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“White Privilege II” by Macklemore & Ryan Lewis, featuring Jamila Woods

Jamila Woods, Ryan Lewis and Macklemore (Photo by Cindy Ord/Getty Images)

White Privilege IIis a nine-minute hip-hop hit from six years ago that’s part agit-prop, part thought-poem, and part audio-doc by white hip-hop duo Macklemore & Ryan Lewis, featuring featured black Chicago singer Jamila Woods.

I have this song on my Pandemic playlist because it’s an uncomfortable piece of music. It questions not only the obscenity of white privilege, but the very existence of the song itself and its white duo performing it. It is, for them, a deep dive into the theft of black culture and the white relationship to Black Lives Matter.

This is a rare attempt at white humility and a willingness to spark a much-needed discussion. Not a discussion of fake liberal guilt or white crocodile tears in a frothy latte, but a discussion of acknowledging and acknowledging the real day-to-day white supremacy that runs this country, the kind you (the whites) and I (the white) share many advantages. The kind of things we don’t even notice, but are self-aware enough to appreciate how society’s order makes our lives (those of us with over $500 or $5,000 to our name), well, a little carefree.

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A year before the film festivals ended, I found myself on my way to the Toronto Film Festival and sitting in the Air Canada propeller plane next to the great Chris Rock. He told me how some movie producers approached him to make a movie about cops shooting unarmed black citizens and other abuses against black people in this country.

“And,” Chris reported to me, “to each of them I said, ‘Why are you asking me make this kind of film? It is not us who commit abuse and racism. Get a white director to show we why is white america doing this for we. This is the movie I want to see.

“Of course, this movie won’t get made.”

He stopped for a moment.

“Unless you, Michael Moore, can! You’d be crazy enough to do it. In fact, that’s what I told one of the studios. ‘Ask Michael Moore to make this movie. He will tell us why white power is what makes life hell for the rest of us.

He assured me that he was not just throwing another burden on my shoulders. “You are the only (white) filmmaker who already does this. White supremacy, racism, white crazies – those scenes are in every one of your movies. You are not afraid to upset the power structure. You are making this movie.

I think Chris’ main point (apart from his personal orders to me) was that there needs to be a big movement among white people to pursue and disrupt the infrastructure that is being built and maintained by all of us white people for the benefit of all of us white people. WE are the problem and we have to solve it. Yes, I know, nearly 60% of us voted for Trump—twice!

So for the nearly 40% of us who didn’t vote for Trump, how about spending Black History Month ditching our liberal platitudes and half-quotes MLK. Instead, let’s spend the month (and the rest of the year) ending white privilege by changing the rules, traditions, and laws, and truly committing to living in a different and better world. Radical empathy is necessary for us to be real agents of change. Less talking about wishing Obama back and more action by each of us to integrate each of our neighborhoods, make all the schools in our neighborhoods equally brilliant, make a real living wage the law in all of our cities and states, and each of us demanding that those who participate in all-white coups receive the restraints necessary to protect the rest of us.

Listen “White Privilege II.” Every time I hear this piece by Macklemore, Lewis and Woods, I hear something new. That’s what good art does. Don’t judge his white thinking, just listen. Then, if you’re white, make a list of what you can do – not for Black people, but what you can do with yourself and where you live, work or go to school. Come on, we all quietly know how the game is rigged, we know where the keys are kept, we know where the not-so-invisible “Whites Only” signs are placed. We also know where the money is, who has it, where it’s hidden, and — wait! — why the average White worker now has less and less and less and less. Exactly. You know what’s going on here. And black Americans know you know.

So the only way to stop this is with your brothers and sisters of color. The 40% of progressive white voters, as well as the 35% or more of the electorate who are black, Hispanic, Arab and/or Muslim, indigenous or Asian. When white billionaires and white bankers, white CEOs and supremacists see us sticking together and sharing a table and polling place together – well, pay attention.

(Photo: Matt Dunham, Associated Press)

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