What “Same Love” says about race, queers and success

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Sometimes, it is really hard being a queer on the internet. Not because of conservative people telling me I am going to hell or whatever, because that actually doesn’t happen that often. And if it does, it’s almost sort of entertaining.

Weirdly, the hardest part of being a queer on the internet is other queers who have so many opinions about the best or right way to be queer. And how if you do or do not do these things, or like or do not like these things, you are ignorant and offensive and wrong.

The latest conundrum if you’re queer is apparently whether or not you can like Macklemore. I mean, I guess. I didn’t know it was a conundrum until recently, but the internet says it is.

2013 MTV Video Music Awards - Press Room

A bit of personal history: my wife and I have liked Macklemore for quite some time, since our friend in Portland told us about him a few years ago, back when he was pretty much just a Pacific Northwest rapper. We were impressed a white dude from Seattle had such well produced, well rapped, catchy yet powerful songs with such astoundingly smart lyrics. Our favorites were “Wings” and “White Privilege.” Both are almost chillingly well done, tackling tough, messy issues with a type of thoughtfulness and honesty which we rarely saw in much other music at all, hip hop or not, black artist or white.

So when he blew up in the last year, I was real happy because 1) I had already seen his ability to be super catchy and commercial, a la “Can’t Hold Us,” which is gobsmackingly good, and which deserved success, and 2) “Same Love” burst a billion heartstrings as the year’s unlikely marriage equality anthem But to me, it wasn’t that surprising at all coming from him, being that so many of his previous songs are so deeply rooted in social messages. He is legit.

Fast forward to today. From what I can gather, these are the issues that have been stirred up within the queer community, particularly since his wins at the VMAs this past weekend.

1) He’s a white, straight, cis-gendered man, and I guess it is hard for us to say anything pleasant about anyone who fall into this category.
2) His success and his wins at the VMAs are taking success and wins away from black hip hop artists, whose art he is shamelessly appropriating from.
3) He didn’t even let Mary Lambert talk at the VMAs, even though she is a queer woman. She should be the voice standing for queer equality, not the straight man.
4) He isn’t promoting Mary Lambert’s new video enough.
5) By saying that hip hop as a whole is anti-gay, he is shutting out other artists who came before who in fact ARE queer or queer friendly.
6) He says he’s an ally but basically allies are bullshit.

2013 MTV Video Music Awards - Show

There is a lot going on here, about race, about visibility, about inequality as a whole, about who has the right to say what. I don’t want to belittle any of it, but I disagree so strongly with so much of what has been said that I need to unpack some of it.

First, let’s talk about Mary Lambert. Her new video, where she extends her refrain of “She Keeps Me Warm,” the hook of which is included in “Same Love,” is so adorable it’s hard not Muppet arm flail at its cuteness. Like, literally the most adorable thing I have ever seen.

As you might have seen, AfterEllen also had the Mary Lambert hook up during the VMAs, which was pretty rad, and from almost everything I saw, she was SUPER SUPER excited about everything. Excited about being on the red carpet, about being on stage, about singing with Jennifer Hudson. Excited! Adorable!

I watched Macklemore’s acceptance speech for “Same Love,” and it looked like he did actually want to give both Ryan Lewis and Mary Lambert speaking time at the end, but you know how award shows are with awkwardly cutting people off if you talk too much. And I don’t think it was weird that he took the mic first and gave a little speech, because, like, it’s his song? And I thought his speech was good? And all around it was a good thing and everyone was happy? And I don’t think there’s anything wrong with saying that hip-hop as a whole is anti-gay, because while there are always exception to every rule, if I was a gay kid, I WOULD think that hip-hop hated me.

2013 MTV Video Music Awards - Show

And he could spend more time promoting “She Keeps Me Warm,” but he is really under no obligation to whatsoever. He is not Mary Lambert’s PR person. But clearly, the two have a warm relationship, and I think his association with her, and in particular having her with him at the VMAs, has catapulted Mary Lambert into more fame than she ever would have had otherwise. “Same Love”’s success is a win-win situation for both of them.

The race part is messier, and one I don’t have the right to speak to completely. But he acknowledges his appropriation upfront and truthfully. If someone asked him if he thought he had gained more attention this year than other black rappers just because he was white, I feel 100% positive he would say yes. And I would agree with that statement, too. But that doesn’t make him a jerk, it makes the system a jerk. You can’t bring the blame of an entire system of inequality down on the head of one talented and good-hearted guy. I think there’s a difference between acknowledging that appropriation is a thing, and OUTLAWING it from being used ever.

Because I’ve also seen Asian hip-hop artists who are really, really good. Because I am grateful for Eminem. Because I don’t think there’s anything inherently evil about a nation of white people trying their darndest to dance like Beyonce. Because probably every single day of my life, I am able to use or do something that was first brought into the world by people who look nothing like me, from the food I eat to the books I read to the act of writing itself, to the house I live in and the streets I drive down and the music I listen to—all created and influenced by people who are nothing like me. If we are damning people for appropriation, we are all damned. This doesn’t make appropriation without acknowledgment okay, but as Macklemore says in “White Privilege,” we can’t help who we are. We can honor the originality of people who created the world we live in, while still wanting to be ourselves and like what we like inside of it.

And there is so much about how allies are troublesome, and it always makes me so flipping mad. Because you know what? I think allies are awesome, no matter who they are. Even if they use the wrong language sometimes, even if they don’t get everything right. I like that they try. And I’m OK with a straight man being the loudest voice for marriage equality. Because his straight man voice is REACHING people. It is reaching a LOT of people. Jay-Z coming out for marriage equality, Obama coming out for marriage equality, and on and on, reaches SO MANY more people than other smaller, queer voices. Their straight voices don’t drown out the smaller, queer voices, it just widens the sphere of tolerance overall. And I actually think there is something important about straight people speaking up, because it signifies that “gay problems” are not just problems to gay people.

If you were only allowed to speak about experiences that you yourself lived, then we would just get partitioned into smaller and smaller boxes, and no one would listen to anybody except people who were exactly like them. And the world would be so, so, so sad and a billion times more full of injustice than it already is.

And that’s always what it comes down to, and why I get so mad about stuff like this. I don’t want to make it seem like I’m silencing anyone who wants to criticize Macklemore, because silencing people is not what I believe in. But so many times within the queer community, it feels like things that aren’t that important just tend to divide us, when we are really all on the same side of justice. Why get so angry about this guy who just wants us to be able to get married, when voting rights and women’s rights are getting smashed left and right across America, which could eventually cause so much more real harm to queers and people of color?

mack

In the end, no one is perfect. No one person can be the perfect minority or ally, or write the perfect song, or know every single thing there is to know about the history of the world and being queer. I’m a big proponent of looking at things with a critical lens, but when it gets to the point where you feel like you literally can’t like anything without feeling like a bad queer, we need to think about the battles we choose. Because if people are trying to make the world better, why in the world would we get down on them about it? Why can’t we love Macklemore AND Mary Lambert? I do, and I feel grateful for both of them.

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