Jewish Journal

Which mask are you wearing? A humble commentary on Macklemore’s disguises

by Daniella Wenger

May 20, 2014 | 11:34 am

Macklemore performs during the show on May 16.

On Monday, Macklemore, whose real name is Ben Haggerty, issued an apology on his website, saying that he had not been aware that the costume would be perceived the way that it was and that he is sorry to “Anybody that I have may offended.”

The Anti-Defamation League’s (ADL) president Abe Foxman said his organization believes that Macklemore did not have any “ill-intent and unreservedly accept his apology.”

The ADL leader called Macklemore’s costume “an unfortunate choice of wardrobe.”


You say we wear masks twice a year: Halloween and Purim.

I say we wear masks daily.

We create masks when interacting with others; they are facades used for specific intent: impress a boss, protect a friend, or hide one’s genuine feelings or identity. Masks are a method of expression left to the viewer’s interpretation, which can contradict the intent of the masked.

Historically, masks were used for decoration, tribal ceremonies, and religious celebrations. Today, they are prevalent in the entertainment industry.

Last weekend, Macklemore surprised his hometown, Seattle, performing the sing-along hit song “Thrift Shop”. He concealed his bleached, usually-slicked-back hair with a shaggy black wig and a strapped on prosthetic nose, rapping: “savin’ my money and I’m hella happy that’s a bargain”.

Are Macklemore’s stereotypical Jewish masks intentional? Do the Rapper’s intentions matter? Should the Jewish community be offended by the rapper’s overt snub? Should I boycott one of my favorite musicians?

In response to much criticism, this Irish, LGBTQ-supporting rapper commented via twitter, “A fake witches nose, wig, and beard=random costume. Not my idea of a stereotype of anybody.”

Before forming your opinion, consider the following:

1. Intent

Macklemore never intended to offend anyone.  For some, he’s an anti-stereotype kind of guy, writing 2014 Grammy winning, “Same Love”, condemning homophobia in hip-hop, society, and mass media. Why would a public figure, passionate about eradicating stereotypes, use disguises to target other individuals? Did he want to offend people? According to his tweets, the answer is NO.

2. Who goes to the ‘thrift shop’?

Some argue that the performance depicts Macklemore’s desire to save money, opposing the pomp many rappers display; it was praised for social critique. However, today, it’s in vogue for 20-somethings to buy funky, girl-attention grabbing T-shirts at thrift shops. Therefore, Macklemore’s embrace and praise of the ‘thrift shop’ illustrates his swagger to attract girls. He chants, “tryna get girls from a brand and you hella won’t” because “having the same one [tshirt] as six other people… is a hella don’t.” Here, is Macklemore merely asserting his independence?

3. Dressing as a stereotype

Song after song, Macklemore literally gives a voice to and sings the song for people stigmatized in society. Dressing up like a Jew hardly was Macklemore’s sin; rather, it was the big nose and the song about stinginess, echoing the long-held sentiment that Jews are cheap. From medieval times to emancipation, Jews were often restricted to certain professions, for example, money lending. Biblical law forbids taking or giving interest to “your brother”, (a fellow Jew, Exodus 22:2); Christians were upset by the unfair money lending. Was Macklemore condemning past centuries money-lending techniques?

4. Racism today

Clay figure of a Jew, sold on the streets of Krakow, Poland. Photo by Daniella Wenger

During Reconstruction, Jim Crow was active and a white man in black-face mocked the ditzy African-Americans. Here, Macklemore’s actions were heard much louder than his words. Because he dressed up akin to this stereotypical Jewish statue sold after the Holocaust, his actions were conveyed as racist and, therefore, deemed unacceptable in the “land of the free and home of the brave.”

5. The Entertainment Industry

Publicists often say, “Any Press is good Press”. Macklemore’s controversial costume could have been just that—a scheme to put him back in the limelight. In fact, he hasn’t been on the charts for a couple of months.

What was Macklemore really trying to convey? Was he mocking the stereotypical Jew? Or, was he wearing a mask just like we all do each day?

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