Social Justice and Macklemore Essay

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No Justice, No Peace

In Z-Ro’s “No Justice No Peace,” the hip hop artist states, “No justice, no peace

It's us against police. Every time I turn around they shoot another brother down.” The argument made by the artist is that police brutality and oppression is marginalizing African-Americans and making them fearful of the law—which to them represents white rule, white power, and white aggression. The artist, like all hip hop artists, is coming from a traditional of criticism against Jim Crow: his descendents are men like Malcolm X and MLK, Jr., Ice Cube, and Tupac Shakur. Z-Ro’s words echo with all the history of those stories and more rolled into a monumental protest anthem. It is an anthem that many can understand. However, there is also a racial component to it that disqualified anyone who is not African-American from identifying with the song. For instance, others who are white and who may be sympathetic to the message and might seek to support Z-Ro and the Black Lives Matter movement have to consider their own race and privilege, as Macklemore and Ryan Lewis do in their hip hop confessional “White Privilege II.” In that song, the white artists state, “It seems like we're more concerned with being called racist / Than we actually are with racism.” Each text defines justice in terms of social justice and therefore the theory of social justice is the one that best explains each. Yet when one considers the texts from the standpoint of Rawls’ theory of distributive (social) justice, one sees a problem: the problem is that the “separate but equal” clause of Plessy v. Ferguson (1896) is still essentially in effect in America, and therefore there can be no social justice. The African American population can lament—but whites who have a guilt complex about appropriating the culture of blacks (as Macklemore does in White Privilege II) do a disservice to the issue by feeling that they must respect the lament and not be engaged in the problem.

The Z-Ro song states upfront that the problem is a racist system and that African-Americans have no choice but to fight back, arm themselves and resist the oppressive system. Macklemore states in his song that he wants to march with the African-Americans but because he is white he has a guilty conscience about his privilege. While the Z-Ro song is perfectly understandable and sympathetic (after all, men like Malcolm X made the same point and actually stood up to racism and the law to make a difference), the Macklemore song is more troublesome. Z-Ro is rapping for his own population but also for anyone—because the song is cultural at root; it goes out to the world.
Macklemore is rapping for himself: the song is introverted and self-reflexive. Macklemore is looking inward instead of outward because he feels “awkward” about being white like the police against whom his African-American friends are protesting and marching. Macklemore’s song is not sympathetic: it bespeaks of the confusion that political correctness places on the issues. Instead of feeling confident about going out and marching and supporting his friends and the community he loves and respects, he feels like he should shame himself for his privilege.…

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…are celebrated in the hip hop world but Z-Ro is African-American while Macklemore and Ryan Lewis are white. Z-Ro’s song is about standing up to racism and oppression from the police and he sings it from a personal point of view by the song is an anthem and a rally cry for others to stand up and join in with him—i.e., there will be no peace in society until there is justice. Macklemore begins his song by singing about how he wants to join in with his African-American friends but as soon as gets there he feels awkward because he is white and comes from what he feels is a different environment and culture. He is looking at the issue through the lens of white privilege and thus is confused. His song is basically about struggling with his own political correctness and wanting to be there for his friends and fight the good fight but also about how he feels he cannot because he has not really lived their lives or shared in their oppression.

What Macklemore realizes by the end of his song is that it does not matter: he loves his friends and the hip hop community and culture and so that is what he wants to represent. He is not going to allow his race or his “privilege” to keep him sidelined. This is basically his stance and it echoes the stance that Z-Ro makes at the end of his song. Both are going to fight and both will be united in the war against oppression. Their songs can thus be understood as cultural artifacts—as symbols….....

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Works Cited

Alridge, Derrick P. \"From civil rights to hip hop: Toward a nexus of ideas.\" The Journal of African American History 90.3 (2005): 226-252.

Andrews, Edna. \"Cultural sensitivity and political correctness: The linguistic problem of naming.\" American Speech 71.4 (1996): 389-404.

Holbrook, Morris B. \"The three faces of elitism: Postmodernism, political correctness, and popular culture.\" Journal of Macromarketing 15.2 (1995): 128-165.

Macklemore and Ryan Lewis. “White Privilege II.” https://genius.com/Macklemore-and-ryan-lewis-white-privilege-ii-lyrics
Rawls, J. A theory of justice. Cambridge, MA: Belknap, 1971.

Z-Ro. “No Justice No Peace.” https://genius.com/Z-ro-no-justice-no-peace-lyrics

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