Thursday, September 12, 2013

Addendum: Macklemore & Mary Lambert.

This is much delayed, but my latest post here, which I then slightly modified to publish on AfterEllen, stirred up the most attention and debate of any article I've written in a long time, and also made me think even more deeply about a lot of the murky topics I brought up. I wanted to expand a little bit on some of it, even though it all happened weeks ago, because I've been thinking about it ever since. The main thing is this.

1. Let's be clear: Appropriation is a thing.

Trying to take a critical look at things is tricky because there will be people on both ends of the spectrum that totally misconstrue what you say. For instance, some people thought that my defense of Macklemore was somehow me silencing both queer people and people of color. Which, you know, could've expected that. On the opposite side, some took my paragraph about how we ALL appropriate things in one way or another and how that is not always a bad thing, to mean that we should stop making a big deal about appropriation in the first place because nothing is original anyway, etc etc, which disturbed me a little more.

I feel like that paragraph is the most troubling part of my whole original article for me, because I believe in it so strongly but I feel like it's so easy to twist and turn what I was saying. So first and foremost: yes, appropriation is a thing, and it must be something we never sweep under the rug as just being this "natural" way the world works. Because a lot of times, other people influencing how we live and how we make art IS a very natural, positive relationship. But the relationship between black art and white society is not one of those relationships. White people have been stealing black people's art for a long time, frequently getting rich off of it while the actual talent gets close to nothing. I feel like the forces at play in this arena aren't as horrid as they were in the past, but they're still there, and even if they weren't, I'm not really one of those "get over the past" type of people anyhow. This type of thing should be talked about, and talked about as much as possible.

Here's the part where I feel like things get tricky: just because society and history are shitty, this should not prevent any one person from following whatever path speaks to them. Meaning, white people can rap if they want to. White people can sing the blues if they want to. Just like black people can do whatever want to. Because anybody can do what they want to! There is this attitude I see in radicals a lot where it's like, NO ONE CAN DO ANYTHING UNLESS THAT THING IS ASSIGNED TO THE CULTURE YOU'RE BORN INTO or you are being disrespectful and privileged. And it feels so much more harmful than good. I know that that may seem like I'm simplifying things, but it drives me crazy because all it does is put up more and more and more and more divisions and walls between us. So yes, I do think Macklemore has profited off of black culture, and I think he thinks that too, but no, I do not think he is silencing black culture through his success. It's not all one way or the other! It's not all good but it's certainly not all bad. The fact that the world is so full of grey shades and nuance and complexity is what makes it so awesome.

I also don't think that Macklemore thinks that because he wrote "White Privilege" and talked about all these thorny issues, that he is OFF THE HOOK and never has to talk about racism and privilege again. People who think that: why do you believe in people so little? Every single thing I have seen and heard from Macklemore shows me that he's smart, thoughtful, and sensitive. He wants to continue the dialogue of this very real reality that he is a part of, moreso than any other white rapper I can ever think of, and I think that is important, which is why I included "White Privilege" in my post. It is not MORE important than what black rappers are doing, but I think it's important. Yeah, I know Tumblr thinks about white privilege a lot, but I bet you a whole shit ton of people who might listen to "White Privilege" have never really thought about it that deeply. So it increases the conversation. It is good.

Anyway, now I'm veering back off into my own rant that I've already ranted. But I just really didn't want to give off the message that appropriation is cool and okay. Because it's not.

2. Talking about race is hard and often makes me feel weird but I'm going to try and keep doing it anyway.

It's funny because I still completely 100% agree with what I said about queer stuff in my post. Macklemore is an awesome ally, and pretty much all queer allies are awesome, in my opinion. Queers who don't feel the same way, we are just going to have to agree to disagree probably forever. Maybe this has something to do with the idea that it's always easier to criticize a group you belong to, whereas when you talk about groups you don't belong to everything gets all tip toe-y. I'm not sure.

I do know that I always feel hesitant to write anything about race as a white writer, not because I don't think it's important but because I'm afraid of messing up. I felt especially hesitant in this case, but I felt I had to because race, obviously, got so tangled up in all the other arguments. And some of the things I said weren't perfect, obviously, and a lot of people of color who commented made me think about things and change my view on a few things, which was neat, and which I was really appreciative of. But some people still got angry about it, like some people will probably always get angry about it when I try.

It's a tough thing, because on the one hand, I hear the argument from people of color when they're like, "White people, please stop speaking for us, we can speak for ourselves, just shut up and listen." I totally get that. And I want to listen! I am listening.

On the other hand, I read a quote in the paper recently, funnily enough about a conflict between the white queer community and people of color here in Portland, which said that there is no such thing as being a passive anti-racist. She summed up the plight of white people quite clearly: we read things, we see things on the news, we go, OH HOW SAD, THAT IS HORRIBLE, and we go back home. We do nothing. More and more recently, I feel like I am reading a lot of things and getting really upset and then doing nothing. I don't want to be that person.

So I struggle, between that idea of just listening, and that idea of not being passive. And I have a platform on AfterEllen, where the majority of the writers are white, where the majority of topics covered are white, where the audience is pretty (queer) mainstream. I try to write about race and people of color as much as I can, because I feel like I don't see enough of it on the site. I'm not trying to speak FOR anyone; I am speaking for me, and the things I care about.

And sometimes I get stuff wrong, and sometimes I say things that offend people. And people will read the very worst angle of me. For instance, someone will read this and think, "Oh, how nice, another white girl tries to write off her white guilt so she can feel better about herself," instead of seeing me just really honestly trying to work through thoughts in my head. Fine. I know a lot of people saw me defending a white rapper and just saw me silencing black rappers, but oh well. I'm going to keep trying, and keep feeling weird about stuff, anyway, because deep down, I know that I should.