’t even show up
The token black leaving heart attacks more righteous than my phonies
speaking stories of my homies
On some things they never knew, they only heard about
Darker than the couch up in my mama’s house
My roots are deeper than these double standards so I’m speaking out
Love it when we’re all connected in the ‘sota
But I can’t respect my brother if he can’t respect my culture
Moving fast like Testarossa growing up
Dream in color, kid
I’m in living color, on my Wayans brothers spit
Hoping that my whiter color brother can relate to this
If you can’t we can see how bad our separation gets
Preaching on the Newest Testament like we’re in Nazareth
Press they love me cause I’m cosigned by my lighter publicist
Knowing that we’re all connected, to police I’ll plead the fifth
No equality in this, if you racist or you hate this
You can give my ass a kiss, please no lipstick on your lips
Cause I don’t wanna change my color, not even a little bit
In the end all I ask is you acknowledge privilege
Cause I promise you, you wouldn’t be poppin’ in ’96

  • Stu

    I think critics of whiteness are a little hard on Macklemore. A few reasons. One: As Talib Kweli pointed out, people confuse Macklemore with his fans. There is no doubt that The Heist, though not nearly approaching the greatness of Kendrick’s good kid, m.A.A.d city, was a very good underground hip-hop album, initially an indie production with no major label backing. It became incredibly successful DESPITE the fact that the majors gave it no support until after it had blown up on itunes in the wake of “thrift shop.” Many underground rappers, like Jean Grae, Talib, Pharaoh Monch have found it very hopeful that hip-hop artists now can find an audience in the same vein without being required to dumb down or censor their lyrics to gain commercial label backing. Two: Macklemore is at least mindful of his own privilege, and has offered a pretty self-critical monologue on “white privilege,” which few of his detractors seem to have ever listened to. Such introspection from white rappers is rare and deserving of credit.

    I mean, could you imagine Riff Raff, eminem, or the amazingly oppressive Action Bronson coming out with a track like this?

  • Michelle Kirkwood

    Hey,I like this—–how white privilege plays out in rap in particular is something you rarely hear rapped about—it was put very well. I’ve read stuff on El Guante’s site, and he definitely gets straight to the heart of matters concerning race in hip-hop—very much worth reading.