The Unexpected Heroism of Macklemore and Ryan Lewis

Not too long after we pop music consumers collectively ceased popping tags and put our twenty dollars back in our wallets, Macklemore and Ryan Lewis released another single, Same Love, an impassioned call for the acceptance and equality of queer individuals and their relationships. Released July 18, 2012, Same Love was written in support of Washington state’s Referendum 74, which would determine whether gay marriage would be legalized in the state. R-74 was controversial: after appearing on Washington’s November 6 ballot, gay marriage was legalized by a final margin of 7.4%: that meant 53.7% of voters were in approval of gay marriage, and 46.3% were not. (cite)

Given the slight, slight margin that pushed gay marriage into legalization, Macklemore had something to fight for. Same Love’s single cover features a portrait of Macklemore’s uncle John Haggarty, and his same-sex partner, Sean. The two white haired, bespectacled men are likely not what homophobes imagine when they think of gay marriage. The sense of comfort, devotion, and domesticity conveyed by the portrait are as powerful as the song’s lyrics—marriage and love are basic human rights, and those rights should not be limited by ignorance and prejudice.

It’s a tired fight, the oppression and erasure of minorities by privileged and selfish majorities. “Gay is synonymous with the lesser,” Macklemore raps in the song’s second verse. “It’s the same hate that’s caused wars from religion / gender to skin color, the complexion of your pigment.”

Weaving historical narrative with the personal, Macklemore tells of his own confusion regarding his sexuality, thinking he was gay as a young child because he failed to find interest in sufficiently masculine activities; perhaps, he thought, because his uncle was queer. He later learned that queerness is not determined by a set of stereotypes, of affections or hobbies—it is simply a part of being human. He goes on to address homophobia in hip hop culture, calling for artists to take responsibility for any misogyny and homophobia their work might perpetuate in their community.

Same Love, despite its noble intentions, has come under fire by the queer community. As an open, outspoken queer girl myself, I understand the criticism: How come we’re praising this straight dude for being “so brave” to speak out against homophobia, while we ignore the actual queer artists saying the same thing?

It’s a valid question, and it reveals some unpleasant truths about our society. Echo back to the 46.3% of Washington voters who chose not to support gay marriage. They refuse to acknowledge queer individuals of humans, capable of deserving love and dignity. If they cannot experience empathy for queer individuals, how can they be expected to lend an ear? Macklemore is a heterosexual male—he is teeming with social privilege, and coasting on a wave of pop culture fame stirred up by Thrift Shop’s success. Same Love’s message will spread via heavy radio rotation, and Macklemore’s privileged position in society—a regrettable vehicle for making equality more palatable to the ignorant, but a vehicle nonetheless—will make people who might be dismissive of a queer artist based on prejudice and hatred perhaps more attentive to the cry for equality.

I’m pumped for the day that queer artists don’t need to rely on “more acceptable” artists to spread their message. I think that day is soon. But I think it’s important to acknowledge Macklemore’s striving for equality and acceptance, because it’s doing good for us now, in a less than welcoming media landscape.

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