I’ll give Macklemore the benefit of the doubt and guess that, no, he wasn’t totally aware of those things. I’m not going to hold his feet to the fire and say he was pulling a Ted-Danson-in-blackface stunt. I agree with Rachel Shukert at Tablet, who wrote that the rapper probably didn’t “put on that nose because he believes that Jews are a parasitic race infecting the Aryan gene pool, or even that he supports the BDS movement” — but that doesn’t make Macklemore any less of a schmuck for not thinking twice about what he was doing. It’s sort of hard to believe he’s never heard of Shylock or seen any of the many satirical, historic images of Jews with big noses doing something that signifies our supposed rule over the world.
Here in America, Jewface has a strange and twisted history. While the blackface minstrel shows of the post-Civil War days featured white people dressing up as and making fun of African Americans, as Jody Rosen pointed out in his compilation Jewface, a collection of songs from the early 20th century with names like “Cohen Owes Me 97 Dollars” and “When Mose With His Nose Leads The Band,” “Hebrew comedy was largely a Jewish enterprise in the first place.” Part of that weird Jewish tradition of making fun of yourself and your culture as a way to disarm potential enemies, Jewface in America was, strangely, an invention of Jews like Irving Berlin and Fanny Brice, who both have songs featured on the album.
Even though it might be a case of inadvertent bad taste, what makes Macklemore’s choice of costume uniquely cringe-worthy, in a way, is its cultural appropriation. Jewface (in America, at least) was how some Jews attempted to play the old, “they aren’t laughing at us, they’re laughing with us” card. Unfortunately for Macklemore, who should have known much better, we’re mostly laughing at him — not with him — after his latest shanda.