From Miley to Macklemore: The Privilege Spectrum

miley-cyrus-2014Miley fatigue is in full effect, but we feel it is important that we as white people speak up, and hold our folks accountable to their racist behavior. The burden far too often falls on people of color to respond, to explain, to teach, to protest.

This year’s Video Music Awards were yet another historical moment where whiteness reigned supreme.  Black and Brown cultural creators and innovators were for the most part invisible, or worse, used as evidence of acceptance or racial progress. Jon Caramanica highlights how the VMAs were a window into a larger history within American popular culture:  “Mr. Timberlake was on trend in way, though: this was a banner year for clumsy white appropriation of black culture who were recipients of three awards, including best hip-hop video.”

In this context, the question of appropriation matters – power, privilege, stereotypes, and centuries of racism play through both the appropriation and the resulting responses.   To be clear, we are not against white folks embracing the art and culture that speaks truth to their hearts and souls, as hip-hop culture is still our first love, rather we are advocating for acknowledgement, accountability, and action. We are calling for examination of how stereotypes and blackness within the white imagination are often present within these moments of appropriation.

MacklemoreOn the privilege spectrum, we find ourselves appreciating Macklemore at a certain level, who is beginning, by at least acknowledging, in his lyrics, that white privilege is one of the reasons he is successful. Honest and courageous.  In a recent interview, he noted,  “I do think we have benefited from being white and the media grabbing on to something. A song like ‘Thrift Shop‘ was safe enough for the kids….  the fact that I’m a white guy, parents feel safe.’”

His rhetorical and lyrical stance doesn’t mean he isn’t cashing in on his privileges.  The awards, the celebration of him as “exceptional” and different, the erasure of artists like 9th Wonder, Azealia Banks, Murs, Angel Haze, dead prez or Jasiri X from discussions of independent and conscious artists, and his popularity among white youth all speak to the centrality of whiteness.  For him, and for us, the next step is to take that and be accountable by being in action for racial justice. Using his platform to impact the movement toward racial justice.

At the other end of the spectrum, we have Thicke and Cyrus, along with their media collaborators, which not surprisingly have left Thicke (just as it left JT out of the post Super Bowl panics) out harm’s way.  They are the embodiment of a history of not just appropriation and theft, but the ease to which artists are allowed and rewarded for pushing the boundaries.  “White artists have the privilege to be ‘ratchet’ but still be accepted by mainstream media and seen as safe and marketable,” states Jasiri X.  “It’s been going on as long as we’ve invented different genres of music, but I’m glad at least now we’re having a discussion about it. Let’s not forget that this current cultural appropriation began with the enslavement of Africans and the genocide of the Native Americans.”

Gender Privilege Takes A Bow

Robin Thicke-Miley CyrusIt’s telling that Robin Thicke seems to be getting a pass amid all the media discussions of Miley. We have seen this before in so many contexts but yet again the sexual performances of men are judged by different standards as those of women.  Despite the sight of a 36 year old married white men grinding up against a 20-year old white women, the outrage and dismay has been directed at her.  In the American landscape White + male means go directly to the bank and don’t pass go.  Miley on the other hand is forced to stop for a media tongue lashing before heading to the bank.

None of this is to say that Miley Cyrus deserves a pass, especially in light of her co-staring role in Appropriation-polooza the VMAs.  There is much to be said about how she, Macklemore, Robin Thicke, and Justin Timberlake all seem to be celebrated for their connection to and performance of cultural productions tied to blackness.  Yet, unlike their black counterparts inside and outside the music industry, they are not castigated for dysfunctional culture, or scapegoated for white social ills.   There is much to be critical of regarding Miley’s performance and the role of MTV here (putting her face in the booty of the African American female dancer; her history with twerking; and her recent interviews saying she loves “hood” music). This isn’t just about appropriation or even the performance of black culture that is rooted in the white imagination.  Rather it is about double standards.  It is the celebration of white artists amid a culture that denigrates African Americans who partake in these cultural productions.  It is about a culture that profits and privileges Miley and Thicke, but cites sagging pants or sexual dancing as evident of dysfunction and pathology.  To talk about “appropriation” and the centrality of privilege and anti-black racism requires also talking about whiteness

