Matthew Knowles on Racial Climate in America

Matthew Knowles has a long history and career in the music business. He continues to inspire people through music literature. In the recent years, the music mogul has moved toward writing books about black music history. Knowles’ sophomore book Racism from Eyes of the Child talked about his family history and how he grew up during the times of high racism.


ATM: Why did you pick water to personify your mother and oil to personify your grandmother Hester in the introduction of Racism from Eyes of the Child?

MK: This is a really great question. Hmm. No one has ever asked me this question before. I always put vinegar and oil on my salad. These are so opposites of each other. It showed the opposites of my mother and grandmother. Oil and water do not mix.

ATM: So, you personified these terms to allowed us to deeply understand how these two influential people in your life did not mix?

MK: Exactly. Such great question.

ATM: What chaotic part within yourself do you wish to fix while writing books that carry racism as a distinct narrative?

MK: I have gone to therapy for years about personal racial trauma. The therapy made me relive some of these events. You have to face trauma to get over and walk through it. This allowed me to walk through it again. I also found different perspectives on things.

ATM: How much did slaves cherish music during their times?

MK: It took 1-2 years for slaves to get to America after leaving Africa. This was a real journey. There were many different tribes. They could not communicate. 25% of these slaves were Muslims. They were mixed in with the other slaves. They clicked and hit their chains on the walls, moaned, and hummed. This was their way of communication. They could not verbally communicate because of their different dialects and tribes. Music helped them get through this journey. The white masters thought the slaves sang because of happiness. They wanted the slaves to sing all day long. The slaves sang to just get through the day. The days were tough. These were 12-14 hours days of getting beaten. This was the beginning of the effect on slaves and black folks. It continued through slavery and the church became involved in the process. The white masters wanted to control the slaves through religion. The Muslims slaves faked and went with the motions of everything. They did not like drums with their music but preferred their music to be a cleaner sound. They used music to synchronize while shoveling and hitting the dirt in the hole. Slaves had to endure so much.

ATM: There is a quote from the American Novelist James Baldwin that relates to this conversation. Baldwin says, “People are trapped in history and history is trapped in them.” Do you feel the current racism is built with the emotional residue of our ancestors whether slaves or masters?

MK: Racism also comes from wanting to erase our history and fear. I recently saw the movie Blackkklansman. It was interesting to see the build-up of the hatred and the hatred still seen in America today. The hatred that some whites have against the Jewish, Latin, and Black culture because they want to be a pure race. When Trump is talking about his core audience this is what he means. People are embedded in the fear, anger, and hate.

ATM: So, what is it going to take for the racial climate in America to be seized or more controlled?

MK: We have some black leaders today. I grew up in Alabama. I got on a plane with when Judge Moore ran for a Senate position. I did several speeches and rallies. I wanted to make a change. 98% of every black woman that was registered to vote in Alabama had voted. This made a big difference. Black people are not voting, which causes the issues that are going on now. It is very simple. Go vote to let their voices be heard. The social courage is important.

ATM: Some black people complained about the results of the election, but most did not go out to vote. More people need to live by the saying “every vote counts.” This is why America is in the position it is now. Minorities took everything for granted.

MK: Black votes matter just like black lives matter. We can make a change in November. All we have to do is go vote.

ATM: Where in your life do you still see the snippets of the teachings your mother instilled in you to help survive racial moments and slurs today?

MK: A white insurance man came to our door. People paid the premium during this time frame. He knocked on the door and stated his name. Then he asked, “Is Helen Knowles here?” My mother came to the door and said, “Young man you have two choices. One, to go get back in your car and leave. Two, get back and out of your car and knock again. You can ask if Mrs. Knowles is here.” He decided to come back and ask. My mother was a tough woman. Especially, when it came to desegregation and integration. We marched and demonstrated a lot of times. She had the social courage. My mother was not afraid to voice how she felt to a white person.

ATM: Express what her reaction about the climate on America today would have been.

MK: She would be extremely disappointed. My mother would be also proud. I never thought I would live to see a black president. She would be proud of this. In my age bracket, she would have never thought I would see a black president. My mother would be extremely frustrated, angry, and disappointed with is going on today with our current leadership in the White House. She would try to do something. My mother was not the type to just sit around but would do something to make an impact. Additionally, she would be disappointed in our younger generation, who spends more time on a cell phone with social media every day but did not see the importance to vote.

ATM: You just describe the millennial generation and some of the black community.

MK: It must be changed. Let’s look at the millennial generation. It is good that we have the technology. Technology can be used to unify and create movements. This generation should use this technology to have a movement that takes us to vote or demonstrate. Look at the white young white kids in Parkland, Florida who were impacted by the shooting. They had the social courage to march at the White House and make an impact on the world. These were teenage kids! They did not have an adult leader. If they can do it, then why can’t our black kids do it.

ATM: This starts with the schools. Additionally, this starts with how a black individual is raised and their environment.

MK: You are absolutely right.

ATM: A child only mimics what they are being taught. If a child grew up in a house where the importance of black rights was not important, then they will live life not caring. People talk the talk but cannot get up to walk the walk. They will grow up to see our young black boys getting murdered on the 10 pm news. It starts at home. These days people make a tweet on Twitter or a Snapchat video. During the 1960s, people got out to march and showed how they felt. Some people use social media as a crutch to not go out. Either you care, or you do not. Social media should be also used to carry the black voice. Other races had a voice or get out to show their remorse and feelings. This is an important time in American history. 

