ArtRaceSex & Gender

solange: a course in black female political theory

December 20, 2018
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When A Seat At The Table dropped, I know I wasn’t the only Black women who found herself transported to the Church of Black Womanhood with Ms. Knowles presiding over a congregation of weary souls. At the time I didn’t understand that the album would also be a schooling experience in more ways than one, giving Black women and allies new language and art to build on an existing map for our liberation.

Here was a 52 minute-long ode to Black Womanhood, specific in its origins and universal in its reach. It illuminated the darkest corners of the Black female experience, lending a new tool of expression through Solange’s poetic lyrics carried by feather-light harmonies that floated past those ‘Cranes In The Sky’. This pastel piece of perfection even went as far as expanding the parameters in which Black womanhood is discussed in a politic context. In classes across America (and likely the world) Black educators found a new platform to introduce Black female political theory into the fore of the public psyche – educators like associate professor of political science at Philander Smith College Joseph L. Jones.

Jones and his colleagues discussed why there weren’t more classes focusing on Black women in a political context and when the opportunity finally came, he decided to teach that class. As an ally worth his salt, Jones was nervous that his perspective would hinder him from doing the subject but a friend put his mind at ease with a simple truth: “who else is more qualified to talk about your mother, grandmother and sister than you?”

Jones created a one-of-a-kind course using each song on A Seat At The Table as a weekly theme with accompanying political theory from Black women scholars – essentially a Black Feminist/Womanist’s dream college course. Each song serves a vehicle of exploration for themes and issues relating to Black women and their political identity. “The song “Mad” allowed us to interrogate sexual violence and Black women in the criminal justice system,” Jones wrote in an essay for Diverse Issues in Higher Learning. “Body politics was aligned with “Don’t Touch My Hair. We explored topics such as Black feminism, African women diaspora, popular culture and the political economy of Black women by listening to “Weary”; “Where Do We Go, Junie” and “Scales” respectively.”

Jones’ students were able to use an artistic framework to contextualize the political ramifications of existing in the Black woman’s body. Black women in the class used Solo’s artistry to grasp Melissa Harris Perry’s “Crooked Room” theory, which speaks to the disconnect between a Black women’s personal identity, the tropes imposed on her and whether she will decide to accept those narrow tropes as anything close to her experience.

Some of the most important revelations were had by the Black men in the class. According to Jones, “After a few classes, it became clear to me that they had never considered issues like privilege, consent or sexual assault in a political way.” What this revelation revealed is the expectation of everyone in the Black community to have a scholarly understanding of the power dynamics that structure our oppression. Black men are often able to unpack the mechanics of white supremacy without having the tools to apply that same skill to patriarchy. Jones told them that “they were the “White men” and if they understood and could critique White supremacy then patriarchy is its twin brother, and you cannot denounce one system without condemning the other.” They had finally walked away with the understanding perfectly articulated by Toni Morrison: white supremacy is a disease that white people will have to face in order for it to be dismantled just like patriarchy is the responsibility of men.

Few albums are truly evergreen and even fewer have the cultural and political significance of A Seat At The Table. The importance was immediately evident and undeniable. Here’s to an album that built its own table and gave Black women the tools speak our own into existence.