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9 lyrics from Macklemore's new song about race in America will make you think.

What if we went into these lyrics with a totally open mind?

9 lyrics from Macklemore's new song about race in America will make you think.

A few weeks ago, rapper Macklemore released a song called "White Privilege II." I was ... intrigued.

As a white person who loves hip-hop and also tries to be really in touch with conversations around race, diversity, and privilege, I was excited to see what the reaction to such a bold song would be. And I wasn’t disappointed.

There was a lot of ... reacting. And talking. And thinking. And that’s a good thing!


Some loved the song (a song by a white artist about an important topic that that was accompanied by a website stating that he, his collaborator Ryan Lewis, and their company are committed to supporting black-led organizing and anti-racist education). Others hated it for very very good reasons, most having to do with the fact that a white guy was being heralded for saying "groundbreaking" things even though people of color have been saying the same thing since forever.

Image via Frederick M. Brown/Getty Images.

Needless to say, as with most conversations around race — particularly in such a crazy moment in American history — the song was quite controversial. So why did Macklemore do it?

He told Rolling Stone:

"It's easier, as a white person, to be silent about racial injustice. It's easier. On paper. But it's not easier on the whole, because injustice affects all of us, whether we know it or not, whether we acknowledge it or not. "

Makes sense, right?

But now that the really important debate about the fact that he did the song at all has cooled off, I found myself sad that some of the really important ideas in the lyrics may have gotten lost in the sauce.

Regardless of what you think about Macklemore as an artist, or how wary you were to even listen to the song, here are nine times in the lyrics when T-R-U-T-H got served. Because truth is a good thing.

(You can listen to it as you read if you like!)

1. Awkwardness is totally normal if you're white and protesting alongside Black Lives Matter activists and other black liberation movements.

"Pulled into the parking lot, parked it
Zipped up my parka, joined the procession of marchers
In my head like, 'Is this awkward? Should I even be here marching?'"

Why is this so important to note? Well, Ben (Macklemore's actual name) is a seasoned activist.

But even for him there's still some discomfort, some second-guessing, some "am I doing this right?"-ness about taking his place as an ally and supporting the movements that he believes are important and are led by non-white people. And that's OK. Awkwardness is where life happens. (Says me. Lori.)

Awkward pioneer-hat-Batman-PJs moments? GIFs via Macklemore and Ryan Lewis.

The more you talk about it, the more prone others are to say: "Oh, OK. Just because I feel awkward, that doesn't mean I should stop!" There are a lot of different ways to positively affect the cause. Maybe marching is your thing. Maybe it isn't. But in any case, acknowledging that discomfort is normal is a good reminder to us folks who want to show up for the people and movements we care about.

2. It's time for white people to acknowledge cultural appropriation.

"You've exploited and stolen the music, the moment
The magic, the passion, the fashion, you toy with

The culture was never yours to make better."

The term cultural appropriation is everywhere these days. Every time you turn around, someone is being accused of it and people of color are having to explain what exactly it is. But Macklemore — even as he grapples with what it means to be a popular white rapper, gaining success in a genre created by black and brown people — makes the point that ... guess what? It may be complicated, it may make some of us have to own things that we've done wrong, but as white people, we need to acknowledge it.

Jezebel interviewed Jamila Woods, a collaborator on "White Privilege II," about the idea of addressing cultural appropriation. She said, "I thought it was interesting to think of that sort of intersectionality of a white artist in hip-hop, and cultural appropriation, and how white people can be involved in black liberation struggles."

(In case you are confused about the phrase, here's the Cliffs Notes: No one's culture is a costume. So if you're wearing, using, or exploiting a culture as a performance or a "trend" ... reflect! You might be appropriating that culture — and that's not cool.)

Take a bite out of cultural appropriation.

3. You can't really "fix" anything if the whole system is broken.

"It's all stolen, anyway, can't you see that now?
There's no way for you to even that out."

