Pharrell Williams: We must trust in a Black vision of the future

Pharrell Williams and Jay-Z dropped a new single last week called “Entrepreneur.” Pharrell also wrote and curated essays for Time that address what many are calling “the American reckoning.” Pharrell believes that the anger and disenchantment with the supposed American Dream is not due to recent events but has been simmering since the very first enslaved Africans stepped foot on American soil off a British privateer ship in 1619.

Pharrell doesn’t just share his thoughts on the subject he enlists some heavy hitters from the black community. Together they propose an alternative to America’s future for black people. Here are some excerpts from Pharrell’s essay:

Many Americans assume that the recent conversations about systemic racism and inequality are a result of a “moment of reckoning.” But I know this conversation dates back to those first “20 and odd Negroes”—as Jamestown colonist John Rolfe wrote in a letter—who became investment property as soon as they touched the shores of this independently owned and operated franchise called America.

America was founded on a dream of a land where all men were created equal, that contained the promise of liberty and justice for all. But all has never meant Black people. Like most Black Americans, I understand that all exists only in the augmented-reality goggles available to shareholders, power brokers and those lucky enough to get in on the initial public offering. But the ongoing protests for equity and accountability that have overtaken cities across the nation have made me feel something new that I can only describe with one word: American.

The desperate longing for economic justice that spurred unrest in the streets of Minneapolis after George Floyd’s murder reminds me of the same fire that burned in the veins of the Sons of Liberty when they dumped 342 chests of tea into the sea at Griffin’s Wharf. (Now we call that incident “the Boston Tea Party”—which is a poetic way to describe a “riot.”) When I see people tearing down the monuments to secessionist traitors who wanted to start their own white-supremacist nation, I see patriots acting in service of this country. It reminds me of the protesters who were inspired to tear down the statue of King George on July 9, 1776, after they heard Thomas Jefferson’s letter telling his oppressors to kick rocks. Those “thugs” would serve under the direction of George Washington in the American Revolution. But the Declaration of Independence makes it sound dignified: “In every stage of these oppressions we have petitioned for redress in the most humble terms,” wrote our Founding Fathers. “Our repeated petitions have been answered only by repeated injury.”

Amid so much injury, how do we begin to heal? Given this country’s inescapable legacy, I wondered if it was even possible to convince people that—even if we cannot escape it—we can overcome our past. But if we are ever to hold this nation accountable, we must force it to construct a future that offers us the same opportunities for wealth, prosperity and success as the ground-floor profiteers who built an empire with our free labor. We deserve the interest earned from those Confederate dollars and the refund of our tax dollars handed out to our white brothers and sisters in the New Deal while our neighborhoods were redlined. We want the return on our investment from when our local tax dollars funded schools our children couldn’t attend. We want actual liberty and justice not just for some Americans, but for all.

So, in assembling this project, I asked some of the most qualified people I know in every field—from Angela Davis to Tyler, the Creator, to Representative Barbara Lee—to talk with us, and with one another, about the way forward.

America’s wealth was built on the slave labor of Black people: this is our past. To live up to America’s ideals, we must trust in a Black vision of the future.

[From Time]

As Pharrell stated these protests aren’t new. Black people have been protesting the dehumanization of their bodies and the restriction to wealth and opportunity since they were brought to these shores.

Is it a reckoning? It’s more of a cry for justice against the 400 years of injustice perpetrated by the State. And those tone policing the anger refuse to acknowledge the fact that racism/white supremacy is oppressive. Revolutions are accomplished through revolutionary acts.

The wealth of America was built on the free labor of the descendants of enslaved Africans who rarely get to participate in the fruits of it. The demand for reparations is not just for slavery but the continual oppressive laws and acts that have kept the majority of those descendants from accessing that wealth.

I am a firm believer in justice and reparations. I also believe that the systems that we are trying to protect and or heal will continue to function as they were built. In order to have justice and equity we will need to tear them down and rebuild, together, with everyone in mind so that we ALL benefit.

In the meantime, I will continue to do my part because I truly believe in a black vision of the future AND a more equitable America that benefits all that will or have invested in it. We all deserve access to “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.”

You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed.

22 Responses to “Pharrell Williams: We must trust in a Black vision of the future”

Comments are Closed

We close comments on older posts to fight comment spam.

  1. Esmom says:

    All very well said. As for tearing it down, I agree. As a white woman I trust Black voices and vision to lead the way.

  2. Lizzie Bathory says:

    This is amazing! I’m going to check out this issue of Time to read the whole thing.

  3. Bindu Chandrabose says:

    Wow. That excerpt was incredibly well written and moving. Pharrell is amazingly gifted in so many ways.

  4. Atti says:

    I think the vision should be diverse personally.

    • VS says:

      I guess this is the response we sometimes see when someone writes BLM; someone will come back with ” I think the vision should be AllLivesMatter”

      • tig says:

        When 13.4% of the population is to set the vision for the other 86.6% of the population leads to major conflicts. There is a difference between being a voice at the table and trying to dominate a population 7 times bigger than yours.

