I forgot what happened in Charlotte; I can’t even place how I got anywhere because everything blurs together. I can watch videos of myself from news coverage and can dissociate in the same breathe. I can only remember the phone calls, the tear gas, and how Charlotte, North Carolina looked like as a war zone in the summer of 2016. I knew too well how dangerous the summer was for black folks. As a student organizer, my brushes with police are frequent and varied. This is a legacy of pain and violence that wasn’t new to me.
On September 20, 2016, Keith Lamont Scott was killed by Charlotte Mecklenburg Police. Ten days later, on September 30, 2016, Solange Knowles released an album about the process of healing and the ways that black folks—black women, specifically—must navigate the world while processing the things we are taught to struggle through.
While ASATT is a journey into self-healing and acceptance of the trauma most of us are taught we must accept, it is a privilege to dream of a world without police killing unarmed black men and women, to dream of a world without rage, a world without pain.
By October 2016, I had been pepper sprayed, heard my mother get hit with a sound canister on the phone, and went days without eating throughout the Charlotte Uprising. At the time, I could have greatly benefitted by listening to Solange's critically acclaimed album while traveling from Atlanta, where I'm currently living to attend school, to Charlotte, my hometown, to unite with other black organizers in defense of Scott's murder. But instead, I avoided it completely. The album said too much about all the issues I wanted to hide.
Solange’s ability to speak transparently about her journey made me uncomfortable, and jealous. Album standout "Cranes in the Sky" haunted me. I wanted to be whole, healed and full of wisdom, but I knew I wasn’t there yet.
I returned to Atlanta, a shell. I stuffed the pain and anger of being and seeing black folks brutalized by police in my left rib and I existed. I survived and ran away from the ugly things inside. I couldn’t articulate what I had experienced in Charlotte, but with ASATT in my headphones, Solange slowly became my voice. She had the maturity to stare at the monsters I refused to acknowledge.
It has been two years since Knowles released A Seat at the Table, but I can now hear it with new ears. Finally, I can look at the scars. Through her work, I can be honest about the ugliness of it all.
Witnessing and being abused by police isn’t something you forget; it is something that sticks to you and makes you forget that your body is your own. For me, ASATT has helped to connect the parts of you that can seem lost in ancestral pain.
The album begins with a look at the past and the ways that ancestral traumas show up in our everyday. “That was really about honoring my lineage, my past...it’s almost like a meditation to just prepare yourself to go through this journey,” Solange said when speaking on the importance of "Rise" as an opening meditation on the historical pain in her family's hometown of New Iberia, Louisiana.
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Naming the beasts banging on the door is the hardest part. It means accepting your reality and doing the thing that will cause immediate pain. When I heard "Weary" for the first time, it felt heavy, like the days I didn’t go to class and all the days my body felt like a burden after the Uprising. For many listeners, ASATT became a breezy anthem toward self-care. But for me, the album felt an attack on the little bit of disillusionment I had left; it pulled all grit from me and told me to be accountable. It was a call to arms for those of us looking for our bodies after putting them on the line one too many times.
"I’m gon' look for my body, yeah / I’ll be back like real soon (real soon) / You’re leaving not a trace in the world / But you’re facing the world" –Solange, "Weary"
One of the high points of the album is Knowles’ haunting track "Mad," featuring Lil Wayne. The record allows for black women, in particular, to be honest about the burden of unreleased anger and the micro-aggressive ways that black women’s rage is policed. I knew this song and its lyrics all too well. I was too familiar with feeling as if I had to pacify my anger for the world. I knew deeply how my anger as a black woman was easy to dismiss.
“I am in the process of opening up to my own anger instead of going to extreme lengths to avoid or hold the anger of others,” author Candice Williams wrote on Electric Lit, speaking candidly about how the repressed anger of black women works to further subjugate those made speechless. Knowles speaks deeply and sweetly about how draining the burden of anger can be on the body, too. And Wayne's painful verse on "Mad" gives us a brief, transparent glimpse into the tortured reality of a star who has kept his mental and physical health illness under wraps for years.
Knowles closes out ASATT with "Pedestals," "Don’t Wish Me Well," and "The Chosen Ones," noting the end of a journey where we sought internal validation and no longer need external acceptance. The beauty of empowerment and discernment is that it can be felt through Knowles' full arrangements under Master P’s narration.
It took a semester of depression, anxiety, and avoidance to receive the message Knowles makes clear in ASATT: naming your trauma and speaking about it freely is the first step towards claiming justice that you can only create in yourself. I spent the rest of my semester after the Uprising avoiding my problems and using organizing as an easy distraction from the trauma still clinging to my body. Twenty-four months later, the album is an easy pill to swallow because it is the lesson I had to learn the hard way, a lesson I can now name without running away.
Beyond being culturally appreciated, ASATT was and still is an album that asks the listener to dig deeper. It asks that we look at the fullness of life and wonder aloud if we're actually fulfilled or simply existing.
I wasn’t ready for this album. It met me at a time when I was outside of my body; a time when I couldn’t find myself when the dust settled. Whether facing police violence, dealing with the grips of depression or living in a world that sees me expendable, it can be hard to locate a path in the darkness—a path that doesn’t lead to another dead end—but A Seat at the Table gave me a light. I can now look at the monsters, name them, and fight back.
“Young, Defenseless, Light begets us, fire won’t end us.” —Zora Howard & Joshua Bennett
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