I get my hair cut at a local barber shop. I’ll give you the short story – much like my short hair – as to why: the barber is a friend of my sister’s who does killer hair, and I don’t want to afford the inflated price of a women’s cut even though a man’s is a quarter cheaper and requires similar enough skill. Like I said, this is the short version.
The barbers are enjoyable to be around – they are always recounting stories, talking about their dogs, laughing it up, and taking great pride in their craft. I don’t know how each experiences it, but, to me, it feels like a friendly gathering in the shop. Not your typical Aveda salon experience.
The conversation turned to Macklemore the last time I was in for a cut. There was an analysis and comments about his craft, his rap ability, his skin color, his celebrity status, his being a local, and, of course, his song Same Love.
To be forthright, I do enjoy Macklemore, and I get teary-eyed every time I listen to Same Love and watch the video. I wouldn’t classify myself as a superfan, and I don’t think he gets a free pass just because he raps about social justice and white privilege. He is not the first (and certainly not the last) to rap about social issues and how backasswards this country is on many issues related to equality and equity. Here’s my analysis of this matter: I absolutely believe his being a white guy rapping about such issues means that he has the ear of more people across this country. It’s safer, for some, to believe the white guy who looks like you than the Black guy who you clearly don’t identify with, which subconsciously (or not) nullifies his voice and experiences. There’s a lot to unpack. And guess what: we, as a country, need white folks to talk to and educate other white folks (and folks who are more prone to listening to other white folks) about inequality and inequity. And we need those white folks doing the talking to point out to those who are listening that folks of color have been saying the same messages for generations. Separately and together, let us discover, unpack, and unlearn all that has been ingrained.
Now, everyone at the barber show fell on a different place on the love-apathetic-hate spectrum regarding Macklemore. There was one comment that day that really stuck out for me and, after ruminating on it for a month, was what compelled me to write this post. I cannot claim to have a verbatim memory of the statement, but it was something like this: “I just can’t take any song seriously that starts out with ‘In the 3rd grade I thought that I was gay….’ ” The other guys gave him a dismissive you’re-just-homophobic-and-that’s-why-you-hate-him remark. I spoke to my perspective about the meaning and significance of the song, irrespective of Macklemore himself and it being a rap song. Nothing seemed to budge this man’s position.
Since then, I’ve thought a lot about that moment. Save three or four white folks (including myself), everyone else (a solid majority) at the shop was a person of Color. Now and even at the time, it seemed like such an open door to tie the struggle for marriage equality with that of countless civil rights, social justice, and human rights movements. I remember so vividly a professor’s fundamental view – informed by many before him – that our liberation is tied to that of others’. How could I have better addressed this man’s comment in a non-threatening way that would not dismiss him?
As you likely noticed, my response quickly lifted to the 30K view — far too distant for a comment with a magnifying glass at sea-level view. So, let me take this opportunity to talk about those lyrics, the ones he specifically had a problem with. They first verse goes like this:
When I was in the third grade I thought that I was gay,
‘Cause I could draw, my uncle was, and I kept my room straight.
I told my mom, tears rushing down my face
She’s like “Ben you’ve loved girls since before pre-k, trippin’ “
Yeah, I guess she had a point, didn’t she?
Bunch of stereotypes all in my head.
I remember doing the math like, “Yeah, I’m good at little league”
A preconceived idea of what it all meant
For those that liked the same sex
Had the characteristics
The right wing conservatives think it’s a decision
And you can be cured with some treatment and religion
Man-made rewiring of a predisposition
Playing God, aw nah here we go
America the brave still fears what we don’t know
And God loves all his children, is somehow forgotten
But we paraphrase a book written thirty-five-hundred years ago
I don’t know (Source)
Those first few lyrics are about a little boy’s thought process, which led him to a fear-filled conclusion that he is gay. From my vantage, there are two important points of discussion: the boy’s (1) thought process and (2) his reaction.
(1) His thought process was based on ignorant tropes of what gay is and how it ‘happens’.
- ” ‘Cause I could draw” = Gay men are unequivocally artistic! Only gay men are artistic!
- “my uncle was” = You can catch gay-ness like the common cold! Not only is gay genetic, but you’re 100% likely to get it if you’re related to a gay man! [A note on this last statement: see The Paradox of Gay Genes article to start your reading and continued discussion and analysis re: genes and genetic expression.]
- “and I kept my room straight” = All gay men are very neat and tidy! Only gay men are neat and tidy.
Let’s say we just polled men that identify as either 100% gay or 100% straight across the country, or even just in Seattle. I assure you there would be enough men on either side of the coin, if you will, to disprove any one of those statements. This little boy was relying on ignorant, all-too-often unchallenged stereotypes of what is and is not ‘gay’.
(2) His reaction was filled with fear so strong that it brought him to tears. Perhaps it was because he feared what would be done to him, as a kid who is gay. Bullying, ostracism, suicide ideation, etc. — these are hard realities. Perhaps, and more probable, it was because he picked up on a strong view that gay plus male is not good, not welcome.
Those first few lines set a very strong tone and understanding of the ignorance and pervasive anti-gay messaging ingrained in our society, communities, hearts, and minds — especially for young children. Bigotry is a human-made condition.
This is the same bigotry that said Black and African Americans were three-fifths a white person.
This is the same bigotry that assumes a person with an accent or different dialect is stupid or in someway cognitively deficient.
This is the same bigotry that assumed women are incapable of making decisions about their own body, their minds, their vote.
This is the same bigotry that institutionalizes and (over)medicates entire populations of people because they do not fit a mold created by a for an even smaller population.
This is the same bigotry that still calls marijuana a gateway drug, thus perpetuating a criminal (in)justice system around its use and distribution in order to create an even cheaper, nearly invisible labor force to exploit.
This is the same bigotry that thinks reparations and an actual on-the-record National apology for the genocide of the true, first Americans is a joke.
All this bigotry ties together so neatly when you sit and think about it, take it in.
You may not like Macklemore, and you may not like rap music, or perhaps you just don’t like Macklemore’s rap music. But don’t turn your brain off to the context and purpose of those words, whether you like how they are packaged and delivered or not. Stay open, stay analytic, and make the link between your struggle and the struggle of others.
We have to change us
Whatever God you believe in
We come from the same one
Strip away the fear
Underneath it’s all the same love
About time that we raised up (Source)