As described in this article, there was a significant uproar when Macklemore, a white artist, won the 2014 best rap album but not when Eminem won the same award in 2015. The difference in reaction seems confusing.
In the article linked above, Ben Westhoff explains the difference in terms of competition and cultural appreciation. His claims about competition is more credible than his claims about appreciation, because Macklemore and Eminem both recognize the privilege of their race.
Westhoff writes that there was a profound relief when Eminem beat Iggy Azalea in 2015, because Iggy is deeply problematic as we’ve discussed in class. She appropriates without any acknowledgement of the culture she is borrowing from and expresses racist sentiments. In a race with Iggy, anyone is better so no one was going to complain about Eminem winning. In contrast, Macklemore beat Kendrick Lamar, whose album was reviewed as one of the best rap albums ever. Lamar’s album is considered dramatically better. In terms of competition, Eminem was a decent option in a bad field, whereas Macklemore beat a better artist.
Westhoff also says people accepted Eminem’s victory more readily because he has acknowledged the role of race in his success. See the post by EKMEL11, called “A NEW SHAD(Y) ON CULTURAL APPROPRIATION” for a detailed analysis, but in brief, Eminem admits he would have probably sold half as many albums if he was black. Eminem has acknowledged the role of race in his success and seems to be aware of the advantages of his race.
What’s interesting is that Macklemore seems to have a similar awareness, but was still condemned. Macklemore sent Lamar a message after his Grammy win and shared publicly that “”You [Lamar] got robbed. I wanted you to win. You should have. It’s weird and it sucks that I robbed you.” Macklemore has been outspoken about the role of race in his success. He recognizes his advantages, admitting that “just because there’s been more successful white rappers, you cannot disregard where this culture came from and our place in it as white people. This is not my culture to begin with. As much as I have honed my craft…I do believe that I need to know my place.” He is as aware as Eminem of his unfair advantages and regularly communicates that in the media. However, he still faces backlash for appropriation and unfairly winning the 2014 Grammy for best rap album.
It seems like being aware of the culture one is borrowing from is insufficient to escape appropriating. Being vocal about the advantages of being white in America are still not enough. So, that leaves me with the question I started with: what justifies appropriation? It seems that a deep cultural appreciation is insufficient, though it lessens the blow of appropriation. If anyone could help me, I would love to try to build a criteria for what distinguishes appropriation from positive melding of cultures. It seems like cultural appreciation alone is insufficient.