Solange Knowles has written a searing essay about being black in white spaces

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Moya Crockett
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For years, Solange Knowles has been using her platform as a public figure to speak about race, feminism, politics and social issues. Her website, Saint Heron, is dedicated to celebrating and promoting “diversity, innovation and progression in music, art and culture”, with a particular focus on the creative work of black people. She has spoken frequently and articulately about the unique pressures, problems and pleasures of being a black women. And in a powerful Teen Vogue interview last year, Knowles and teen actress and activist Amandla Stenberg discussed the intersecting issues of race and feminism in a way that made them accessible to adolescent girls in Middle America.

Now, Knowles has written a powerful essay, And Do You Belong? I Do, about her experiences of being a black woman in predominantly white spaces.

In the piece, published on Saint Heron, Knowles describes having rubbish thrown at her by white women while she danced at a concert.

Knowles was at a Kraftwerk concert with her husband, music video director Alan Ferguson, her 11-year-old son Julez, and one of Julez’s friends. When she started dancing (not, as she points out, a particularly radical act, considering that the German band were “pioneers of electronic and dance music”), Knowles heard women yell at her to “sit down right now”.

Minutes later, the women started throwing rubbish at Knowles, including “a half-eaten lime”.

One of the women later told Knowles: “I just want to make it clear, I was not the one who yelled those horrible, nasty things at you.” This, Knowles says, indicated that they must have been saying far worse things than she had initially overheard.

Rather than enter into a discussion with the women at the time or involve the police, Knowles instead decided to share the story on Twitter (in posts that have since been deleted).

While she never accused the women of racism, she did tweet that “This is why many black people are uncomfortable being in predominantly white spaces”. In the essay, she writes that she “still stand[s] true to that”.

There is, Knowles observes, a “tone” that black people frequently encounter when they spend time in “predominantly white spaces”.

“It’s the same one that says to your friend, ‘BOY… go on over there and hand me my bag’ at the airport, assuming he’s a porter,” she writes.

“It’s the same one that tells you, ‘m’am, go into that other line over there’ when you are checking in at the airport at the first class counter before you even open up your mouth.”

In the essay, Knowles also addresses a frustrating issue often encountered by people of colour. When pointing out the damaging behaviour of certain white people, she explains, she shouldn’t have to first stipulate that she doesn’t dislike white people as a whole.

As a black person, she writes, “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… You do not dislike white people but dislike the way that many white people are constantly making you feel.”

Knowles adds that she and her friends had “been called the N word, been approached as prostitutes, and have had [their] hair touched in a predominately white bar just around the corner from the same venue” as the Kraftwerk concert.

When she shared her experience at the concert on social media, Knowles says that she knew that many people would attempt to deny or invalidate what had happened to her: “You constantly see the media having a hard time contextualising black men and women as victims every day, even when it means losing their own lives”.

However, she writes that she also understood that many of her black followers would have experienced similar attacks while occupying “white spaces”.  

“If it means them hearing [me] say it’s ok, [I] will rise again throughout these moments.”

Read Solange Knowles’s full essay on Saint Heron here.

Images: Rex Features


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Moya Crockett

Moya is a freelance journalist and writer from London, and a former editor at Stylist.