Can one correct racism and enact social justice through education? Well, hip-hop artist and producer Pharrell Williams seems to think so.
The multimillionaire superstar is most famous for the 2014 song “Happy,” which became one of the best-selling singles of all time, selling more than 10 million copies worldwide.
He is teaching a new class on racism and social justice in a partnership with MasterClass — a streaming service where famous people teach you about the thing that made them famous — and Uninterrupted, a collaborative storytelling platform with short-form content, feature-length films and interactive experiences.
Pharrell, 47, has released a six-minute mini MasterClass episode on empathy, racism and social justice.
A member of the hip-hop and rock band, NERD — acronym for No One Ever Really Dies — Pharrell tweeted the news on Nov. 11. The full video of his class is available now to stream on the Uninterrupted website.
Pharrell’s class is the first of five episodes, part of a new series called “The Power You Hold.” Four films will be released each week through Dec. 8 and feature Spike Lee, Ken Burns, Misty Copeland, RuPaul, Ron Finley, and astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson, The New York Post reported.
“I can’t wait for you all to check out the #PowerYouHold film I’ve made with @MasterClass and @Uninterrupted. I believe empathy is one way we can be of service to the world around us. Find out how at https://youtu.be/9fvvrb65FzM,” he posted.
One person tweeted in response, “What does Pharrell know about racism? His race takes are always the worst and he’s only recently began reading Skip Gates so why is he hosting a Masterclass?”
Another user was skeptical, tweeting, “Bro how can I be racist I literally took the Pharrell Williams masterclass on racism”
Others were supportive. “I love this man a bit more every day – well done,” said one Twitter user.
MasterClass offers classes with industry notables for a subscription of $15 a month or $180 for a year.
“The Power You Hold” series will examine issues of social injustice and systemic racism, offering education and inspiration on ways to impact change, according to the Uninterrupted website.
Williams has been involved in various social-justice projects, including his own music and cultural festival in his hometown of Virginia Beach, launched in 2019. The Something In The Water festival celebrates music and culture, and, according to Pharrell, “the North Star” of the festival is empathy.
He also released a new song this summer called “Entrepreneur,” in which he collaborated with Jay-Z to celebrate Black trailblazers.
Besides the new master class, Pharrell has come under fire for other moves. He, Ziggy Marley and others were criticized for appearing at an Israeli Defence Forces fundraiser in November, 2018 that raised $60 million, according to NME, a British music journalism website.
Pharrell was criticized by Palestinians over the Friends Of The Israeli Defence Forces Western Region Gala event, which also included appearances by Ashton Kutcher, Gerard Butler, Andy Garcia, Fran Drescher, David Foster, Katharine McPhee, and many others. Pharrell performed at the event, held in Beverly Hills, and also delivered a speech at the gala calling for an end to “fighting.”
“It is difficult to understand how actors and performers, who carry the message of life, can support an army that carries out systematic killings, which contradict the essence of life and art,” said Ahmed Abu Artema, an organizer of the Great March of Return protests in the Gaza Strip, in an interview with Middle East Eye. “To us, anyone who funds this army has blood on their hands.”
Pharrell also got backlash for believing in what he called “the New Black.”
“The New Black doesn’t blame other races for our issues,” he explained in a 2014 interview with Oprah Winfrey. “The New Black dreams and realizes 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.”
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Pharrell told Oprah that being successful is not about skin color but a state of mind, The Guardian reported
In response, writer and blogger Feminista Jones created the Twitter hashtag #whatkindofblackareyou?.
“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 told The Guardian. “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.”