Truth moment: No one has all the answers. Ending racism is really complicated because the entire system that we live in has been based on values and events that make it hard for everyone to be treated equally. So let's just admit that, shall we?

As Macklemore told Rolling Stone, "I can continue to be safe, and to rest in my privilege, and to not speak up, and the system perpetuates itself — or I can try to engage in the conversation, knowing that I don't have all the answers, knowing that I have so much to learn."

Photo by Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images.

And personally, chipping away at a system that's broken is exactly what makes me feel like I'm helping. So even if it's clear I don't know how to fully fix the system that's hurting people, it's nice to do my part to disrupt it and stop the hurt any way I can.

4. A lot of us are blind to the experience of our fellow Americans.

Photo via Mat Hayward/Getty Images.

The song also features these real quotes from real people:

"So, they feel that the police are discriminating against the ... the black people? — I have an advantage? Why? Cause I'm white? (laughs) What? (laughs) No. — See, more people nowadays are just pussies. Like, this is the generation to be offended by everything. — 'Black Lives Matter' thing is a reason to take arms up over perceived slights. — I'm not prejudiced, I just ... 99% of the time, across this country, the police are doing their job properly."

For those of us who are aware of the realities of racism in America, those quotes are pretty astonishing. But there's no question about it — a lot of people truly aren't. And these attitudes are a huge problem all over the country. It's even a problem in Macklemore's own fan base.

Think. Then speak. Then think. Then mostly listen. Then when you think you should speak, listen some more.

5. Not taking action is also an action.

"I've heard that silences are action
And God knows that I've been passive."

One of Macklemore's peers called him one night after Darren Wilson, the officer who shot Michael Brown, wasn't indicted.

Macklemore said the person told him, "You have a platform, but silence is an action, and right now, you're being silent. You're not saying anything about what's going on, and because you're a white rapper you have perspective and an insight onto these issues that you need to be speaking about. It's very important that you engage your audience."

Whew. Talk about some hard truth! Doing nothing is actually doing something. It's important for all the kind, compassionate, genuinely good-hearted people who are sitting on the sidelines not fighting racism because they simply aren't sure what to do to know that fact. You are doing something. The question is, are you doing the something that can make the world better?

Was it Oscar who phoned Ben? We may never know. GIF via "Sesame Street."

6. There are huge advantages to being white in America. It won't kill us to acknowledge that! Really. We should try it.

"I can book a whole tour, sell out the tickets

Rap entrepreneur, built his own business

If I'm only in this for my own self-interest, not the culture that gave me a voice to begin with

Then this isn't authentic, it is just a gimmick

The DIY underdog, so independent

But the one thing the American dream fails to mention

Is I was many steps ahead to begin with."

Once again, Macklemore got really personal here, acknowledging how his own career had benefitted from his race. He's not the first "rap entrepreneur" (hello, Jay Z) — but he's celebrated for it and rewarded for it. This sort of unbalanced praise and support for people with the same level of achievement and ability but different skin colors (tbh, NO ONE can touch Hova, but bear with me) — it doesn't just happen in rap or just in hip-hop or just in music. It happens to people of color every day, in every scenario, and he's leading by example here to show that the first baby step to stopping injustice is to acknowledge it.


White privilege puts some people a few steps ahead. It's a thing that happens.

7. Celebrating black culture doesn't end racism. It's simply not enough.

"We want to dress like, walk like, talk like, dance like, yet we just stand by;
We take all we want from black culture, but will we show up for black lives?"

Our culture loves to celebrate black identity, music, and dance, but it falls silent when things get real. A recent poll found that over half of white Americans saw Black Lives Matter as "a distraction from the real issues." Um ... no.


Don't get it twisted.

8. There's a reason it's Black Lives Matter, not All Lives Matter.

A lot of people still don't really understand what Black Lives Matter is all about. And it's usually those people who insist that "all lives matter."