The panic, from Fox to MSNBC, is wrapped up in American history – it is where race and gender, where misogyny and white supremacy, intersect.  It reflects the fear resulting from contact or connection with what is seen as blackness.  Whereas Robin Thicke doesn’t need protection from blackness, from black male sexuality, and from the cultural pollutants found in hip-hop, Miley needs saving.  Taking their cues from history, the patriarchal media is thus intervening to save Miley from blackness.  “Cyrus’s twerk act gives minstrelsy a postmodern careerist spin. Cyrus is annexing working-class black “ratchet” culture, the potent sexual symbolism of black female bodies, to the cause of her reinvention,” writes Jody Rosen.  “Her transformation from squeaky-clean Disney-pop poster girl to grown-up hipster-provocateur. (Want to wipe away the sickly-sweet scent of the Magic Kingdom? Go slumming in a black strip club.) Cyrus may indeed feel a cosmic connection to Lil’ Kim and the music of ‘the hood.’”

The calls for intervention, and the fears about messages to “the kids” (whose kids, anyway?) are connected to her imagined proximity to an imagined blackness.  Once good little Hannah Montana has been corrupted by the influence of hip-hop and blackness.  From girl-next-door to girl-grinding- a-poll.  The idea that blackness is pollutant reveals the level of stereotypes and why Miley needs help.  Her fall from role model is seen as a consequence of cultural integration.  The fears are thus about protecting her assigned white feminine purity and those who want to be like Miley.

Not surprising we didn’t see a movement toward justice on the VMAs.  But we can hope, we can speak out, we can be accountable and hold others accountable, and we can act. What we would love to see with white performers, whether it be Macklemore or JT, who are benefiting directly and indirectly from white privilege and racism, is action: Use your platform and your voice to honor and pay respect to the people and cultures who originated the art form. Let’s not allow what happened to jazz and rock n roll happen to hip-hop and R n’ B.  Let’s not turn artistry rooted in the black community into spaces of stereotypes, appropriated by white artists who reap the benefits while African Americans suffer the consequences.

We are working toward a tipping point where the majority of white people can recognize we all still benefit unfairly from our skin color, and that we all have a stake in ending this injustice.  We can only hope that the outrageous acts we witnessed at the VMA’s push more of us to demand change, to stand up for justice—from cultural appropriation to dehumanizing stereotypes, from mistreatment of immigrants to stop and frisk, from the criminalization of black and brown youth to the prison industrial complex. It is all connected. It is all on the spectrum of injustice.

Stand up for what’s right.

Thanks to Rosa Clemente, Jonathan Fields, and Kwame Holmes all of who inspired this piece in important ways.

About the Authors

David Leonard is a professor in the Department of Critical Culture, Gender, and Race at Washington State University.

JLove Calderon is a conscious media maker, social entrepreneur, and author of five books, including her latest: Occupying Privilege; Conversations on Love, Race, and Liberation.

Copyright August 2013


  1. Excellent observations all the way around.

  2. Macklemore himself would also confirm; his rise has been a years long journey that took tremendous amount of work and a team effort from Seattle. Yes, there has been an edge with the “safety” of his music, but was that the secret to this success earned? No.

    As someone who knows every single urban/rap artist in the Great Northwest, I submit that 95% do not have the work ethic or commitment to the game Mack’s had get to where he is. He’s had the same blocks (addiction, depression), the same start as everyone else here. His story is not only a case study about the new music business, but an example of what kind of team it takes to make dreams happen, starting with a girlfriend/fiance’, manager, producer, and music booker – all who had no so called Major label experience or insider status.

    Was that so wrong? Celebrate Macklemore. Now, as far as Miley goes………. No Comment!

