A couple weeks after Macklemore won the Grammy Award for Best Rap Album earlier this year, a number of old friends I grew up with and I launched into a fiery debate on Facebook regarding the song “Same Love”. The song and its video, which emerged as one of the popular Seattle rapper’s most socially-conscious and politically significant offerings, spread virally following its release in 2012. With lyrics openly supportive of same-sex couples’ right to marry, Macklemore simultaneously paints a portrait of a man struggling with his own sexuality and tussling with the stereotypes and stigma associated with homosexuality.
For those who don’t know, Macklemore is a prominent white rapper who, like Eminem, very quickly ascended the ranks of popularity and success in the hip-hop genre. “Same Love” was a song created explicitly to express support for the right for same-sex couples to marry. Today, gay marriage is slowly but surely becoming a reality in more states.
Significantly, the song includes heavy criticism of the reluctance in religious circles to embrace the gay rights movement. I remember first hearing the song and watching the video, and I remember how it made me feel. The song brought me to tears. Anchored by Mary Lambert’s soothing refrain- “My love, my love, my love, it keeps me warm,” the song is organic and warmly textured, with gentle piano reined in by strings, horns, and an upbeat drum track.
I remember sharing it in my feed, and commenting at the time that this, to me, was an example of modern hip-hop at its most resonant and emotionally poignant, not to mention politically significant. It brings modern conservative Christianity directly into its crosshairs, saying firmly and directly it is wrong to preach hatred and stigmatize those who identify as lesbian, gay, bi, trans, or queer. Macklemore raps:
“When I was at church they taught me something else
If you preach hate at the service, those words aren’t anointed
That holy water that you soak in has been poisoned
When everyone else is more comfortable remaining voiceless
rather than fighting for humans that have had their rights stolen.
I might not be the same but that’s not important.
No freedom til we’re equal… damn right I support it.”
In the months following this, a variation on the song emerged from the upstart Detroit rapper Angel Haze. Also called “Same Love”, the song has the same chorus and loosely, the same song structure, but with lyrics intentionally altered to reflect the point of view of a person who had experienced the struggle for gay rights from the perspective of the oppressed. Several of my friends claimed vociferously that Angel Haze’s song was the stronger and more significant piece.
Angel Haze identifies herself as pan-sexual, meaning, in her words, that she conceives of love as a concept that transcends physical differences and lines of gender identification. “Love is boundary-less,” she said in an interview with British newspaper The Guardian, “If you can make me feel, if you can make me laugh – and that’s hard – then I can be with you.” Her version of the song describes the rejection she faced from her mother upon coming out of the closet, and the ensuing suffering inflicted upon her by a parent who was neither understanding nor accepting. Like Macklemore, her voice is anchored by Lambert’s refrain- “I can’t change, even if I tried, even if I wanted to.” Angel Haze rejects “every single hand that chooses” and asserts that love is central, and that love is not something to be treated, transformed, or controlled regardless of what shape or form it may take. Her song is about self-acceptance on your own terms, regardless of the scars you might be tending to or the crosses you might bear.
While I identify as heterosexual (or ‘straight’, as we tend to say), I sympathize strongly with the gay rights movement and try to the best of my ability to do my part, as an ally, as often and as consistently as I can in my daily life. This is not by any means an easy position to take, seeing that our culture has for so long placed such powerful stigma and negative association upon homosexuality, queerness and transexuality, or even upon the intimation that one might associate, sympathize, or experiment with these identities. I strive to believe in the Kinsey-an concept that sexuality falls on a spectrum, and that these labels we place on ourselves, including those I place on myself, have very little real value except to box in and pin down our conception of sexuality, as though it were a butterfly that could be described scientifically, named, and classified. My own sexuality is anything but simple or one-dimensional, and I doubt that it is for anyone, regardless of their identification.
I found myself thinking about the two versions of “Same Love” last night, as I sat in a coffeeshop in Dupont Circle, here in Washington D.C. It’s a spot well-known for its nightlife, for the presence of an active lobbying voice, and for its openness and acceptance of people who identify as LGBTQ through yearly events in the neighborhood. Though I am a relative newcomer to serious analysis of hip-hop, I do try to keep up with the rappers who become celebrated and prominent, and particularly with those who write songs that offer meaningful commentary on issues of social, civil, and political import.
To my mind, Macklemore’s song was a statement of solidarity with and affirmation of the movement to achieve widespread acceptance and approval for the rights of same-sex couples in the United States. To others, and particularly to those who can legitimately claim to represent the voice of the oppressed communities, the song came across as the imposition of an outsider, and that Macklemore was undeserving of one of the most prestigious awards in the music business. That he was just another straight, cis, white, male appropriating the culture of a marginalized community whose struggles and experience he could not have possibly understood. What’s more, they argued that he was profiting from his stance, and that he was unworthy of the prestige associated with the award.
But for me, Macklemore’s song was equal in importance to Angel Haze’s, if not even more inspiring, considering my particular relationship to the issue. To hear a white, straight male show support and “come out,” unequivocally and inspiringly, as an ally and supporter of gay rights, in spite of the struggle it took him to reach that place, gives me the courage to raise my voice in support of my friends and loved ones I care for who identify themselves in that way. It gives me the will to be vocal and persistent in my allyship, and to speak up when I see my gay and lesbian friends marginalized, abused, dismissed, or disregarded. And ultimately, I think Macklemore’s statement is interwoven with that of Angel Haze, who speaks of a reality I prefer to embrace. She is rapping about a world where labeling and arbitrary division is irrelevant in the face of a love that overwhelms fragmentation, whether it be along racial, class, or sexual lines. She put it best in her lyrics:
“No I’m not gay.
No I’m not straight.
And I sure as hell am not bisexual.
Dammit I am whoever I am when I am it
Loving whoever you are when the stars shine and whoever you’ll be when the sun rise.”
What’s more, I think that the faith community needs to recognize that acceptance and inclusiveness to the broader LGBTQ community is integral to success in the 21st century. As long as Christianity is associated with images of hellfire and damnation for those we arbitrarily consider “sinners,” the church is going to lose more and more young people. Forward-thinking denominations today actively minister to LGBTQ issues, and I personally would like to see this trend spread to the evangelical community and to the more orthodox circles of other religious communities, and particularly to more synagogues and mosques.
Today I am lobbying the office of Representative John Lewis, the civil rights hero and staunchly progressive legislator from my home, Atlanta, the cradle of the civil rights movement. I am so lucky to have this opportunity to make my voice heard to an American hero, who displays the audacity and integrity to stand up for the rights of the oppressed, even when his actions put himself and his fellows at risk. Just as Congressman Lewis made a stand for the sake of future generations in the 1960s, so will it take the voices of brave souls like Angel Haze and allies, like Macklemore, to achieve equality and justice for the LGBTQ community, and for other oppressed communities.
It is patently wrong to preach hate, and I, for one, will no longer stand for it. To me, that is what it means to be an ally, and to live out this definition today. The music of brave artists like Macklemore and Angel Haze should inspire us, in our efforts at civic engagement and positive contribution to political society, to create the world we want to live in, no matter our background or orientation.