Questioning Pharrell: Why We Shouldn't Look to Stars for Social Commentary

I don’t know about everyone else but I love to see black people accomplish their dreams and set new ...

I don’t know about everyone else but I love to see black people accomplish their dreams and set new standards. I love these kinds of accomplishments so much that I find myself growing attached and extremely proud of them—that is, until they say or do something incredibly ignorant.

Following this ignorance I find that I have to check myself and evaluate what it is I expect and want from them. In the case of Pharrell, I’ve narrowed down 3 things I should have understood before I expected rational thought from him when he appeared on Oprah's OWN network for an interview back in April. (Everything that followed his elation about his song "Happy" had me stumped) and his thoughts on Feminism when he interviewed in the UK.

1. I cannot depend on wealthy black people to stand up and speak for me.
As much as I would like people with some sense to be the norm, they’re not, and wealthy black people are not exempt from this reality.

Pharrell: “The New Blacks don’t blame other races for our issues. The "new black" deams and realizes that it's not a pigmentation; it's a mentality. And it's either going to work for you, or it's going to work against you. And you've got to pick the side you're gonna be on."


Recognizing that white supremacy and racism plays an active role in the disenfranchisement of people of color, especially black people, is not blaming other races for my issues, it’s history, happening, and fact. Sure, no white person has ever stopped me from doing my homework or getting out of bed for work (this year) but they do play a role in the representation of black people on television, police brutality, violence in the ghettos, the fact that there are ghettos, poverty, budget cuts in education—especially public schools, and gentrification. Therefore, Pharrell in his comments sounds, seems, and is disconnected and wrong. But if I was worth an estimated 80 million dollars I probably would lose all of my senses, act colorblind (because I could afford to), and unaware too.

2. Pharrell Williams and other stars are not activists
Pharrell is not Amiri Barka, Medger Evers, or Stokely Carmichael. He and other stars just aren’t. Pharrell’s comments on feminism “I’ve been asked, am I a feminist? I don’t think it’s possible for me to be that. I’m a man.”

And other celebrities claiming that “feminist” is a harsh/hard word implies and reveals that they don’t know what feminism is. It’s more than sexual liberation and empowerment, and more complex than women making 77 cents to every $1 men make, and you lastly don’t need to be a woman to be a feminist. Women’s rights are human rights and are of human concern. Moreover, to add insult to injury the only reason Pharrell’s statement is so important is because mainstream media and white supremacy loves to highlight that one black voice that allows them to carry on with their ways, leaving anyone unlike Pharrell (the old blacks) exposed to bear the brunt of this abuse. This is why one will find comments below posts like “well if black people would just….,” and “slavery was 600 years ago, get over it…” Plain foolishness that encourage this country to keep turning a blind eye to the poverty, sexual violence, and lack of protection people in this county endure.

3. I need to recognize and know who my allies are
You know who is Angela Davis, Stokely Carmichael, and Amiri Baraka? Angela Davis, Stokely Carmichael, and Amiri Baraka. And if need be, there are a plethora of wealthy African American celebrities who have some sense (Angela Bassett, Kerry Washington, Denzel Washington, Whoopi Goldberg, Jessie Williams, etc.)

As a black woman I’ve had to recognize that just because someone is black it does not mean I will or have to like them or the way they think. Instead, I've had to recognize who I could actually look to to encourage me to keep fighting the good fight. If I keep expecting black people like Pharrell to say something with some substance and help a sister out, I will have my heart broken every time. We have to be our own activists and voices of reason and refuse to accept anything less. So yes, I was gravely disappointed in Pharrell, but even in his ignorance, I’ve at least learned three things.

Randie Henderson is a Gates Millennium Scholar and recent college grad. She is driven to write, read, learn, and educate about ways to dismantle oppression in America and globally because she is passionate about people and justice. You can find her on and Black Women's Blueprint on Facebook.

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