  3. I believe you’re misrepresenting Jody Rosen’s intent with the article that she wrote for Vulture. She was, much as you are, chastising Cyrus for putting on a Minstrel Show and for appropriating Black Culture. In fact, the title of her article was “The 2013 VMAs Were Dominated by Miley’s Minstrel Show.” And, I also find it interesting that in your quoting the article you strategically chose to leave out the ACTUAL last line of the article that read “…connection to Lil’ Kim and the music of “the hood.” But the reason that these affinities are coming out now, at the VMAs and elsewhere, is because it’s good for business.” Her last line of the article drives home the point that the Minstrel show was done for no other reason than it was good for business. Rosen’s article in no way represents .. as you put it, a”patriarchal media … intervening to save Miley from blackness.” You have many valid points in your piece without needing to purposefully misinterpret another writer’s words and message. I believe you owe Ms. Rosen an apology and you should make greater efforts to elucidate your point without taking other people’s work out of context.

  4. ina romeo says:

    A very timely and well written observation. Not the first nor the last, however, profound. Now. What do you do about it?

  5. I think this reaction might be a bit extreme. I don’t think Miley Cyrus, Robin Thicke, Justin Timberlake or any of these folks intentionally wanted to leech off of black culture (and not pay due respects). I think they had all the best intentions and their relationship with the black community is just fine. In other words, these folks aren’t actual racists. The record labels & powers that be do enjoy having the safety of white faces on the screen though (like Macklemore & the article alludes to). At the same time, I’d love to see some quality black music brought to the mainstream and acknowledged. Sorta like the 90’s vibe & scene but with a greater mainstream appreciation of the stuff (remember the good ol’ days when you could flip the channel and listen to LL Cool J, Public Enemy, MC Lyte, 2Pac, Biggie, and even some MC Hammer, etc.?). And even the house music & dance music back then had a nice soulful black flair to it too.

    • Having good intentions and thinking the overt, cross-burning variant of racism is terrible does not render you incapable of doing racist things.

      • Well for what it’s worth, Miley Cyrus is the one catching most of the flack here and last time I checked she’s white.

        • Miley Cyrus is catching flack because she is a white girl. Precisely for that reason. She has “brought shame” on the white community by engaging in the seedier ends of black culture and needs to be saved and corrected.
          And, as far as Im aware, shes only catching heat from other white people.
          Go figure…

  6. This is the best article so far. For origins of MTV exploiting Black culture this speaks of a bigger fetishization by whites than Cyrus and the media is mostly to blame for allowing madonna to PROFIT hugely from that sick example of mass branding. Madonna is in fact the swill that spawned Cyrus. She did the same thing with black (and GLBT ) culture, but there was little to no criticism of it by whites. Many Black sociologists like bell hooks noticed it but were ignored. Madonna was even openly racist towards Black men in a Spin interview that would have gone viral had it appeared today. Madonna has stolen from, exploited and even kidnapped Black culture. Madonna stole the idea for her iconic ‘90s hit Vogue, complete with the dance of the same name. She is very interested in co-opting black and brown “cool.” As bell hooks wrote years ago in her essay “Madonna: Plantation Mistress or Soul Sister,” “Fascinated yet envious of black style, Madonna appropriates black culture in ways that mock and undermine, making her presentation one that upstages.” which makes it easy to see why she threw M.I.A. under the bus for stealing the spotlight at the super bowl. Blacks and brown are fine as long as they are props or foisted onto the nanny.

  7. Here was Madonna’s free pass from the media. She was the Paula Deen of MTV. Why was this ignored?

  8. as usual the POINT has been totally missed or IGNORED. The issue here is based more on class than race…Robin and JT crossed over into the white chocolate, blue eyed soul category because when they crossed the racial lines they stayed in their class…as did Miley so if she indeed needs saving it is from trash, which is what she aligned herself with…you won’t see her in a Jay-Z video or on a Beyonce hook…she was referred to as white trash when she hit the scene it makes perfect sense that she would assimilate into the trashiest that hip hop has to offer…WE don’t accept that she is acting Black we accept that she is acting a tad bit trashy…Really good observations they just do not ring totally true, but they look good in print.

  9. This whole “cultural appropriation” argument people are throwing around in light of Miley Cyrus oddly sounds like, “It’s okay for Black people to act ratchet but not okay for white people.”

    But when has acting ratchet ever been okay in the black community!?!?!?

