This world ain’t built to sustain our mental health. We don’t get to mourn. We don’t get to reflect. We don’t get to express.
When one of our own is shot 16 times, choked to death, has his spine nearly severed, is found dead in her jail cell or executed in a house of worship, we – Black people – do not get the next day off from work. While a presidential candidate promotes the hatred of our very existence and our “Black Lives Matter” cries are negated by “all lives” and “blue lives,” we are still expected to operate as usual. Bills still need to be paid, mouths still need to be fed, life still goes on. There is no therapy time allotted for being black in America.
Thankfully, Solange’s A Seat at the Table is the journal we don’t get the time to write, the conversations we don’t get to have and the exclamations we’re too tired to repeat.
The Knowles sister’s latest release is an extraordinary 21-track journey through Blackness, from its trials to its triumphs. Filled with proclamations of frustration, sadness and pride, A Seat at the Table includes the makings of modern Black identity. The album opens with instruction, “Fall in your ways, so you can wake up and rise,” before leading us through what we so often neglect: ourselves. We don’t often have the space to admit that we are “Weary” or to begin the search for our body and glory. We are not always able to acknowledge the heaviness of “Cranes in the Sky” and are forced to drink it away. And we certainly don’t get to be “Mad.” We are constantly moving, constantly dodging, constantly trying to survive. But for a moment, Solange sits us down for an honest exchange over skipping staccato pianos, layered vocals, full melodies, ceremonial horns, drum thumps and cymbal taps.
Along with vocalizing the innermost feelings we ignore or suppress, we are also provided a safe haven to celebrate ourselves in a world that rarely does. For the four minutes and seventeen seconds of “Don’t Touch My Hair,” Black women get to reclaim “boxer braids” as godd**n cornrows. On “F.U.B.U.,” we get to rally with “All my n****s in the whole wide world” for a moment that is For Us, By Us. Not only are we allowed our moment, we are given the exclusivity to relish in it, a stark contrast to our usual place as the outsider. For once, we are the gatekeepers, and we control the narrative.
As we struggle to care for ourselves, we also struggle to find community. Solange graciously brings the stories and teachings of her origins into the fold. Mathew Knowles recounts his rage during the beginnings of American racial integration and Tina Knowles defends Black pride, questioning why such sentiments would offend others. But one other unlikely hero serves as the conduit of the album’s journey: Master P. A shining example of the very American dream from which we are often excluded, the No Limit founder details how awareness of his worth took him from the projects in New Orleans to Forbes’s “40 Under 40” list. It is not often that we are told, "We come here as slaves, but we goin’ out as royalty."
Solange’s A Seat at the Table is what would happen if all of Black America could do the work to heal. If we could cry more, if we could celebrate more, if we could congregate more, if we could be – more. And we are indebted to her for the momentary remedy. Thank you.
(Photo: Columbia Records)