Why Pharrell Williams believes in 'The New Black'

Pharrell Williams said: 'The New Black doesn’t blame other races for our issues.' Photograph: Chris Pizzello/Chris Pizzello/Inv...

Pharrell Williams said: 'The New Black doesn’t blame other races for our issues.' Photograph: Chris Pizzello/Chris Pizzello/Invision/AP
As if to confirm that he has reached an otherworldly level of fame,Pharrell Williams has aligned himself with an entirely new race of human being. The ubiquitous star spoke to Oprah last week, blubbed while watching fan videos of Happy but, most curiously, defined himself as The New Black. "The New Black doesn't blame other races for our issues," said Pharrell, one of the world's most successful musicians, to Oprah, billionaire queen of the world. "The New Black dreams and realises that it's not 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 going to be on." It's a comment that not only suggests he has a library full of Deepak Chopra books under that hat, but that also highlights how daft it is when a millionaire attempts to speak for an entire race.
In response, writer and blogger Feminista Jones created the Twitter hashtag #whatkindofblackareyou?. Via email, Jones says that while it's admirable to believe that black people can now transcend race, Pharrell's comments are ultimately a "slap in the face" to people who do not fit in with his narrow ideas.
"Acting like there is any one way to be Black is as problematic as acting like Blackness can be redefined because one celebrity says it is," Jones explains. Her hashtag touched on the plurality of people's experience, with definitions shared online ranging from the lighthearted ("I'm the 'How tall are you? Do you play any sports?'") to the pointed ("the kind of Black that gets fed up with disconnected Blacks like @Pharrell not recognising that they are Black too"). As Jones says: "Some of us love being black and recognise that we are a diverse group of people with some shared experiences to which many relate and are proud of."
Even if Pharrell's public persona suggests he does not live in a world where he encounters many "isms" on a daily basis (take when he told the Guardian that the video and lyrics of Blurred Lines were "not objectifying" for example), his take on The New Black seems incredibly naive, if not damaging.
At best, his inner hippie needs to check its privilege, at worst he is denying racism through the demarcation of Old Black and New. Jones herself is OK with not being labelled by him, though. "I know what kind of Black I am, and it isn't 'new' and I'm proud of that."


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