Pharrell Nails the Importance of Empathy in Fighting Discrimination

January 5th 2017

Laura Donovan

Comedian Ellen DeGeneres infamously dis-invited gospel singer Kim Burrell from performing on her show this week after a video surfaced of Burrell disparaging the LGBT community in a church.

Now one of the artists, who was scheduled to perform alongside Burrell, is addressing the controversy.

Pharrell on "Ellen"

“There’s no space, there’s no room for any kind of prejudice in 2017 and moving on,” singer and producer Pharrell Williams said during an appearance on "The Ellen DeGeneres Show" Thursday. “She's a fantastic singer, and I love her, just like I love everybody else, and we all gotta get used to that. We all have to get used to everyone’s differences and understand that this is a big, gigantic, beautiful, colorful world, and it only works with inclusion and empathy. It only works that way.”

He said the key to understanding people's reactions to hateful speech is empathy.

“Whenever you hear some sort of hate speech and you feel like it doesn’t pertain to you because you may not have anything to do with that, all you got to do is put the word black in that sentence, or put gay in that sentence, or put transgender in that sentence, or put white in that sentence, and all of the sudden it starts to make sense to you,” Pharrell said. “I’m telling you, the world is a beautiful place but it does not work without empathy and inclusion."

Williams' words don't just sound nice; research backs him up.

While research into this field has been controversial, more recent studies on the matter have found that conversations aimed at increasing acceptance can actually work. After they found substantial errors in a highly-publicized 2014 study linking LGBT acceptance to conversations with gay people, graduate students David Broockman and Joshua Kalla set out to properly recreate the study on their own. They surveyed 501 people in Miami about their thoughts on the LGBT community, and study canvassers met with half of the respondents to have in-person conversations aimed at changing prejudiced thinking. At the end of the study, subjects who claim to have experienced a form of prejudice themselves showed an increase in acceptance towards transgender individuals.

"Canvassers asked people to talk about a time they were treated differently," Broockman told NPR. "Most people have been judged because of gender, race or some other issue. For many voters, they reflect on it and they realize that's a terrible feeling they don't want anyone to have."

[H/T Huffington Post]