A Seat at the Table: A Discussion of Solange Knowles’s Testament to Blackness

By Amari Gaiter

Solange Knowles’s A Seat at the Table serves as a 51 minutes at 43 second long testament to being black in modern America. Through beautiful and rhythmic melodies, Knowles takes the listener on a journey, conveying the dynamics of black identity and culture through her lyrics and music as a whole. As I listen to it now as I write this, I am once again in awe at how wonderfully Knowles encompasses the nuances of being not only being a black woman, but being black in America.

The title of her album reminds me of Langston Hughes’ Poem I, too. In this poem, Hughes writes “Tomorrow, /I’ll be at the table /When company comes. /Nobody’ll dare/ Say to me, /“Eat in the kitchen,” /Then. /Besides, /They’ll see how beautiful I am /And be ashamed— /I, too, am America.” Through a metaphor about eating at the table as opposed to eating in the kitchen, Hughes expresses his frustrations with the racial caste system in America while also declaring that one day his voice will be heard and his identity will be appreciated, and through the utilization of different tenses to emphasize time, Hughes conveys his hope for human progress and that one day the black voice will matter. By naming her album A Seat at the Table, Knowles similarly reflects these ideas. She hints at the idea that Black Americans such as herself deserve to have a place in the broader American society, and that black people and voices matter too.

While all of the songs off the album speak to me and about very important ideas, her song Mad has a message that I feel is really relatable and important. In this song, Knowles discusses how often black people are not allowed to be mad in response to societal issues. She sings “I ran into this girl, she said, “Why you always blaming?”/”Why you can’t just face it?” (Be mad, be mad, be mad)/”Why you always gotta be so mad?” (Be mad, be mad, be mad)…”Why you always gotta be, why you always gotta be so mad?” (Be mad, be mad, be mad)/ I got a lot to be mad about (Be mad, be mad, be mad).” Often times, in response to anger about issues surrounding racism such as police brutality and microaggressions, the response is “Why are you so mad?” I have had experiences where I have gotten emotional about such topics, and the responses from some of my peers frustratingly included the infamous “Amari, why are you getting so upset? Calm down.” And in Mad, Knowles sings about this exact frustration of having your emotions be invalidated. It is extremely validating to have these feelings and thoughts put not only into words, but into music, and I thank Knowles for doing so.

To conclude this discussion of her album, I leave the reader with a quote from Knowles’ song Interlude: Tina Taught Me:

It’s such beauty in Black people, and it really saddens me when we’re not allowed to express that pride in being Black, and that if you do, then it’s considered anti-white. No! You just pro-black. And that’s okay. The two don’t go together.

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