Mathew Knowles Says Internalized Colorism Led Him to Tina Lawson
"I actually thought when I met Tina, my former wife, that she was White."
Mathew Knowles’ latest book, Racism: From the Eyes of a Child, discusses race relations from the perspective of a young man growing up in the deep South, with the Texas Southern professor having borne witness to some of the most blatantly racist and, quite frankly, violent moments in recent American history.
In part one of our interview with the Alabama native, Knowles discusses his experience with colorism at a prominent HBCU and his admitted eroticized rage leading him to date ex-wife, Tina Lawson. The music executive also shares his thoughts on how colorism affects aspiring artists when they are looking for mainstream acceptance.
How did facing blatant and intense racism as a child affect how you interacted with others growing up?
It was about co-existing. I grew up in a small town and never went to a Black school. I went to Catholic school with White nuns until the eighth grade, when I was one of six kids to integrate Litchfield Junior High that [at the time] had about 700 or 800 students. Then we integrated Gadsden High. At University of Tennessee at Chattanooga, I was one of the first Blacks there. I didn’t go to a Black school until my junior year of college, when I went to Fisk University.
Yes. I talk about this in the book, but they had a colorism issue there. I was in the last class where they’d take out a brown paper bag, and if you were darker than the bag, you could not get into Fisk.
Really? What year was this?
It was 1972.
How have you and your family experienced colorism?
When I was growing up, my mother used to say, “Don’t ever bring no nappy-head Black girl to my house.” In the deep South in the ’50s, ’60s and ’70s, the shade of your Blackness was considered important. So I, unfortunately, grew up hearing that message.
I have a chapter in the book that talks about eroticized rage. I talk about going to therapy and sharing–one day I had a breakthrough–that I used to date mainly White women or very high-complexion Black women that looked White. I actually thought when I met Tina, my former wife, that she was White. Later I found out that she wasn’t, and she was actually very much in-tune with her Blackness.
I had been conditioned from childhood. With eroticized rage, there was actual rage in me as a Black man, and I saw the White female as a way, subconsciously, of getting even or getting back. There are a lot of Black men of my era that are not aware of this thing.
I’m sure you noticed similar patterns of colorism once you joined the music industry.
Oh, of course! I challenge my students at Texas Southern to think about this. When it comes to Black females, who are the people who get their music played on pop radio? Mariah Carey, Rihanna, the female rapper Nicki Minaj, my kids [Beyoncé and Solange], and what do they all have in common?
They’re all lighter skinned.
Do you think that’s an accident?
Of course not!
So you get it!