WORDS: RONALD E. LYNCH, JR.
The Word: “…tell the truth, have you ever found God in church? I never did. I just found a bunch of folks hoping for him to show. Any God I ever felt in church I brought in with me. And I think all the other folks did too. They come to church to share God, not find God.”
Alice Walker, “The Color Purple”
Our parents and grandparents have spent lifetimes trying to find the good and God in every damned situation that Black Americans have endured over the course of America’s reign of terror.
And for a brief stint of our adolescents, we, the Black youth of the millennium, in some way, have feverishly tried to continue the traditions of those who stood over us. Despite our best efforts, we were never enough. We were never quite respectable enough or religious enough or man or woman enough. We never mastered the ability to be their dream despite our lived nightmares.
In every way that we have failed to meet some ridiculous standard of expectation, Solange has traversed these same battles, publically. She, in the eyes of the media, was never enough of what she should have been. She was always too loud, too outspoken, too honest about the things the world agreed to lie about. Solange’s failure to care, however, designated her as our Goddess of Carefree Blackness, because she showed us that failure could be harnessed for freedom.
Thus begins the melodic harmonies of Solange, as she invites us to “fall”, “crumble”, “sleep”,”walk, and, finally “rise” in our truth of failure, blackness, and pain. With every note that Solange commands, she births space for a revival of not just the spirit, but, the more easily forgotten, mind and body. With words that melt sublimely over our shared cultural experience, Solange croons an alter call, for Black folks of a certain age to find “A Seat at the Table” and begin the work of abandoning our search of finding God and to, simply, start sharing Her.
Glory, Glory Hallelujah Since I Laid my Burdens Down
Our journey starts with redress of the experiences we have constantly been denied: the space to exist in what and how we feel.
“Rise”, “Weary”, “Cranes in the Sky”, “Mad”, and their respective interludes all lay in very specific emotions that we, for fear or worry of being devoured, have been dissuaded from courting. We have been expected to deal with intraracial harm, Black death, grave injustice, abuse, and the shaky hand of life without ever taking stock on how these things impact our livelihoods as human-beings. In recognition of this trauma, Solange truthfully provides the musical backings to the introspection that we deserve to know. With help from Lil’ Wayne, Matthew Knowles, and Tweet, Solange ushers us into the pews of unrest that what we often murmur about, but have been rebuked from affirming, because “it could always be worse”. She becomes our patron saint of TRUE emotional intelligence.
Ultimately, these opening tracks allow us, the ungrateful failures, to lay our burdens upon the table that Solange has prepared for us, and instead of being ashamed of all of the things we are not, or being leery about our place in the world; or, hiding our attempts to run it away; or even almost succumbing to self-harm, we, instead, are allowed to take inventory of the many ways we have been conspired against, yet survive.
Was lost, but now I’m found
It is only when we are allowed to be emotional beings that we can find the humanity in all the ways that the world promises to deny us.
“Don’t You Wait”, “Don’t Touch My Hair”, “Where Do We Go”, “F.U.B.U”., and their respective interludes, delivers us from praise & worship to our sermon of visibility. It is during this movement of the album that Solange grapples with the aggressions of being visible to millennials outside of the Black diaspora. With the wisdom of Master P and Mama Tina, the three skillfully take on antiblackness and the myth that the worst of white folks are only guilty of naivete and ignorance, but never the investment to see us only in ways they can exploit or dominate us.
Solange first dispels the apocrypha by declining to “waste time trying to get to know [it]”, then she empowers “all of her niggas in the whole wide world” to refuse negotiations of our experience or humanity even when we are not sure how much more we can endure.
With the distraction of whiteness pushed to the margins of her gaze, Solange soars on these tracks that refuse to allow space for anything outside the empyrean of blackness. It is here that Solange delivers her commandment of compassion. Her almost musical omniscience recognizes that we often deny ourselves forgiveness, because we are still operating under the white supremacist lie that we have to be twice as good, just to be considered, even when our counterparts are, at best, aiming to hit a floor of mediocrity. Solange’s refusal to privilege whiteness births the “truth” of her “sound”, because she “rode the ride” and “gave it time”. Solange is a Shepheard because she is faithful to herself.
With the amazing grace of her sonic direction and lyrical prowess, we were blind but now see ourselves.
I know I been changed, I know I been changed
From visibility comes the tenet that we, a culture of people, extend beyond our commonalities, and should be championed as individuals, too.
Solange opens the doors to the church during this sweet spot of deliverance to her weary flock. Under her direction, “A Seat at the Table” blesses this moment for us, by us by fortifying the broadness of the Black experience.
“Borderline (An Ode to Self-Care)”, “Junie”, “Don’t Wish Me Well”, “Scales”, and “The Chosen Ones”, appear to wash over us like a baptism of celebration for who we are as autonomous Black individuals. While these songs seem to challenge and drum up emotions that the former put to rest, they cohesively embrace the flood of emotions that we drown in because we have no other option but to be Black and conscious in 2016. And despite our uncertainty, Solange requires that we tithe our souls to pride. She, no matter where we fall on the scale of Blackness–the artsy Black queer, the Black trap god, the Black revolutionary romantic– incites us to take pride in our experiences, because we have made them from the ashes of nothing.
The beauty of this album is that it doesn’t seek to rush us into glory, by forcing us to see the golden paved streets that we might one day inherit, but, instead allows us to find residence in where we exist now. More divinely, “A Seat at the Table” allows space for Blackness in every way imagined. Solange’s use of Master P as the Master of Ceremony and Guest Pastor only further proves her interest in disrupting systems of Black respectability that we often become parishioners to. It is through his autoethnographic testimony during this revival do we see the ways in which whiteness, in its many forms, aims to rip us apart and see our Othering as consequence of our existence, rather the failure of whiteness to be honest.
It is no surprise to us that this album is number one in the country, because we, through everything that it is, know that we have been changed by it, because Sol-Angel from Hadley St. don’ signed our name. She, in her benevolence, teaches us that our failure will be apex to our magic.
So we, the Black youth of the millennium, gather around the table, ranging anywhere from exhausted, numb, weary, sad, hurt, but continuously reaching for joy, to share compassion and God from our very breaths. We sit, in silence, in the Blackness of our experiences. We sit riveted in the notion of our failings. We sit, seemingly, staring into the dark, but our eyes are, actually, watching God.