Macklemore tries to explain with a great metaphor:

"Black Lives Matter, to use an analogy, is like if ... if there was a subdivision and a house was on fire. The fire department wouldn't show up and start putting water on all the houses because all houses matter. They would show up and they would turn their water on the house that was burning because that's the house that needs the help the most."

Photo via Frederick M. Brown/Getty Images.

9. A more just society requires risk.

"I think one of the critical questions for white people in this society is 'What are you willing to risk? What are you willing to sacrifice to create a more just society?'"

I love this. Because at the end of the day, this song is a challenge. Even in his imperfection as an artist, even with all of the controversy that the song has sparked, the goal is really to ask people this simple question: What would you risk?

Maybe it's risking feeling awkward at a protest. Maybe the risk is something like supporting affirmative action. Maybe the risk is just getting to know someone from a different background than you. If you haven't risked anything, personally or publicly, odds are that you're not doing all you can to actually make equality and justice a reality. So ... maybe it's time to start?

Breaking down walls IRL is much harder.

Look, Macklemore's song isn't going to solve racism. Songs can't do that. People barely can!


Congratulate me! I'm using my platform! — Macklemore ... maybe?

But the song does absolutely have a lot to teach us. And it's as good of a place as any to start learning how to do better and be better.

Photo by NeONBRAND on Unsplash

I'll never forget the exhilaration I felt as I headed into the city on July 3, 2018. My pink hair was styled. I wore it up in a high ponytail, though I left two tendrils down. Two tendrils which framed my face. My makeup was done. I wore shadow on my eyes and blush on my cheeks, blush which gave me color. Which brought my pale complexion to life. And my confidence grew each time my heels clacked against the concrete.

My confidence grew with each and every step.

Why? Because I was a strong woman. A city woman. A woman headed to interview for her dream job.

I nailed the interview. Before I boarded the bus back home, I had an offer letter in my inbox. I was a news writer, with a salary and benefits, but a strange thing happened 13 months later. I quit said job in an instant. On a whim. I walked down Fifth Avenue and never looked back. And while there were a few reasons why I quit that warm, summer day: I was a new(ish) mom. A second-time mom, and I missed my children. Spending an hour with them each day just wasn't enough. My daughter was struggling in school. She needed oversight. Guidance. She needed my help. And my commute was rough. I couldn't cover the exorbitant cost of childcare. The real reason I quit was because my mental health was failing.


Keep Reading Show less
Photo by NeONBRAND on Unsplash

I'll never forget the exhilaration I felt as I headed into the city on July 3, 2018. My pink hair was styled. I wore it up in a high ponytail, though I left two tendrils down. Two tendrils which framed my face. My makeup was done. I wore shadow on my eyes and blush on my cheeks, blush which gave me color. Which brought my pale complexion to life. And my confidence grew each time my heels clacked against the concrete.

My confidence grew with each and every step.

Why? Because I was a strong woman. A city woman. A woman headed to interview for her dream job.

I nailed the interview. Before I boarded the bus back home, I had an offer letter in my inbox. I was a news writer, with a salary and benefits, but a strange thing happened 13 months later. I quit said job in an instant. On a whim. I walked down Fifth Avenue and never looked back. And while there were a few reasons why I quit that warm, summer day: I was a new(ish) mom. A second-time mom, and I missed my children. Spending an hour with them each day just wasn't enough. My daughter was struggling in school. She needed oversight. Guidance. She needed my help. And my commute was rough. I couldn't cover the exorbitant cost of childcare. The real reason I quit was because my mental health was failing.


Keep Reading Show less
True

Each year, an estimated 1.8 million people in the United States are affected by cancer — most commonly cancers of the breast, lung, prostate, and blood cancers such as leukemia. While not everyone overcomes the disease, thanks to science, more people are surviving — and for longer — than ever before in history.

We asked three people whose lives have been impacted by cancer to share their stories – how their lives were changed by the disease, and how they're using that experience to change the future of cancer treatments with the hope that ultimately, in the fight against cancer, science will win. Here's what they had to say.