    • I think this is the best comment I heave read so far. I think that people seriously need to take this into consideration. If we think about what is “ratchet” I often feel like it is aligned with mainstream black culture. When this is the thinking, it becomes assumed that we, black people, are accepting of the mainstream hip-hop culture that is being portrayed in the music industry. It is assumed that WE are entertained by some people who I feel make a mockery out of our culture. It’s assumed that I would think it any more acceptable for a black female artist to act as Miley at the MTV awards. NEITHER is ok. I am so tired of people latching onto artist who act as “ratchet” as possible and then say “oh they’re acting black.” Not all of us want to be associated with that type of behavior, nor do some of us feel like you (fill in the blank) artist are appropriating our culture. You are acting on your own terms, doing what you think is profitable.

      Unfortunately, media corporations who have little interest in showing black and brown people as rounded individuals continue to highlight the negatives, and I will even go so far as to say “mistrel-like” behaviors that have carried into today. And let us be clear, the faces that we see on television are not often the ones who are getting the biggest check.

      SO, Miley do not say that you are trying to be black. But better yet, people don’t accept her or anyone else as trying to do so. She is merely acting like Miley, a confused 20-something year old trying to find her place in the world. Unfortunately/luckily (however you look at it) she has the sad truth/privilege of doing it on television with the world to criticize and/or embrace her. And if we’re being really honest, we will realize we have more control over our consumption than she probably has over her career at this point. So if we stop buying…

  10. I’m glad it was white folk doing the cooning this time.

  11. Makes sense. Only thing I don’t like is the repeated use of blackness. It might be reality and is out there in peoples minds and what they associate with whoever but speaking like that only keeps it that way I think hip-hop is for everyone I think all music if for everyone. I definitely agree with the truth that white people have the advantage which sucks if thats what gets a persons foot in the door but if they are talented enough they would have been discovered eventually. Good read

  12. I hear you, great article. My comment is about the sentence “… 9th Wonder, Azealia Banks, Murs, Angel Haze, dead prez…” Hands down those are all great artists who deserve to be praised both monetarily and critically, however nobody can argue they have the same amount of fans as Macklemore. In essence Macklemore is just another pop rapper in the same vein as Marky Mark, but a bit more eclectic. Yeah, he speaks on more pressing issues, but in a more Will.I.Am/Will Smith type of corniness, rather than say Nas. To put 9th, Murs, etc on the same discussion as Macklemore is disrespect. And further, since when did the VMAs or MTV ever represent hip-hop culture properly or respectfully…they’ve always sucked.

  13. AWESOME reflection / analysis of the barely visible (at least to us who are white). Thank you.

  14. Yes I Agree, We need to make this some kind of video or commercial so everyone hears this

  15. When you quoted Rosen, you left out the last sentence of the paragraph. The sentence changes the context of what is being said. I’m wondering why you chose to do that.

  16. Matthew jackson says:

    Huh? Blackness? What the hell are you talking about? How about humanness or just “artist”.

  17. A black man that invented the electrostatic microphone. Comparatively speaking the entertainment industry is just a joke regardless of the color of its participants.All the white entertainers that take the forefront are acting just as tasteless as the black ones…..and vice versa… let them. The fact that some idiots take this bullshit so serious is the real issue

  18. it is what it is

  19. This isn’t a real representation of hip hop! It is what is wrong with the corporate owned industry and the media that promotes this type of negativity and focuses on women’s bodies, sexuality, gangsterism, vanity, violence, alcahol, drugs, consumerism, and racism that is affecting our children negatively. Whatever your poison it is they promote it that’s why I don’t waste my time with award shows and just listen to all types of good music! Real music brings people good vibes, unity, positivity, and love!

  20. I agree with all of this EXCEPT that Angel Haze and Azelia Banks are ‘conscious’ artists. Not at all! Angel fairs better than Banks but even she slagged off Banks for being ‘charcoal’ – i.e : a racial slur. Angel’s also got a video that suggests she sexually assaults another woman in it. Banks is all about ‘bitches and money’ – just because she’s a lady doesn’t make it any better! Surely Jean Grae should have been cited here?

  21. Francis Redis says:

    Funny, I’m don’t worry about the color of skin of my team’s point guard or the checks he is cashing. Why do you?

  22. Liked this article a lot.

    Yes, appropriation of black culture (film, music, dance, language) has a long history in the US and Europe.

