Today, Solange Knowles released her fourth studio album, A Seat At The Table, which she’s been working on for the past four years. From the lyrics to songs like “Mad” and “Don’t Touch My Hair” to the Lynette Yiadom-Boakye-inspired images of women in her digital booklet and limited-edition coffee table book, it’s clear that A Seat At The Table was written and created by a black woman who’s frustrated by today’s world, but nevertheless determined to find a way to live and thrive for other black women experiencing the same plight.
In this world, to be a black woman means people will underestimate you, violate your physical and creative spaces, discriminate against you, and still question why you’re feeling any other emotion besides happiness. In this world, to be a black woman also means that despite all of these experiences, you find a way to rise above it all. Black girl magic. There isn’t always space for black women to talk or express their emotions without judgement or being misunderstood. With A Seat At The Table, Solange gives black people a space to feel, a space to celebrate and explore their blackness, a space to revolt, a space to—as Solange herself puts it—“provoke healing & journey of self empowerment.”
But the album is also an expression of love for her parents, who taught her to love and celebrate her blackness. There is an interlude with her father Matthew Knowles, where he speaks candidly about growing up with racism, the police, and his anger. There is another interlude with her mother, Tina Lawson, in which she talks about the beauty of being black and black power, and explains that loving your blackness doesn’t mean being anti-white.
In an Saint Heron interview with writer Judnick Mayard, Solange and her mom go deep, talking about her upbringing, the N-word, hair, and the process of making A Seat At The Table. Here are some of the best moments from their discussion:
On black women and their hair:
Solange Knowles: I believe that hair is incredibly spiritual, and, energetically, it really encompasses and expresses who we are. Obviously, my relationship with hair, being that I grew up literally in a hair salon, is very deep and very complex. I think that one of the things that I’m also trying to communicate through that song [“Don’t Touch My Hair”] is the way that people see us through our hair. It’s almost my India.Arie “I Am Not My Hair” moment. I feel like when I cut my hair and I decided to wear my hair natural, I didn’t feel any more pro-Black or like I identified any more or less in my walk as a Black woman. That just wasn’t my personal journey. I think I’ve been on so many fashion shoots and anything in regards to fashion, which is still a predominantly white industry, and also feeling the void of tokenism through my hair being an afro and what that meant to the fashion world. There was a fashion editor of a major magazine who was white and for Halloween she wore an afro wig and had black face and called herself Solange. There was another magazine that composed celebrity-look-alikes, and they used a dog for me. They talked about my hair being like one of a dog, literally. So, hair just became so complex for me. I remember my mother came with me on a two-show run that I did, and all of the micro-aggressions of us traveling within those four days had me noting to her that whenever I would wear my hair straighter, I would typically have an easier time traveling. So, the song is as much as what it feels like to have your whole identity challenged on a daily basis, although physically touching the hair is extremely problematic!
On what the title of A Seat At The Table means:
Solange Knowles: I think that A Seat at the Table for me is an invitation to allow folks to pull up a chair, get very close and have these hard uncomfortable truths be shared. It’s not going to be pretty, it’s not going to be fun, you may not get to dance to it, you’re not going to breathe easily through it, but that is the state of the times that we’re in right now. It’s my invitation to actually open up those doors and to have that voice, get messy and lay out my truths and stand firm in them. It’s funny because I was in my room with my son and one of my best friends, Chris, and I had just finished the record and hadn’t given much thought to the name of the album, and it was time! For an entire day, I gave it thought and I had a little session where I just threw out every single name that I wrote down and my son would say, “no that’s not it,” or “oh, that one’s kinda good,” and it was actually Chris who threw out A Seat at the Table. I immediately remember feeling in that moment that that was the name that really encompassed the entire project. My openness and my willingness to really have these very personal intimate conversations was my way of saying, “yeah we ‘bout to get real close.”
On the N-word and expressing her emotions as a black woman:
Judnick Mayard: The very first line of this song [“F.U.B.U.”] is not a line that many people will be able to sing. For so many Black people within spaces, one of the micro-aggressions is being in a setting where the ‘N’ word is being used. With this track, it is almost a song that not everyone can sing, so you in essence did make a song “For Us By Us.”
Tina Lawson: With Jay-Z and Kanye West’s song, I’ll walk into a party and everyone, including people not of color, are saying “N-s in Paris.” Do you think that everyone will sing this song? Do you think that if you walked into a party everyone would be saying “All my N-s?”
Solange Knowles: The reality is that I have been in countless situations where non-black people sing and say the n-word around me or around a predominantly Black group of people. That has been really traumatic for me in some ways, and I have constantly had to have that conversation. But, when I think of “F.U.B.U.,” and the album as a whole, I think of punk music and how white kids were allowed to be completely disruptive, allowed to be anti-establishment, and express rage and anger. They were allowed to have the space to do all of that, even if it meant being violent or destroying property and that wasn’t exactly inclusive to us even if we created the groundwork for rock and roll. If we were inclusive and we were violent and destroying property and able to express that kind of rage, then it would not be allowed in the same way.
Read the entire interview here.