(Using Black Girl Magic to Build) A Seat at the Table
Over a year ago I wrote a poem in which I have the stanza:
But we know the truth,
that we contain the secrets of the Universe.
That we have the power to arrange and rearrange the
constellations to fit our order.
That we come from the women who birthed humanity
and they won’t give us a seat at the table
But we have the magic to create our own.
I would have never thought that a year later, Solange would release an album that spoke directly to the point of my poem, and that sonically (and visually) validates my experiences and my existence.
I was fearful of writing about A Seat at the Table for fear of not doing it justice; when a work does as much as this one does, and is as Blackity Black Black as this one is, it is hard to put into words the power that it exudes. But I think it is important to talk about the way that this work revels in delight while addressing, and not ignoring, pain.
While on the phone with my mama last week- a fierce 60-something year old matriarch, she paused in the middle of our conversation to say “you know, I’m soft too. Y’all think I’m mean and hard and rough but I’m soft too. My feelings get hurt too.” And all I could think about was the way that she is known in the family-powerful and no nonsense. One of my most salient stories from my childhood is when a taxi driver stopped short on the Madison Avenue Bridge, causing my older sister to rear-end him and when they got out to assess the damage, the taxi driver threatened to hit her. My mama grabbed the steering wheel lock and started waving it saying “If you touch my child they gonna be scraping yo ass off this pavement.”
What does it mean that the woman who was and is the symbol of strength, power, and protection in my life feels that she has to remind the world that she experiences other emotions too and that power and vulnerability can coexist? This is what Solange does with a Seat at the Table, remind the world that these two can exist, particularly with Weary. Sometimes we are weary and have to look for our glory. And this is okay because all that we will ever need is inside of us.
There is an undeniable darkness to this work. Cranes in the Sky chronicles what would be considered very clear and obvious signs of depression. And if you think about the literal existence of cranes in the sky, they act as clouds, blocking out the sun and creating darkness. And then there is Mad, in which Lil Wayne talks about his own darkness, breaking the stigma of Black men and mental health struggles- You mad cuz the judge didn’t give me more time or when I attempted suicide I didn’t die? I remember how mad I was on that day. A Seat at the Table gives us permission to live in and experience all of our emotions- tiredness, sadness, anger, pride, self-love, joy- and reminds us to take care of ourselves.
Solange perfectly weaves her candid talk about mental health with her chronicling of Blackness and Black Pride. There is a history behind all of these emotions. We are mad for a reason. We are weary for a reason. But we are also joyful for a reason (because we survived and are still here). Blackness is experiencing the full range of emotions and allowing ourselves to feel.
The Black girl anthem of the album, Don’t Touch My Hair, is larger than life. Our hair is our culture and contains all of our secrets. Don’t Touch My Hair is a declaration- against appropriation, against people trying to invalidate Black artistic expression and beauty. Although the phrase don’t touch my hair is targeted toward those outside the community, the pride and joy of all that it means (especially in the music video) are all about self-love.
I could write a whole other piece about Master P’s role in a Seat at the Table, turning it almost into an auditory documentary, punctuated by music. The way that he talks about the success of No Limit Records and how it was his way of starting his own army after his grandfather came back from war and white society didn’t give him anything, pumps life into the album. Master P’s discussion of how he refused to sell his company, reflecting on the ways that Black artists have been taken advantage of by the music industry shows his understanding of his self worth. His closing lines of the album about how we came here as slaves and are leaving as royalty reflects the seat that he has built at his own table.
And while Master P’s voice plays an important role in this piece, I still believe that the driving force behind it is Black Girl Magic, or the idea that our magic comes from our humanity. We are not magic because we are carefree and have easy lives. We are magic because we feel, and feel deep, even when the world doesn’t believe that we do. That’s how we construct our seat and the entire table, by relishing in our continued existence, though we may get weary, and knowing that the fact that we are still here is our continued act of revolution.