    But let’s also think about representation. If white kids love black music, its natural that they are going to want to see people like themselves performing that music.

    What’s missing is the explicit naming (and honouring) of black artists during that white person’s performance, naming the influences and including those artists on stage.

    • Good point.

      I don’t pretend to know the inner thoughts of either Miley or Macklemore specifically, but i truly wonder if most white people have any idea what they have appropriated from others (including land!). It’s one of the nuances of privilege–i.e., those who are “normative” experience everything as having originated straight from them. Those who are privileged think they “did it all themselves,” and don’t see that everyone stands on the shoulders of others.

  23. Well written article and being on point with the cultural preservation check. As far as the Miley Cyrus and Robin Thicke stage show, I haven’t mentioned this aloud, yet this is a long running forum to say things like this: I was reminded of the Jordan Davis trial coming up as I looked at their performance. Her tongue blatantly to the side like Jordan driving to the hoop, Thicke’s ref suit… I liked the visuals and seen it like the respectful compliment to the program (esp. in light of what you seen from the duo). Thank you for the coverage.

  24. In Some ways The White Folks who work & run MTV are probably Love placing White Faces on the MTV VMA’s in 2012 which in the Past have been dominated by black artist.

    Rewind back to 2011 when the White California Artist “Kreayshawn” was up for the Vote of best new artist off 1 fckin song?1 Seriously? 1 Viral Hit and being White of course got her the Nest new artist category nomination” In a way legitimatizing her Wack Music. Macklemoore simply NEW how to handle a VIRAL hit better then Kreayshawn in Releasing a ALBUM 1 month after his lead single went Viral with Millions of hits Versus Kreayshawn who waited almost a year later to drop a Major Lable Album that flopped with about 3,500 ‘digital’ sales worldwide mostly at “Hot Topic ” stores. The week before the MTV VMAS13 while looking at the Playlsit of POWER10 LA , HOT97 NY AND 106KMEL SF i noticed macklemoore dominated the charts. Much like Bay Area Artist “Loverance” did a few years ago with “UP”, But Loverance never got any MTV Awards show Love like kreayshawn and macklemoore. Another thing too note was the Nomination of Iggy AZELIA AS A NEW ARTIST in 2012, when in Realioty she was a NEW artist in 2012. MTV Loves feeding its Viewers white faces.

    Thing is 2 years after “Gucci Gucci” phenomenon came and left we know look at a Pregnant Kreayshawn like a One Hit Wonder Artist , where in the Beginning of Summer 2011 she was slated to be the next Lady Gaga or Madonna. But in the Monthes after May 2011 when it was discovered Kreayshawn had NO TALENT what so ever other then properly defending herself of Ever using the “N-Word” Most of the world has forgotten of the “White Girl Mob” Member, which Coincidentally dis banded last year after a personal issue between other WGM group members ‘Lil Debbie and -V-Nasty”

    The Public was probably more in disbelief in How Kreayshawn thru ‘V-Nasty’ Under the Bus if reference to using the “n-word” . V-Nasty herself was riding the high wave after completing a album with Gucci Mane. (And if u ask me, Warner Bros. & Gucci Mane, wanted to capitalize off the “Gucci Gucci” Single by being associated with a Kreayshawn Co-Hort for Internet search reasons) Besides that i really dont see any reason for Gucci Mane doing a album with a un known bay area female rapper who had only released what?2 Mix-tapes before the WarnerBros Gucci Mane Album flop? And im surprised why No One caught the familiarities of James Francos character and V-Nasty , versus ‘Rif Raf’ .

    Too someone who grew up listening to Hardcore Hip Hop these ‘rif rafs’ kreayshawn v-nasty and Macklmeoore are like PSY Gangam style artist. Viral sensations who had the right manager and or team to get them to Radio and Major Labels. Cause its safe to say if any song goes Viral then playing it on the radio enough people will start to like it.