MK: You are absolutely right. I also believe there are a lot of Gabrielle’s around the United States of America that have to have the social courage to do the things you are saying. They have to speak up and speak out. You guys who are leaders and come from a different setting must have the social courage to show others their social courage. People do not stop and say, “Hey we should be doing this.” It is different when you have a peer vs. a professor or parent. Children should be saying this similar to the kids in Florida.

ATM: People are scared to take this step. Why can’t most of the black community collectively come together? Why does it have to take another black boy being shot and murdered?  

MK: Do you know your grandparents? Have you ever met them?

ATM: I know one of them.

MK: How old is the grandparent today?

ATM: My grandfather is 85.

MK: This means your great-grandfather would probably be 100 or something. This would mean your great great grandfather would have been a slave. This is not a long way back. We also forget slavery was only about 150 years ago. We still hear the messages of how black people are taught and think in our heads subconsciously. It will still take a couple generations before we take in these messages. Therefore, a lot of what you’re saying about the parenting standpoint and the police system is correct. You said this very well. It requires people to know there are different ways and approaches. It is about social courage.

ATM: We are the Dr. Martin Luther Kings Jrs and Malcolm Xs of our time. Yes, it will take generations and generations. What would the future black community say about the status of their community today? I turn on the TV every day waiting to see someone from the millennial generation step up to be the next Angela Davis, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Reverend Al Sharpton, or Malcolm X. It is really sad.

On the other hand, I must commend the film and television industry for showing issues related more to people of color. Also, for people speaking out about the gender pay gap in Hollywood. The more people speak the more a difference will get made. I can now turn on my TV to watch a show related to issues dealing with my gender and race. I did not have this option while growing up.

MK: Yes. Most people forget Dr. Martin Luther King Jr was only 27 when he did the March on Washington. He was young. This person is out there. This person will step up the more we talk. I firmly believe this. You are absolutely right. We have to give a positive mind to the film and television industry. They are showing more and more of us on the programming. The commercials now are amazing! These commercials are biracial and there are so many of them.

ATM: We used to only see whites and their families predominately represented on TV and in films. Today every show represents every minority such as the LGBTQ community, the black community, the Hispanic community, and the Asian community. People now have a chance to see their own skin displayed and learn how to maneuver through life. They realize other people go through the same problems of being a minority. I also like how the industry does not exhibit living as a minority look easy, which it is not. It blatantly shows the reality.

MK: You also no longer see the light complexion of black women. You see black in all other shapes and colors.

ATM: You also are starting to see a lot of this in the fashion world. They are letting models with dark complexions model. This helps cure and eliminate a dark person’s skin complex. This shows that black women of all sizes and shades are beautiful. Black people are starting to express themselves more through growing out their natural hair. They are putting down the perms.

MK: There some up and coming woman in their 30s and 40s making a difference in the political arena.

ATM: You are currently in your 60s. How have you stayed alive in the midst of being a black man in America’s treacherous racial climate?

MK: I was of the first to be in the midst of integration while growing up in Alabama. It prepared, encouraged, and helped me to want to be the very best. Also, this allowed me to understand the white culture and their communication process. I did not attend a black school until my junior year of college. It gave me some advantages. I paid such a big price for it. It gave me different insights and perspectives.

ATM: This brings me to my next question. Why did music become a keen interest and passion for you?

MK: I talk about passion and am glad you used this word. In my first book “The DNA of Achievers of Professionals.” The first trait is passion. When you live your passion you never work a day in your life. Work ethic co-exists with passion. If you find someone that works very hard, then you will find they are passionate. I spent 20 years in corporate America. I worked in the medical division of Waterlox. I sold copiers for one year. I worked in a medical position for nine years. There were only a couple of us in this position. Next, I was one of the first to sale MRI equipment for Phillips. I was one of the first to do this in America, Next, I worked at Johnson & Johnson as a neurosurgical specialist. I was one of the first to do this in America. This was my passion.

There is a popular term called manage care. The hospital paged me to go to a neurosurgeon who had just completed a procedure. I had thought something was wrong. He told me not to use my instruments anymore because it got pressure from the hospital about cost being high.  He had to quickly reduce the price. Therefore, he could not use my instruments. This was a defining moment for me. I no longer sold quality, but only for the cost. A true self-person never sales cost, but sales quality. I had to transition to something that gave me more passion. It turned out to be music. Beyoncé was 10 years old at the time. She went on Star Search and lost. The managers at the time did not know anything about the music industry. I went back to school and took courses in management and publishing. I went to a lot of seminars. I wanted to be knowledgeable. I changed my profession to music. It was a defining moment when the surgeon did not want my equipment because of the cost.

ATM: It is interesting that you mentioned education. I feel that America puts so much pressure on college students. If they do not attend college, then they will not succeed in life. This is not true.

MK: I ask my students on the first day of class about their passion. It cannot be what your mother, father, wife, husband, girlfriend, or boyfriend want you to be. It has to be what you want. I have been an educator for ten years. I have heard a lot of people say their mothers wanted them to be this and that. It never works. This person will stay in this field for three years very miserable. Then they finally find their passion. Find your passion. Some people might just be passionate about doing hair, singing, or being a captain of a boat. They go to school to learn about boating. I believe in educating. It does not have to always be the traditional four-year process. You have to be educated and have knowledge in the field. In 1984, Beyoncé was two years ago. My former wife and I were partners in a hair salon. We made one million dollars this year with a hair salon. She did not attend college but was passionate about hair. It depends on an individual.

ATM: How would you define Matthew Knowles as a person?

MK: Funny, witty, considerate, tough, engaged, smart, and loving. This is who I am.

Knowles talks about the racial climate in America. His music literature tackles the issues in the black community. His family history has allowed him to understand the racist environments in America. His book Emancipation of Slaves Through Music is set to release in a few months.


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