Dr. Mathew Knowles is an author, a public speaker and a professor at Texas Southern University, but a lot of you may know him as the creator of Destiny’s Child and Beyoncé’s father. He recently released a book, titled “Racism from the Eyes of a Child.” Growing up in the 50’s-70’s, Knowles has the intention to make this book a lesson about America’s most segregated era.
“The reason why I wrote this book is that I want to tell my story of growing up in Alabama,” Knowles shared in an interview with Southern Laced. This is the second book Knowles is publishing after “The DNA of Achievers” which he penned in 2015. Knowles told us he had to seek therapy to get to where he is now and urged the black community to do the same.
From childhood, Knowles explained that he saw white females as a way of subconsciously getting even with white folks, for having to drink water from a colored fountain, sit on a colored toilet or sit separately in a bus designated for people of color alone.
Knowles said he has always had it in mind to write this book after releasing “The DNA of Achievers.” He also disclosed to us that his students are co-authors of his next book “The Emancipation of Slaves through Music.”
On the recent media frenzy concerning the release of “Racism from the Eyes of a Child,” Knowles said the media sometimes get it wrong when it comes to describing him as a person. When people meet him and get to know him better, they often say, ‘”Hey, I never knew you were this smart!” or “Hey, I never knew you were this tall.”
Being a father to two world-renowned artists Beyoncé and Solange, Knowles insisted that it’s compulsory for children to feel good about themselves and this sole responsibility lies on the shoulders of their parents. At age 66, it is unarguably commendable what Knowles has achieved. Judging from the waves “Racism from the Eyes of a Child” is making, we can’t wait for the release of his next book.
Q: What inspired you to write a book like this?
A: A number of things inspired me. I wanted to tell my story of growing up in Gadsden, Alabama and the experiences I had being one of the first of integrating junior high and high school, the University of Tennessee in Chattanooga. I wanted to research and understand better because I never really understood my family on the Knowles side. I knew my grandparents, but I didn’t know my great-grandparents. On my mother’s side, I didn’t know my great-grandparents. So I wanted to explore information and share that. I also wanted to write a book that began dialogue and conversation in our community and across the globe. That dialogue is about racism – when someone feels that they are superior than someone else. And I wanted to start a dialogue about colorism – when someone discriminates based on the shade of someone’s color. I wanted to talk about my years in therapy. I wanted to share the defining moments for me and encourage our black men to utilize the opportunity to get therapy. Lastly, because I’m an educator. This is my second book. My first book was “The DNA of Achievers”. As an educator, one of our missions is to write. And we are encouraged as educators to write. As a college professor, those are the reasons why I wrote this book.
Q: The subject of colorism is very interesting. Do you think it has changed over the years?
A: First and foremost, I think that all black women are beautiful regardless of their shade of color. Do I think things have changed? Yes. I think we’ve progressed but there’s still a long way to go when we talk about racism and colorism. Colorism was imposed on us. It wasn’t our option. It was imposed on during slavery when the slave master, at his wishes, could secure a female slave and do whatever he wanted to and have kids. That’s where colorism comes from. Today, colorism, for me, is not just the black community. Colorism is the whole world. In Mexico, you see the darker shade Mexicans – those are the people in the fields with the menial jobs. You go to the UK, you’ll see the same thing. You can go to India, you’ll see the same thing. Colorism is all around. You go to Nigeria, you’ll see the African women – a number of them are bleaching their skin to look white. One thing about colorism that’s always been is there’s a perception that it always has been related to money, power and control. Those are the three words of colorism – as you go lighter on the spectrum of color, the more money, power and control is the perception.
Q: How has colorism affected you in the music industry and pop culture?
A: I’ve been teaching at Texas Southern for eight years. Three years ago, my Artist Management class did research on Top 40 Pop Radio in America. And going back over the years and just looking from a shade of color of black females, how many were played at pop radio? Very, very few over the years via pop radio. Then, we ask why is that? And I noted some of the artists today that are examples of that in the book.
Q: Did colorism have an impact on how you presented Destiny’s Child to the world?
A: What did impact my decision with Destiny’s Child was demographics. From a pure business perspective, I had to look at the numbers and understand them. And understand who was my audience and how I could get all of the audience, including the white audience. I realized that at Columbia Records and Sony, I had an uphill battle because back in 1997, you had the black department, the urban department, the black music department. That’s what existed. It was segregation within those record labels. I had to maneuver through that at the record labels to get pop radio to play Destiny’s Child. So from that perspective, yes.
Q: Growing up, your mother told you not to bring home a nappy-head Black girl. Did that affect how you raised your children?
A: I can tell you that it affected me. I internalized it when my mother said that. That prohibition, it influenced my behavior in many of my decisions. When you’re a child and you internalize something, it affects you. It affects your decision making and how you think.
In the book, I talk about the fact that in high school I dated primarily white girls. That’s one of the ways I internalized that is that I should not date black girls. I talk in the book about when I first met my former wife. At one party, I saw this woman and I actually thought she was white. When I approached her, I approached her from a perspective that I thought she was white and not black. But certainly, after I met her, I realized that she was, in fact, black.
In college, I dated a lot of white women or a very high shade of black. That’s how I internalized what my mother said. And that’s why therapy was helpful for me to understand how it affected me.
Q: In an interview with Billboard, Solange explained how A Seat At The Table helped her understand you more. Can you elaborate on that?
A: That album was genius in how she told the story through each song and the skits. Solange has always been a great writer. I didn’t know until I was reading yesterday that Tina, who I consider a friend, didn’t know I was going to be there. But I knew she was going to be there. (laughs) I don’t know what that was all about, but it was a great moment.
Q: What did you take away from that particular gathering?
A: I took away that Tina could have been a Black Panther. (laughs) I love what she said about black history month.
Q: What do you want people to take away from your book?
A: Hopefully, the take away would be that they learned a lot about what folks had to go through in the 50s, 60s and 70s. In the South, it was really different. In the book, I have four guests that give their perspective. I hope they learned a lot from those guest and them telling their stories as well. Because of the trauma that folks had to endear back in those days, I hope the dialogue for men is that maybe therapy is not a bad thing. Maybe we shouldn’t feel weak if we decide to go to therapy as black men.
This interview has been edited and condensed by Southern Laced.