Here’s What Happened When We Questioned Macklemore & Ryan Lewis About Their White Privilege

By Kat Lazo (Video Director/Editor). Sara Waber (Second Videographer). Akiba Solomon (Introduction) Jan 29, 2016

We can’t front. When people working with Macklemore & Ryan Lewis approached us a couple of weeks ago about hosting a group discussion with the duo and the artist-activists of color who co-created their chart-topping "White Privilege II," some of us were…skeptical.

We didn’t doubt the good intentions of Macklemore & Ryan Lewis, Seattle poet/singer/songwriter Hollis Wong-Wear, Chicago poet/singer Jamila Woods and Dustin Washington, a Seattle-based anti-racism trainer with the stellar People’s Institute for Survival and Beyond


But we feared that this discussion would be painfully polite, that it would amount to an artificial Kumbaya moment rather than real talk about White privilege, White supremacy, cultural appropriation and accountability. We asked ourselves questions like:

  • Do these folks recognize the irony of a White rap duo dropping a single about White privilege that is eight minutes and 42 seconds long and lacks a hook?
  • Are Macklemore & Ryan Lewis using people of color as a buffer from criticism?
  • Are Colorlines readers still pissed about The Grammy Debacle?
  • Will this millions-selling duo actually show up?
  • Do we need a cheese plate?


Well, Macklemore, Ryan Lewis and their aforementioned "White Privilege II" crew did come to our no-frills New York City office, on Monday night (January 25) right after the worst Northeast blizzard in 60 years. They were on time and there was zero drama—facts worth mentioning since pop stars can be quite difficult when they deal with outlets our size. We didn’t have a cheese plate, but the group still sat with the ever-steady Jay Smooth for well over an hour, giving thoughtful answers to his not-easy questions. The result is the video below. It was directed and edited by Kat Lazo. 


You’ll see some tension and a few awkward silences in this video, like the one that came after Jay asked Macklemore and Lewis what they’re going to do for the anti-racism movement besides making "White Privilege II." But this is what happens when people publicly wrestle with a painful and befuddling issue that most avoid or deny. 

We expect that some of our beloved readers are going to accuse us for caping for the nice White guys who stole Kendrick Lamar’s Grammy for "Good Kid m.A.A.d. City." Some may also minimize the work of Wong-Wear, Woods and Washington, powerful people in their own right. But this is what happens when victims of White supremacy constantly see White people getting a bunch of attention for merely saying that they are beneficiaries of the wicked system. 


All we ask is that you listen to all eight minutes and 42 seconds of "White Privilege II," watch our video in its entirety and visit to see what groups Macklemore & Ryan Lewis plan to put their time and money into. Then talk. —Akiba Solomon