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With Great Macklemore Comes Great Responsibility

11/26/2013 05:30 EST | Updated 03/13/2014 05:59 EDT

By Neha Chandrachud

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While most of the Internet is buzzing about Miley's existential CGI cat and whether she's now guilty of culturally appropriating felines, there was another artist giving an equally interesting performance of his own. Pop culture's patron saint Macklemore accepted the award for Favorite Rap/Hip-Hop Album at the AMAs this weekend. And in typical Macklemore fashion, he used his two minutes to highlight a serious topic: the ongoing racial profiling in America.

Macklemore and his musical partner Ryan Lewis were on tour in Florida when they accepted their award via teleconference from Miami. Halfway through their two-minute speech, Macklemore changed his tone and spent the rest of his precious screen time discussing the injustice behind the Trayvon Martin verdict. "It's time that we look out for the youth and fight against racism and the laws that protect it." And how exactly do we do that, Macklemore? Hint: It's not by profiting off the state whose laws you reject.

Here's a radical idea: if Macklemore is so disgusted by the Trayvon Martin ruling, he should be the one to lead Stevie Wonder's list of artists boycotting Florida until the Stand Your Ground Law is repealed. Artists formerly rumoured to be on the list included Kanye, Usher, Madonna and Jay-Z but sadly, these claims were proven false. And that's why mentioning racial profiling in an acceptance speech may be the next logical step on Macklemore's Progressive Politics Checklist, but its function is surface-level. It absolves him of making any tangible commitments: a theme that's all too pervasive in the entertainment industry.

Dozens of artists have famously participated in boycotts despite their obvious financial and professional repercussions. Earlier this year, Carly Rae Jepsen and the band Train refused to perform at the Boy Scouts of America's annual Jamboree in opposition to the organization's ban on gay members and leaders. Likewise, Cher -- a widely-known advocate for LGTBQ rights -- has refused to perform in Russia following Putin's restrictive laws on homosexuality. Most famously perhaps, the Beatles refused to play in front of a segregated audience in the 1960s while Jim Crowe laws still existed in the South.

Refusing to perform in Florida may seem like a symbolic act reminiscent of old school politics, but there is an amazing opportunity for Macklemore to engage teenagers and young adults in a meaningful and important discussion about civil rights. He is already known to support many of the social causes he raps about in his songs -- the GLSEN (Gay Lesbian and Straight Education Network) and the ACLU (American Civil Liberties Union) being two examples of many.

If the immediate flood of screams after Macklemore's words about Trayvon Martin can tell us anything, it's that his socially charged comments enable a dangerous pattern within show business: that artists and celebrities can make fleeting statements about hot-button issues and benefit from their inherent social currency.

Macklemore has effectively positioned himself as something of a moral authority to an audience who isn't typically viewed as socially conscious. And if you title yourself as the Hipster Champion of V-Necks and Social Causes, it's inherently your job to be disruptive and catalyze social change, not just talk about it. While a state-wide boycott may seem dramatic and over-the-top, if there's one person who has a flare for theatrics, it's certainly Macklemore.

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