In 1847, Dorothea Dix changed the way care was provided for people with mental illness in the US by providing a report about the abominable ways in which care was being provided throughout MA. That report was presented by Samuel Gridley Howe. Because women were not allowed to address the legislature. Never mind the people who were featured in the report, who were largely chained to walls and locked in closets.
So, even though the people bringing the attention to the issue weren’t those the directly affected, should we say no to awareness and discussion? Is Mackelmore perfect? no. Is there a huge discussion about the place of homophobia inequality in hip hop and US culture? Kind of. Is there a lot of counterproductive rage about privilege, race, and appropriation? yes.
The discussion about Mackelmore being the new colonial face of hip hop gentrification is a red herring. Because the real issue is a music industry that ignores queer artists, a genre that villifies queer artists, and that even the progressive members of the (edge of) mainstream hip hop won’t touch allyship and equality (I’m talking the Kid Cudis, Childish Gambinos, and Lupe Fiascos of the industry). Even Frank Ocean, one of the only mainstream, out, queer people in traditionally black music spaces doesn’t spend a whole lot of time talking about equality issues for the queer community.
Even more is that we put all this weight on the opinion of an archaic, white institution that takes the time to reward the most marketable artists over the most talented. This is the same institution that gave the inaugural Best Heavy Metal Album to Led Zepplin over Metallica.
That is how Mackelmore took best rap album over Kendrick Lamar–marketability. I’m not saying that The Heist is not a solid album. I love it and the anti-consumerist message. The beats are good, production is solid, and the feat.s are amazing. And I think it is important to remember that Mackelmore is an unsigned artist as part of this discussion about privilege, because that is where it really is. I think being white and hipstery had much more to do with the initial success of the album (and the viral appeal of Thrift Shop) which led to the pervasiveness of Same Love and Mackelmore as the face of Equality and progressiveness in hip hop.
So, should Mackelmore have taken that category at the Grammys? Probably not. Should Madonna have had any part of that stage performance? No. Am I still going to spend an equal amount of time shaking my ass to Wut, Thrift Shop, and Juicy? Definitely.
The big question: Do we spit in the face of visibility and attention because the spotlight is reflecting off of a white, straight dude, or do we take the opportunity to bring attention to the issues of queer visibility in hip hop (specifically) and pop culture (generally) because the ally isn’t perfect?