    Another note when Macklemoore first started coming out in fall of 2012 i was hearing alot about how he was “from the town/oakland” it took months for me to realize he was from Seattle. Watching a DJ Vlad interview of White Girl Mob Rapper “Lil Debbie” i noticed she told Vlad she was from “14th & International blvd” where as V-Nasty and Kreay where from 35th ave. OH REALLY? i guess doing music videos and smoking weed with Oakland Artist DB Tha General gave them some sorta pass to claim 35th ave? The Whole way KREAY AND V-nasty ‘Pimped ” the Oakland ” name in being where “they where from” made ALOT of bay area artist sick. Like these two white girls are suppose to be representing Oakland in the Mainstream, and how “everybody say ni66a” in Oakland , not just balck people. Right.

    I found it Ironic that in 2011 the Casey Anthony story was a Major news story as was Lady Gaga. And POOF* Sony signs this lil white girl who was similar to both in some sort of marketing scheme. But yea their is WHITE PRIVILEGED as well as BLACK PRIVILEGED, cause in one point of view Its Not enough LATINO, ASIAN, MIDDLE EASTERN OR INDIAN artist that get ANY kind of Love by RADIO OR TV. Its basically Only BLACK OR WHITE artsit can do hip hop music for the masses.
    And of the Black “conscious” rappers listed above: Murs, dead prez, 9th wonder jasiri x, etc They are all OK artist but in REALITY I dont see any of my Peers Listening to those artist in 2013. (dead prez in 2006 maybe) . These artist simply added more current Political content to their Music and thus Labeled “Conscious” , all due respect to those artist, (some of whom i met be4) But Personally i dont count them as “Conscious” .just because they decided to rap about the Syrian War. The MUSIC still has to be good. But yea If their is a WHITE PRIVLEDGE in Music then their is a BLACK PRIVILEGE in Hip Hop, where Only “Black Artist” CAN make Commercial -RADIO Hip Hop.

    But Yea, Miley Cyrus the young white lady who American kids grew up watching on Hanah Montana and the kids of those parents who where listening to ‘Billy Cyrus’ where all suprised by her Strip dance on MTV and in the same Maneuver got the American people’s Minds off AFGHANISTAN, SYRIA, IRAQ, PALESTINE ,AND PARTS OF AFRICA. Where In the MTV ‘REAL WORLD’ no war is taking place,just like Listeners shouldn’t be aware on Clear Channel stations like 106.1 & 94.9. that major wars are currently taking place. . Yea i need some HENNESSY PRIVILEGE XO after all this talk about White Privilege.

  25. This article is good start, but it virtually leaves out class and the corporate power that dominates popular culture. The major force presenting the images we see and the thoughts we think is concentrated corporate power. It shapes how we see race and gender and sexuality and everything else. It is also the main reason gangsta rap dominated the mainstream for so long. At first the major players in the industry wouldn’t touch it. As soon as they smelled money – and true to the myopic thinking that dominates big business – they embraced it and didn’t want to hear anything else. They decided that was what sold – so don’t come to us with conscious hip hop right now or anything else. Of course I’m generalizing to make a point. There have been and always will be exceptions, but big business will sell whatever it can. It will also appropriate whatever it can in order to sell it – whether it be gangsta rap or revolution.

    The process of appropriation and commodification (and fetishization for that matter) by corporate power weakens whatever creativity or authenticity originally existed. This has been going on as long as we’ve had mass culture in america, but corporations are so powerful now they can mass produce superstars. A perfect example is Brittany Spears. She couldn’t sing or dance, but they made her world famous. And that is why so many of these people have breakdowns. Not only do they have to do the bidding of their “creators” but they have to live within that image and have to find authenticity and Self while the entire media world tries to define them.

    Well, I digress, but it is connected to the larger point. With a corporate creation like Cyrus, we are just witnessing a corporate product essentially created in a lab or rolled off an assembly line (Disney) used to sell other products. I’m not dismissing the arguments made in the article, but I think the major motivation for her “machine” is to transition her from child star to adult – so they can keep selling her. It is the most crude motivation. The other trick of the trade is to use sex to sell. Nothing new, as we all know. The third trick is to find something perceived as hip and new to exploit; thus, twerking. They get the added bonus of it being sexy. This is a society that created blackface. Appropriation is a way of life to these people/corporations. Of course, this kind of exploitation is also tied in with Cyrus herself, because she wants to stay relevant and keep working and showing and using your sexuality, experimenting with it, etc, is something many people go through as they form their personality, their sense of self. It is easy to see how twisted and convoluted it gets in the tentacles of the many-headed corporate beast.

