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Lee: A lesson from Macklemore

BY ASHLEY LEE | DECEMBER 04, 2013 5:00 AM

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Instead of using his acceptance speech at the American Music Awards last month to talk solely about his journey as a musician, Macklemore allotted 60 seconds to speak out against racial profiling.

“Due to the fact that we are in Florida tonight accepting this award, I want to acknowledge Trayvon Martin and the hundreds and hundreds of kids each year that are dying due to racial profiling and the violence that follows it,” he said.

“This is really happening. These are our friends, our neighbors, our peers and our fans, and it’s time that we look out for the youth and fight against racism and the laws that protect it.”

He was preaching to the choir — I heard a thunder of applause from the audience.

It’s an unfortunate truth in our society that white people are granted more credibility in their opinions about social issues compared with minorities. When a white person admits there is a race problem, people are more likely to listen because the speaker is a member of the dominant group.

At the award ceremonies, Macklemore was referring to what many white people are either ignorant of or refuse to see — that racial profiling is a problem, and racism is rampant in our society. He used his privilege as both a white person and a male to educate mainstream America on the seriousness of systemic racism.

More often than not, when black people talk about racism,  white people accuse them of pulling the “race card.” People of color and those on the political left are accused of “inserting race” in a given situation in order to win some sort of game.

President Obama was shunned by conservatives for “inserting race” in his reaction to both the aftermath of the Trayvon Martin tragedy and the Zimmerman verdict. I’ve been ostracized for talking about the negative perceptions of black males as my white peers told me the case had nothing to do with race.

What makes some people think minorities are trying to gain the upper hand in pointing out racism? It baffles me that some think we are so shallow and desperate for attention, we must find joy in “inserting race.”

Here’s the thing: Race underlies every social interaction, personal bias, operation, and experience. CNN host Touré says it best, “Race is like the weather — we only talk about it when it’s extreme, but it’s always there.” 

White people tend to not pay attention to race, nor do they regularly think about its consequences because they have the privilege of not having to. They don’t have to know what life is like for a minority. If you are a white person, you have the option to choose when you wish to ”see” race because whiteness is the norm. 

Therefore, it makes sense people of color will be more aware of racism and its manifestations as both an ideology and institution. Because many whites choose to ignore race and disregard inequalities rooted in color, it’s assumed there is no race problem that minorities are delusional, and thus, incapable of knowing what is admittedly racist and offensive. 

If any group knows about racism, it’s people of color. Whites aren’t slighted in a world that relies on Western, white, and European perspectives. They sure aren’t disenfranchised, and they sure aren’t subject to policies and institutional injustices assumed to be fair and just. They are not marginalized within a historic power structure validating whiteness in the United States and abroad due to European colonization and slavery based on a racial hierarchy.

Members of the privileged racial group should have no say in determining if something harming people of color is legitimate or “real” racism. 

It’s unfortunate that a white person’s voice is the most often heard when identifying racism as a pressing issue, but this is the country in which we live.


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