Solange Shines Light on Being Black in “Predominantly White Spaces”
Race is an interesting topic for me. Since I’m Indian, the crux of American race relations doesn’t largely hinge on my ethnicity, but rather on black and white. From the “other” perspective, this is often confusing, leaving us to figure out where we stand, what concerns us, and where our narratives lie.
It’s taken time to figure out where my voice fits in — the "other." Though it's a viewpoint that is broached, it isn’t discussed nearly enough - and for whatever reason, not by many Indians, and not by my family. Mostly, it feels like this: Does my voice matter?
So while reading Solange Knowles’ personal essay, “And Do You Belong? I Do,” which she penned after receiving ill treatment at a Kraftwerk concert Saturday evening (September 10), I was shocked. Those aren’t things I’ve experienced.
Solange begins the essay by looking back on past events where she felt hostility in “predominantly white spaces,” describing specific encounters she’s had where white people questioned her right to be in such a place because she is black. She also goes into detail about how she was mistreated at the Kraftwerk concert, where she was harassed by four older white women who were sitting in the box behind her, where she was with her husband, her son and her son’s friend. One of the white women even threw a lime at Solange’s back, which stunned her. And me.
“You don’t feel that most of the people in these incidents do not like black people, but simply are a product of their white supremacy and are exercising it on you without caution, care, or thought,” she writes. Not once does she call these women racist, only remarking that their behavior is a result of their environment. “You realize that you never called these women racists, but people will continuously put those words in your mouth.”
I don’t know this feeling. I’ve never had anything thrown at me. I’m Indian and because of that, I know I still hold more privilege (though not feeling accepted in white spaces is something I’ve dealt with). I try my best to grasp what it means to be black in today’s America, but it’s not something I know firsthand. I can only read, ask questions, and unlearn the things I’ve been taught.
As I continued reading, I was grateful that Solange remained inclusionary in her essay. She wrote, “The statement you made makes headlines funny enough just days after it comes to light that Air China warns their flyers not to go into Indian, Pakistani, or Black neighborhoods in order to stay safe, while Texas schools are fighting to have textbooks calling Mexicans ‘lazy’ removed from classrooms, and while Native Americans are doing everything they can possibly to protect their sacred land from an oil pipeline being built on graves of their descendants. You know that people of colors’ ‘spaces’ are attacked every single day, but many will not be able to see it that way.”
Why am I grateful? Grateful because my narrative is not always written about in the same breath as the black experience — because my narrative is something that is often seen as separate from the black experience, and indeed that’s true. My story is different and the black experience deserves its own space, time and spotlight. Because like I said, I have more privilege. But it’s nice to feel like a part of the overarching story, and that my voice — and voices like mine — matter.
As Solange repeats towards the end of her essay, “We belong.”
By Tara Mahadevan. Follow her on Twitter.
Photo Credit: Instagram