    Wasn’t Justin Timberlake a Disney kid as well? ‘Nuff said. Macklemore gained entry to a greater marketing machine because he does not scare the dominant corporate power structure and checks many of those boxes on their list of acceptable products to sell – yes white is one of them, but it is difficult to say that is the only reason. Again, “the business” loves to find products to exploit and sell. When they see someone has natural mass appeal (like getting millions of hits on their self-produced video) they smell blood in the water. Again, it is as crude as it gets. Yes, he has some talent but if he was writing songs about fighting corporate power and corrupt politicians, about how coke and oil companies murder labor leaders, how much traction would he get? What if the corporations decided that was what sold? Would we be hearing, “fuck corporate power” out of every radio and tv? I think it’s an important question to ask at this particular moment. It’s not a straightforward answer. I remember at the height of OWS, a commercial on tv was in heavy circulation (i think it was a jeans commercial, not sure) depicting (with great, expensive production values) young, sexy kids in revolt burning a city. From the protests of the 60’s to OWS, corporate media will go out of its way to co-opt, demean and devalue the spirit of revolt. I believe corporations are more than willing to present any counter-culture images if they don’t feel like they are under any actual threat.

    We also have to remember where most of these images are produced and where much of this “public discussion” happens. From op-eds to internet sites, from youtube to capital records, from disney to well, disney (they fucking own everything!), the medium is also the message. If that is too vague for you, here is something that I haven’t been able to get out of my head: I just heard two well-known independent rappers talking openly about the barriers they’ve encountered trying to “make it.” They can make money from live shows, but they are nowhere near secure. After a decade of talk about how the decline of labels and the rise of the internet is democratizing the music business, the two biggest points they made were that blowing up on youtube (google) was a money maker because google could “monetize” it (more corporate speak invading the culture) and that they would both sell their music to a commercial if they had the chance. There was a brief discussion of whether that was still considered a bad thing, but it was quickly dismissed. I’m not judging the rappers, but it was a big indication to me of how corporations continue to dominate almost every aspect of our lives.

    I am glad that because of the revolutions of the 60’s we are able to have intelligent discussions about race. I’m not denigrating the analysis put forward in the article at all, but every analysis has to take class and corporate power into account. M.L.K jr. did it, Malcom completely understood it by the end of his life. At this point in our history, we have all become essentially enslaved to corporate masters and it is getting worse. Identity politics are important, but they need to incorporate a class and power analysis that reveals who makes these decisions and why. And to be even more explicit, we need to be challenging corporate power all the time in as many ways as possible, before we are all back on the plantation – because everything will be owned by corporations. This time the masters are the corporate one percent (or ten, I won’t haggle over numbers) and the rest of us are just debt slaves, working harder than ever for less, buying everything at the company store.


    • Thank you!
      There is a reason identity politics dominate our culture.. because the ruling class put them there. Unity between various social movements at the end of the 60s scared the sht out of them, so they spent millions of dollars transforming higher education into a model that served them: diversity.
      When everyone thinks of themselves in terms of race, ethnicity, gender, sex, etc. then they become a bunch of easily controlled groups, who are unable to unite and focus on their common oppressors.

      “The ruling elite are experts at manipulating their own interests; they know how to divide and conquer, which is why they continue to rule. As inequality becomes increasingly obvious, those who are less equal begin to see society in terms of “us” and “them.” The dominant culture shades this definition by using the mass media to emphasize our differences at every opportunity. Conventional wisdom becomes articulated within narrow parameters, which is another way of saying that the questions offered for public debate are rigged.
      The objective is to define “us” and “them” in ways that do not threaten the established order. Today everyone can see that there is more Balkanization on campus, and more racism in society, than there was when affirmative action began over twenty years ago. And for twenty years now one can hardly get through the day without being reminded that race is something that matters, from TV sitcoms all the way down to common application forms (it would have been unthinkable to ask about one’s race on an application form in the 1960s). We are not fighting the system anymore, we’re fighting each other.”

