Pharrell William’s interview on Oprah Prime revealed his sensitive nature as he became overwhelmed in tearful appreciation of the world’s response to his hit song, Happy. His reaction touched and warmed the hearts of many, myself included. I was even more touched by the interview as Pharrell revealed that women were the inspiration behind his new music project, Girl. Pharrell revealed that he made his new record out of devotion and admiration for women, and as a means of giving back to the demographic that had given him so much.
The adoration Pharrell has for women, along with his tearful display of emotions, made it very apparent that he is a man very much in touch with his sensitive side. However, as the interview continued I couldn’t help but wonder if he was a bit out of touch with the issues that plague the women to whom he has devoted his music.
In response to the backlash he received from a perceived lack of diversity on the cover art for his record, Pharrell made a disturbing statement. He said that he is a part of “the new black.” He framed the “new black” as having a new mentality that allows people of color to dream big, and prevents them from blaming pigmentation, other races, or the delusion they see in the mirror for their issues.
After hearing Pharrell talk about the new black I was left only to believe that his new mentality caused some sort of cognitive brain disorder that makes one forget the systemic issues that continue to affect people of color, and particularly the women of color Pharrell admires so much. I wondered if his new mentality prevented him from comprehending the reality that 30 million of the women he loves so much live below the poverty line. Pharrell’s new black mentality seems to be void of the present day reality for women of color.
It would be nice if “pigmentation and others” weren’t the blame for issues that women face; but when women of color make up a disproportionate percentage of the 30 million women forced into poverty due to low wages, there is plenty of blame to go around. These women aren’t suffering below the poverty line because they dream small, or because they are delusional about what they see in the mirror. Women are suffering because Congress shares the mentality of wealthy Americans in society, like Pharrell, rather than the mentality of the average American.
Demos.org, a public policy organization, produced a study showing 78% of average Americans believe the minimum wage should be high enough that a family with a full time worker doesn’t fall below the poverty level, but only 40% of wealthy Americans believe the same. And when a Congressional vote to gradually raise the federal minimum wage from $7.25 to $10.10 failed to pass on April 30th, it became apparent where Congress stands on this issue that severely affects women.
If Congress had voted to pass the Minimum Wage Fairness Act, it would have lifted millions of women out of poverty, ensured that the minimum wage keeps pace with the cost of living, and raised the wage for tipped workers that have had their wages stalled at $2.13 since 1991. This would have made a significant impact as women make up 70% of all tipped workers who rely on food stamps at double the rate of others in the US workforce.
I’m sure women of color would love to be a part of Pharrell’s “new black”, but when you are denied a livable wage, your present reality makes it difficult to embrace his new mentality. Perhaps if “Mr. Happy” had seen the Oprah Prime Town Hall with Maria Shriver that aired a few weeks prior to his interview, he would have seen how difficult it is to be happy when you struggle to provide for your family. He would have known how difficult it is to be happy when you are one paycheck away from total financial collapse.
The problem I have with Pharrell’s new black is that it is very reminiscent of blaming the victim for a crime committed against them. We can’t expect women to think differently as a means to get to a better place in life if we fail to remove the roadblocks that hinder that journey. Women of color don’t need a new mentality or a new way to think about their black skin. What is needed are lawmakers like those in the State of Washington, Connecticut, Maryland, California and the District of Columbia who obviously understand that caring for and devotion to women begins with ensuring them the dignity of earning a livable wage. It is this dignity and the security of being able to provide for yourself and your family that sparks true happiness in women.
And so Pharrell, it’s going to take a little more Green ($$$) for women of color to be happy in your “new black.”