Excuse Me While I Soak in This Black Girl Magic: Solange’s Born Day
I am three days early for the festivities but I am celebrating Mrs. Solange Knowles’ birthday in this week’s blog. Enjoy this nourishment for the mind.
You cannot walk into a space filled with black women in the year of our Lord 2017 without hearing a track from Solange’s 2016 album, A Seat at the Table. This album is EVERYTHING and will forever be a classic because the issues will forever be relevant. In 21 tracks, Solange is able to capture the multidimensional-ness that is black women. She goes beyond the angry black woman stereotype (and I will return to this) and depicts us as vulnerable, hurt, joyful, talented, proud, powerful which more than anything else makes us human. The title of the album alone stopped me in my tracks and made me shout, “Yaaaasss!” I would like to share with y’all the ways in which this album has been so necessary for me within the past few months. I will do this as I am now known to do, by rooting narratives in song.
Track 6: Mad
I grew up knowing that I was going to become an angry black woman because that is what society has told me: from talk shows like Maury to Tyler Perry movies to the very men that I have dated. I was considered bitter and difficult, too independent and too slick with my mouth. But on a deeper note, I think about women like Sandra Bland, Rekia Boyd and now Charleena Lyles being killed by the police. I know that on dating sites, black women are the least desired and least likely to get married. I am aware that black women are affected the most by the income gap ($0.63 to a white man’s $1.00), and these are the truths I carry around that don’t even include my everyday personal struggles- so as Solange sings so melodically, “You have the right to be mad.” This was the validation that I needed. Solange told black women that being angry was not only logical but necessary because as she continues to sing, “I got a lot to be mad about” and we do.
I am writing this after hearing the verdict of the murder of Philando Castile and all I hear are his mother, Valerie Castile’s words, “This city murdered my son” and she continues with the declaration, “I’m mad as hell right now.” To be honest, I’m mad as hell too. Not only do we have to endure all of this pain repeatedly, but we have to do it in a way that masks our feelings, that makes others believe that all is right with the world. One breakdown, one mention of an injustice, one complaint, one hint of emotion and we are irrational, threatening, angry black people/women. Unfortunately, as much as Solange validates these emotions, she also ends the song with the understanding that while we have a right to be mad, we are not free to be as she sings the following lines:
“…I’m tired of explaining.
Man, this shit is draining.
But I’m not really allowed to be mad.”
Black women know that anger is a luxury and honestly, one we don’t have. It’s as though she wrote the song to reassure black women that we weren’t crazy and even if we have to go out into the world and wear a mask, her song/album provides a cathartic space for those emotions.
Track 9: Don’t Touch My Hair
Quick story: I recently went to see the play, Sweat and not 30 seconds went by before I was verbally accosted because an elderly white woman wanted to make our entire section aware that my “hair was obstructive” and she would not sit behind me. Nah for real, those were her exact words. It was embarrassing to say the least but she and her privilege were forced to move their seat. While none of the ushers addressed me, I knew that this wouldn’t be the last incident like this to occur because she is not the only one who sees me in this way. I also know that girls who look like me are being suspended and removed from activities in school because of the pride they have in their hair and their blackness. Our hair is not only seen as obstructive but unkempt, distracting and an actual crime. Solange is basically saying not only can you not touch it but you can’t fetishize, criminalize or violate our crowns. Our hair has history; our hair requires time and care and our hair is our strength. Best believe this song was on repeat before and after that theater incident.
Track 13: F.U.B.U.
“One for us”. This track is so unapologetically black and unapologetically unapologetically genius. Solange calls whites out on hijacking our culture without giving us credit. With the Kardashians, Katy Perry and Miley Cyrus stealing our bodies, our twerking and our blackness while laughing to the bank, Queen Solange makes it clear that she ain’t here for it. She calls out these invaders of the culture snatchers and lets them know that you can’t keep hanging around black folks when you need something then treat us like the ugly stepchild. This song was a “Girl Bye” to all of that foolishness and honestly, this is my favorite song on the album. She understands that there are certain things that blacks must declare and claim and protect as our own. The commodification of our brilliance and our talents will not be taken in silence. I’m convinced the ancestors were boppin’ their heads and shakin’ their tambourines for this song.
Finally, I just want to share something really personal that connects to the album title. All of our lives, black people and especially black women aspire to show them [whites] what we can do if we just had a seat at the table. I have been in some of those seats and the feast has not always been glorious. You can’t break bread with everyone because some will refuse to pass you the basket. I was in a meeting a few months ago and I swear I had to listen to Solange’s album after this experience. I gave a presentation alongside my colleague (another person of color) with four other white people in the room and I was the only black woman/person there. Instead of explaining through narrative, I will share my experience through the poem I wrote the day after it happened:
You sit in a meeting discussing the project
You’ve worked tirelessly on
But what’s more exhausting is explaining your ideas
Knowing that your brilliance will never be acknowledged
They will smirk as they ruffle through the pages you’ve prepared
Tap their pens and make minor edits to your masterpiece
Twirl their hair around their manicured fingers and look at the peeling paint
All to avoid making eye contact with your brilliant black ass
Their compliments escape grating teeth
Every time that they have to admit that you have not just good but great ideas
They look pained as though someone ripped a band-aid from their sunburned skin
You know that they’ll huddle afterwards and talk about how surprisingly articulate you are
Although their mediocre college transcripts should never be allowed to be in the same file cabinet as your 4.0s
You’d almost prefer they walk out in the middle of your presentation
Instead of sitting in your face while still rendering you invisible
But you speak
And you take up space
And you work the room
Because you always show up and show out
And as another beautiful black woman once said to you,
On your worst day, you’re better than them at their best
So you end your presentation with your head held high and a look that says,
“I dare you to ask any questions”
– Black faces in white spaces
So what else can I say? (I can actually say a lot more but this is a blog not a book.) I am in awe of this woman, her album, her accomplishments, her honesty and I am here for all of her gifts and her glory. I discuss this album with friends, colleagues, family members and anyone who will listen. I get hype and give a nod of approval any time a see someone listening to her album on the train. Solange means ‘dignified’ and ‘angel of the sun’ and she definitely lives up to both because her light shines so brightly and that light does not appear to be dimming any time soon.
To my educators, think about our young girls of color. While they are the fastest growing demographic to be suspended and later incarcerated, black women are increasing their representation among those enrolled in college and they are the fastest growing demographic who are becoming entrepreneurs. How are we teaching them to navigate spaces and sit at tables that were never meant for them in the first place? If we are not welcomed at those tables, how do we create our own boardrooms, our own spaces? I believe we need to connect our girls more than ever with other black girls and women who are making both waves and earthquakes, whether that is through literature, TED Talks, guest speakers, Skype or just some of the extraordinary women of color that they encounter every day. We are missing out on some incredible skills in our own communities. And we are more than capable. We are dope. We are brilliant. We are talented. We are creative. We are human.
Also, because I believe music is so crucial to my sanity, as an introduction to your students, have them choose a song that really reflects how they see themselves and what they want you to know about them. I have yet to meet a student who said, “Nah Ms. I don’t listen to music.” If so, they’re messing with you. I plan to discuss this further in a future blog so now y’all gotta keep reading.
Ummmm…and BTW, where are my educator boos who are using this album in the classroom?
Happy bEARTHday Solange!