Celine Ryan, 55, engineer database programmer and mother of five from Detroit, MI

Photo courtesy of Celine Ryan

In September 2013, Celine Ryan woke up from a colonoscopy to some traumatic news. Her gastroenterologist showed her a picture of the cancerous mass they found during the procedure.

Ryan and her husband, Patrick, had scheduled a colonoscopy after discovering some unusual bleeding, so the suspicion she could have cancer was already there. Neither of them, however, were quite prepared for the results to be positive -- or for the treatment to begin so soon. Just two days after learning the news, Ryan had surgery to remove the tumor, part of her bladder, and 17 cancerous lymph nodes. Chemotherapy and radiation soon followed.

Ryan's treatment was rigorous – but in December 2014, she got the devastating news that the cancer, once confined to her colon, had spread to her lungs. Her prognosis, they said, was likely terminal.

But rather than give up hope, Ryan sought support from online research, fellow cancer patients and survivors, and her medical team. When she brought up immunotherapy to her oncologist, he quickly agreed it was the best course of action. Ryan's cancer, like a majority of colon and pancreatic cancers, had been caused by a defect on the gene KRAS, which can result in a very aggressive cancer that is virtually "undruggable." According to the medical literature, the relatively smooth protein structure of the KRAS gene meant that designing inhibitors to bind to surface grooves and treat the cancer has been historically difficult. Through her support systems, Ryan discovered an experimental immunotherapy trial at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) in Bethesda, MD., and called them immediately to see if she was eligible. After months of trying to determine whether she was a suitable candidate for the experimental treatment, Ryan was finally accepted.

The treatment, known as tumor-infiltrating lymphocyte therapy, or TIL, is a testament to how far modern science has evolved. With this therapy, doctors remove a tumor and harvest special immune cells that are found naturally in the tumor. Doctors then grow the cells in a lab over the next several weeks with a protein that promotes rapid TIL growth – and once the cells number into the billions, they are infused back into the patient's body to fight the cancer. On April 1, 2015, Ryan had her tumor removed at the NIH. Two months later, she went inpatient for four weeks to have the team "wash out" her immune system with chemotherapy and infuse the cells – all 148 billion of them – back into her body.

Six weeks after the infusion, Ryan and Patrick went back for a follow-up appointment – and the news they got was stunning: Not only had no new tumors developed, but the six existing tumors in her lungs had shrunk significantly. Less than a year after her cell infusion, in April 2016, the doctors told Ryan news that would have been impossible just a decade earlier: Thanks to the cell infusion, Ryan was now considered NED – no evaluable disease. Her body was cancer-free.

Ryan is still NED today and continuing annual follow-up appointments at the NIH, experiencing things she never dreamed she'd be able to live to see, such as her children's high school and college graduations. She's also donating her blood and cells to the NIH to help them research other potential cancer treatments. "It was an honor to do so," Ryan said of her experience. "I'm just thrilled, and I hope my experience can help a lot more people."

Patrice Lee, PhD, VP of Pharmacology, Toxicology and Exploratory Development at Pfizer

Photo courtesy of Patrice Lee

Patrice Lee got into scientific research in an unconventional way – through the late ocean explorer Jacques Cousteau.

Lee never met Cousteau but her dreams of working with him one day led her to pursue a career in science. Initially, Lee completed an undergraduate degree in marine biology; eventually, her interests changed and she decided to get a dual doctoral degree in physiology and toxicology at Duke University. She now works at Pfizer's R&D site in Boulder, CO (formerly Array BioPharma), leading a group of scientists who determine the safety and efficacy of new oncology drugs.

"Scientists focused on drug discovery and development in the pharmaceutical industry are deeply committed to inventing new therapies to meet unmet needs," Lee says, describing her field of work. "We're driven to achieve new medicines and vaccines as quickly as possible without sacrificing safety."

