Macklemore, the four-time Grammy Award winning rapper formerly known as Ben Haggerty, has said and done some stupid things in the past.
He’s a 9/11 truther who, on the track “Bush Song” off his 2005 EP The Language of My World, rapped the following: “Where’s Dick Cheney at? Probably off in Iraq / Findin’ some oil to tap, tell ’em I got up on that / And y’all still think it was bin Laden / When it was us and the Masons, plottin’ on oil profits.” The 30-year-old followed that doozy up with the following tweet, which he unleashed in 2009:
Then, after beating out (the far superior) Kendrick Lamar for Best Rap Album at the Grammys, he decided to share his “apology” text to the Compton MC with the rest of the world on Instagram. None other than Drake felt the tacky move was “wack as fuck” and “didn’t feel genuine.”
On Friday night, Macklemore decided to surprise his hometown fans by making a special appearance at Seattle’s Experience Music Project… as an anti-Semitic Jewish caricature, sporting a giant prosthetic hooked nose, dark beard, and bowl cut wig.
It’s truly bizarre to see the rapper, who achieved fame and fortune on the back of his gay rights anthem “Same Love,” commit such a startling gaffe. Macklemore has, after all, claimed to have “hella good Jewish homies,” and even played the shofar, a ram’s horn blown on the Jewish high holidays, to promote the VMAs.
That may be why few fans seemed outwardly perturbed by his Jew costume during the performance. Or maybe they were blinded with excitement from witnessing a cameo by their hometown hero. Either way, once photos of his strange getup reached the Internet, members of the Twitterverse began calling Macklemore out on his blunder, including actor-filmmaker Seth Rogen:
But the “Thrift Shop” rapper initially seemed shocked that people could somehow interpret his get-up as offensive. In response to the charges that he was, you know, actively embodying an image of Jews that was uncomfortably similar to what the Nazis propagated, he tweeted the following:
“A fake witches nose, wig, and beard?” Dude.
Macklemore’s first reaction—feigning ignorance—is frustrating. What a throwaway, half-assed response devoid of any sort of research. A simple Google search would reveal that the “witches nose” is the exact same thing as the anti-Semitic stereotype of a Jewish nose (hint: both are meant to evoke evil, subhuman creatures). His hometown paper’s reaction was even stranger. Seattle Weekly kindly assumed Macklemore wore the offensive costume because he was “a little worried about being mobbed” at the event. Why? Because this is Macklemore, the clean-cut white rapper who’s staked his reputation on being a mouthpiece for the oppressed. Same-sex couples were legally wed to his performance of “Same Love” at the Grammys. He devoted his American Music Awards speech to Trayvon Martin, denouncing racial profiling. Hell, he even made a PSA for the ACLU.
But Macklemore’s record of activism shouldn’t absolve him of any wrongdoing here.
American Jews in 2014 are pretty damn fortunate. According to the Anti-Defamation League’s recent survey, only 9 percent of our fellow citizens have strongly anti-Semitic views, which is pretty good considering our nation’s and the world’s history. No one bats an eye when a Jew marries a Kennedy, Clinton, or Trump. Because anti-Semitism is—thankfully—less prevalent than it was decades ago, it’s easy to become desensitized to old stereotypes and images.
We shouldn’t forget, however, that anti-Semitism still exists—both at home and abroad. Just last month, Frazier Glenn Miller opened fire on a Jewish Community Center shouting “Heil Hitler.” And anti-Semitism is so bad in France that 74 percent of Jews who participated in a recent survey said they were considering emigrating.
Macklemore’s insensitivity is so alarming because it seems genuine. He and many others don’t know the past and, therefore, don’t realize that the images and stereotypes he evoked are painful for some Jews. And ignorance isn’t an excuse. He should know better.
On Monday evening, three days after the incident and a day after his odd “witches nose” excuse, the rapper posted a letter of apology to his website. He claimed, once again, that he chose the “disguise” so he “could walk around unnoticed and surprise the crowd,” and that he randomly picked out a bunch of items to wear.
“It was surprising and disappointing that the images of a disguise were sensationalized leading to the immediate assertion that my costume was anti-Semetic,” he wrote. “I acknowledge how the costume could, within a context of stereotyping, be ascribed to a Jewish caricature. I am here to say that it was absolutely not my intention… I respect all cultures and all people. I would never intentionally put down anybody for the fabric that makes them who they are. I love human beings, love originality, and… happen to love a weird outfit from time to time.”
Yes, he misspelled “anti-Semitic” in his apology. Maybe the guy’s just a bit of an idiot.
The irony here is that the Experience Music Project, the venue where all this went down, bills itself as “dedicated to the ideas and risk-taking that fuel contemporary popular culture.”