  26. This post took a decent argument to an extreme. We shouldn’t label sounds and music as black or white — that is a form of racism. Can Justin Timberlake not sing in his own style without being criticized for trying to harm black culture? While I do not approve of Miley’s actions because of their overt sexuality, can she not dress the way she chooses or be herself all because someone is offended that her actions might appear “black”?

    It’s time to wake up. White supremacy is almost non-existent. People are constantly slammed for being racist because others are so ready to take things the wrong way. There are now programs, scholarships, and opportunities available that specifically exclude white people — tell me this isn’t racism. Claiming that white supremacy is still a major problem in our culture is just an excuse for excessive whining. Yes, it used to be a horrible problem, but now it has turned into little more than a pity-party for people who feel life is “unfair” to them.

    • You should take that argument up with the authors of the piece who feel like white supremacy is a still amajor problem.. They deal with it all the time..Both authors are white and big fans of Macklemore..

  27. You know, personally, I thought Miley was taking flack for acting like a slut, not for acting like she was black. But, you know, sure, let’s conflate the two, shall we? Let’s make this a race issue, at the cost of linking promiscuity to blackness and establishing a negative stereotype.

    As for Macklemore… there’s a combination of things you need to make it in the music industry. You need talent, you need hard work, you need good marketing/branding, and you need luck. He’s got all of that, and his music videos and other promotion work gave people a chance to hear something new and different. Let’s face it, most hip-hop/rap lyrics are inane and the subject matter is fairly monotonous. Macklemore was different, he was good, he was in the right place at the right time, and he was smart. Or, you know, it’s just because he’s white. Nope, no merit there.

    Look, all music is derivative. Every artist bases their work on those who came before them, and I’ve never heard of an artist in any genre who doesn’t talk about their influences with respect. Just off the top of my head, Macklemore specifically mentions guys like Ice T and Wu Tang in his songs. In light of that, the suggestion that he ought to “honor and pay respect to the people and cultures who originated the art form” is odd, and really borders on whining that the African-American community should somehow get credit for his success.

    In summary, this post is obnoxious. Sometimes white people win at the VMAs, sometimes black people do. Whatever.

  28. “Let’s not allow what happened to jazz and rock n roll happen to hip-hop and R n’ B”

    For any actual music fan, people respect the roots (white or black or Asian {are there any Asian blues musicains???}) I think you preach to the choir, and the people you want to reach, are the people who will never listen.

    Keep on, keeping on. The conversation has begun and that is a start.

  29. remember this?
    famous moment of a black “artist” APPROPRIATING white culture? but thats hiphop, you know, steal bits of white songs and talk over em, make millions of dollars. boom.
    this example especially bad because look – Puff Daddy (who can NOT dance btw) using a white person as a prop!! i guess he thinks Sting gives him some “credibiltiy”.

    so sick of this. why can’t white people and black people stay separate, as they were meant to!

    segregation now!

  30. Brothawolf's Nightmare says:

    In 2005, the New Century Foundation’s “Color of Crime” report found that “Blacks commit more violent crime against whites than against blacks. Forty-five percent of their victims are white, 43 percent are black, and 10 percent are Hispanic. When whites commit violent crime, only three percent of their victims are black.” Also in 2005, the Department of Justice reported that one-third of rapes committed against white women (approximately 37,000) were perpetrated by blacks, while less than ten — statistically zero — rapes of black women were committed by whites.

  31. Cornelius Q. Meriwether says:

    I don’t see what the big deal is…who needs the Grammys, Video Music Awards, or MTV to validate their artistic integrity or worth anyway? We are told what to listen to by giant corporations such as Clearwater broadcasting, Sony Records, and other giant media corporations. MTV is no longer about music, it’s about promoting a mindless, shallow, materialistic culture and it has no longer any artistic credibility. So the fact that many of these artists go unrecognized by an organization that has no artistic credibility is not a slight to their worth by any means.

    • hannibal abdullah -el says:

      gene dexter is so full of it! what he said has truth to it, however after having lived in the NW Seattle, Wa to be specific I have noticed the gatekeepers only support the white and asian artists and do everything within there power to oppress african american artists. Peace Hannibal Abdullah-El


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