Among the drugs Lee has helped develop during her career, including cancer therapies, she says around a dozen are currently in development, while nine have received FDA approval — an incredible accomplishment as many scientists spend their careers without seeing their drug make it to market. Lee's team is particularly interested in therapies for brain metastases — something that Lee says is a largely unmet need in cancer research, and something her team is working on from a variety of angles. "Now that we've had rapid success with mRNA vaccine technology, we hope to explore what the future holds when applying this technology to cancers," Lee says.

But while evaluating potential cancer therapies is a professional passion of Lee's, it's also a mission that's deeply personal. "I'm also a breast cancer survivor," she says. "So I've been on the other side of things and have participated in a clinical trial."

However, seeing how melanoma therapies that she helped develop have affected other real-life cancer patients, she says, has been a highlight of her career. "We had one therapy that was approved for patients with BRAF-mutant metastatic melanoma," Lee recalls. "Our team in Boulder was graced by a visit from a patient that had benefited from these drugs that we developed. It was a very special moment for the entire team."

None of these therapies would be available, Lee says without rigorous science behind it: "Facts come from good science. Facts will drive the development of new drugs, and that's what will help patients."

Chiuying "Cynthia" Kuk (they/them) MS, 34, third-year medical student at Michigan State University College of Human Medicine

Photo courtesy of Cynthia Kuk

Cynthia Kuk was just 10 years old when they had a conversation that would change their life forever.

"My mother, who worked as a translator for the government at the time, had been diagnosed with breast cancer, and after her chemotherapy treatments she would get really sick," Kuk, who uses they/them pronouns, recalls. "When I asked my dad why mom was puking so much, he said it was because of the medicine she was taking that would help her get better."

Kuk's response was immediate: "That's so stupid! Why would a medicine make you feel worse instead of better? When I'm older, I want to create medicine that won't make people sick like that."

Nine years later, Kuk traveled from their native Hong Kong to the United States to do exactly that. Kuk enrolled in a small, liberal arts college for their Bachelor's degree, and then four years later started a PhD program in cancer research. Although Kuk's mother was in remission from her cancer at the time, Kuk's goal was the same as it had been as a 10-year-old watching her suffer through chemotherapy: to design a better cancer treatment, and change the landscape of cancer research forever.

Since then, Kuk's mission has changed slightly.

"My mom's cancer relapsed in 2008, and she ended up passing away about five years after that," Kuk says. "After my mom died, I started having this sense of urgency. Cancer research is such that you work for twenty years, and at the end of it you might have a fancy medication that could help people, but I wanted to help people now." With their mother still at the forefront of their mind, Kuk decided to quit their PhD program and enter medical school.

Now, Kuk plans to pursue a career in emergency medicine – not only because they are drawn to the excitement of the emergency room, but because the ER is a place where the most marginalized people tend to seek care.

"I have a special interest in the LGBTQ+ population, as I identify as queer and nonbinary," says Kuk. "A lot of people in this community and other marginalized communities access care through the ER and also tend to avoid medical care since there is a history of mistreatment and judgement from healthcare workers. How you carry yourself as a doctor, your compassion, that can make a huge difference in someone's care."

In addition to making a difference in the lives of LGBTQ+ patients, Kuk wants to make a difference in the lives of patients with cancer as well, like their mother had.

"We've diagnosed patients in the Emergency Department with cancer before," Kuk says. "I can't make cancer good news but how you deliver bad news and the compassion you show could make a world of difference to that patient and their family."

During their training, Kuk advocates for patients by delivering compassionate and inclusive care, whether they happen to have cancer or not. In addition to emphasizing their patient's pronouns and chosen names, they ask for inclusive social and sexual histories as well as using gender neutral language. In doing this, they hope to make medicine as a whole more accessible for people who have been historically pushed aside.

"I'm just one person, and I can't force everyone to respect you, if you're marginalized," Kuk says. "But I do want to push for a culture where people appreciate others who are different from them."