Over the Labor Day weekend I went to Made in America in Philadelphia. Maybe I am a bit behind the times since I haven’t listened to Macklemore’s independent debut The Heist yet, but when I was watching him perform “Irish Celebration” I was uber uncomfortable yet perplexed at the same time…and for a number of reasons.
Part of this discomfort stems from the fact that it is statistically improbable that all whites in the audience were of Irish descent. Acknowledging this, and watching the fervor of the fans, it was quite intriguing. The way the music appeared to resonate with the audience reminded me of what a KKK rally must have been like. The Celebrating being “Irish” seemed to be a substitute for being proud of being white, as the crowd energetically rallied around this little-known song from before Macklemore became mainstream.
Since the dawn of black music (and culture, in general) there has been claims of appropriation by whites. In recent years, artists such as Kreayshawn, Justin Bieber, and Miley Cyrus have been extremist appropriator extraordinaires. And perhaps the use of rap as the musical medium to create this ode to whiteness exhibits appropriation at its finest. The use of rap to create what seems like a united white anthem feels like the ultimate display of privilege which, ironically enough, Macklemore has acknowledged that he possesses as a white rap artist.
I do not take a position that whites should not partake in “black culture,” as I tend to problematize the concept of black culture in and of itself. I acknowledge the inclusive yet exclusive nature of rap and its internal struggle with white artists. Ironically enough, the main site that “interprets” rap lyrics to the world is the super-appropriating RapGenius.com. However, watching that performance – not just of Irish Celebration, but his entire set – I wondered whether I was the only person of color who felt this discomfort. But judging from the lack of people of color in the audience at that particular performance, they may not have felt it simply because they weren’t there.
by Portia Allen-Kyle