      • osito says:

        But no one advocating for BIPOC and POC lives is using the language of domination or control: We’re asking to be seen as human And for our lives to be valued and protected as such, and for our various visions of a world in which we can thrive to be acted upon. The rhetoric of domination comes from a fear retribution or reprisal, but that isn’t coming from Pharell or Angela Davis or Oya or the leaders of BLM, or historically the Black Panthers, Malcom X, Fannie Lou Hammer, Frederick Douglas, and on and on. Find out where that fear is coming from and address that, but please stop saying that it’s us because it’s not.

    • Kate says:

      When people don’t read the article just the headline then come straight to the comments with their hot takes…

    • Elizabeth says:

      There’s a deep history behind his words.

      No one is free until Black people are free. You could also read up on “the outsider within,” a theoretical concept by Patricia Hill Collins.

      The idea is that, in order to dismantle the system, we have to turn it inside out. We have to lift up the downtrodden and cast down the exalted (if that sounds like the Gospel message, that’s because it is).

      We look around and see white dominance in every sphere. It’s time for radical change.

      Why does a Black vision have to lead? Because the slaveholding white supremacist vision is corrupt and destructive. We need the antidote. The antithesis. Cooperation, compassion, ancestral maternal love.

  5. Valiantly Varnished says:

    You know, I would take Pharrell more seriously if he wasn’t stealing from lesser known black artists for his own personal gain.

  6. Mercury says:

    Pharrell is a poet. I like what he is saying

  7. Justme says:

    Anyone remember when Pharrell called himself a “New Black” who doesn’t blame other races for Black people’s disadvantages? If he changed, good, but I don’t trust him.

    • Queen Meghan's Hand says:

      I was just about to reference this in my comment. Pharrell is just using the moment as a marketing gimmick.

    • herhighness says:

      I remember! Also, black men who fail to be seen dating black women EVER are secret self haters in my book. He falls into that category. There is a real struggle within the community when you have powerful black men preaching yet choose not to create black babies with black women. I know its not PC to say, but this is a thing.

      • Yup, Me says:

        His wife is Ethiopian and Laotian. They’ve been together since 2007, at least. When would you like him to date a more acceptable more Black woman?

        Critiques about his business practices and theft of ideas from other Black artists make sense. This doesn’t.

      • VS says:

        @herhighness — are you advocating he cheats on his wife so he could date more black women?
        Here we go with the “PC” which is just another code word……there are other things you could criticize but him being with the same woman for a while isn’t

      • sassafras says:

        If he’d married a white girl named Ashleigh and was raising their biracial kids with straight hair at the country club and wore Brooks Brothers and quietly voted Republican, I would think you have a point. But as (presumably) he fell in love and committed to a WOC and they are prominent voices, give back to the community and advocate for diverse points of view, it’s harder to be convinced that the fact that he didn’t have “black babies” with a “black woman” hurts the Black community.

    • Sid says:

      Same Justme, same. There is a lot of money to be made in this new era of corporatized woke, and the bandwagon is about to tip over from all the folks jumping on. We’ll see who is being genuine about it. Besides the “new black” comment and other questionable stuff, I will always wonder why Pharrell was never able to come up with a hit for the uber-talented Teyana Taylor while she was on his label all those years, but his name can be found on hits for certain other artists who don’t look like her.

  8. MarcelMarcel says:

    One of my favourite ever books is The True Story of Pocahontas: The Other Side of History by Dr. Linwood Little Bear Custalow and Angela L. Daniel Silver Star.
    It really helped me understand how invasion & colonisation could take place. And contextualises the violence that created Jamestown.
    I’m an Australian and our educational system failed me on history. Like the massacres & Frontier Wars are barely mentioned. And the mainstream narrative is that ‘natives’ were kinda aimlessly wandering around til Europeans came. This is not the case whatsoever of course! There 700+ languages and this is the oldest continuous culture on the planet.
    Anyhow I’m grateful for writers & creatives like Nina Simone, Angela Davis, Fiona Foley, Bruce Pascoe and many more that provided me with the tools to educate myself.

  9. sassafras says:

    I’m in. History has shown that the more liberal a society is – the more diversity, more options, more points of view we have, the further we go. Just because this current system has been “pretty good” for “some people” doesn’t mean we can’t do better. I’m excited to see what the next twenty years brings. Generation Z has been molded by 2020, for better or for worse, but I’m betting it’s for the better.

  10. Mrs.Krabapple says:

    I agree blacks deserve reparations. But do I think whites will ever give them it? Nope. Whites take (ask any Native American), they don’t give — at least, they won’t give, if what they are giving up has any real value.

    At least, not as long as whites are a majority in this country. Perhaps beginning in 2050 or so when whites are predicted to drop below 50%, the country can see real change. Until then, whites will pay lip service to equality and placate the masses without actually giving up anything of substance. In the meantime, minorities should boycott all white-owned businesses. Need to change your car’s oil? Go to a minority-owned shop. Need an accountant? Go to a minority-owned CPA firm. The government won’t do anything, but individual people can speak through their wallets.