Pharrell Williams Says 'Trust in a Black Vision of the Future' in Powerful Essay on Racism
Pharrell Williams is reflecting on America's history of racism.
On Thursday, TIME published a powerful essay written by the "Happy" singer, 47, who curated the new issue of the magazine for a project titled "The New American Revolution." Williams, in the piece, wrote about growing up in Virginia Beach, Virginia, and remarking on the area's connection to slavery in U.S. history.
"Many Americans assume that the recent conversations about systemic racism and inequality are a result of a 'moment of reckoning,' " he wrote. "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."
The musician went on to express what it was like to grow up in the "origin of this country’s oppression," stating that it "left an indelible impression" on him. "I am both the promise of America and a product of its shameful past," wrote Williams.
Comparing the current wave of protesting amid the Black Lives Matter movement to that of the Boston Tea Party, the Grammy winner mused about how to hold the system accountable and create a more equitable structure.
"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," he wrote. "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."
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Williams concluded the essay by saying since "America’s wealth was built on the slave labor of Black people … to live up to America’s ideals, we must trust in a Black vision of the future."
"For more than 400 years, the only path to the American Dream was an access-restricted, privately owned road. Black Americans have never been free to harvest the fruit of America's bounty, even though we were forced to do the field work," wrote Williams. "Ensuring that every citizen has the same opportunity to succeed and flourish — regardless of class, gender or skin color — is as patriotic a principle as declaring 'no taxation without representation.' It is the only way to guarantee life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness."
As part of his collaboration with TIME, Williams will also release a new song on Friday featuring JAY-Z, titled "Entrepreneur." The magazine package includes interviews with Angela Davis, Tyler the Creator, Naomi Osaka and more.
"The intention for a song was all about how tough it is to be an entrepreneur in our country to begin with," Williams told TIME. "Especially as someone of color, there's a lot of systemic disadvantages and purposeful blockages. How can you get a fire started, or even the hope of an ember to start a fire, when you're starting at disadvantages with regards to health care, education and representation?"
He added, "The song is trying to communicate that when we stick together, treat each other better and welcome each other, there's more money and more opportunity for everyone."
To help combat systemic racism, consider learning from or donating to these organizations:
- Campaign Zero (joincampaignzero.org) which works to end police brutality in America through research-proven strategies.
- ColorofChange.org works to make the government more responsive to racial disparities.
- National Cares Mentoring Movement (caresmentoring.org) provides social and academic support to help Black youth succeed in college and beyond.
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