Mathew Knowles Talks New Book, “Racism from the Eyes of a Child,” Colorism in the Music Business, and Enlightening the Youth
Although many may know Mr. Mathew Knowles (commonly known by Mathew Knowles, Ph.D) as the father of one of the most iconic female entertainers of this generation, the one and only, Beyoncé, there is certainly more to this Gadsden, Alabama native than what meets the eye.
The 66-year-old carries a prestigious résumé in the music industry, that dates back decades, with executive producing credits on both platinum and gold albums, outstanding artist management experience, and countless awards to show for it. Most known for formerly administering the careers of chart-topping girl group Destiny’s Child and the solo endeavors of his highly-esteemed daughters, Beyoncé and Solange, Knowles is also the founder of one of the leading record labels in the country, Music World Entertainment.
Through his success as a music business tycoon, Knowles has since utilized his extensive knowledge of the ever-changing field to educate aspiring entertainment professionals, as he currently serves as a professor at Texas Southern University. There, he teaches undergraduate and graduate level courses in the School of Communications and Entrepreneurship in The School of Business.
However, Knowles’ mission to enlighten and empower doesn’t stop there. A well-respected keynote speaker at numerous colleges and conferences around the globe, and an author of the best-selling book, “The DNA of Achievers: The 10 Traits of Successful Professionals,” the self-made mogul continues to spark nationwide conversation. But, this time, he took it back to his own roots, making a solid effort to encourage others to do the same.
Recently, the Fisk University graduate debuted his second book, titled, “Racism from the Eyes of a Child.” In the newly-released memoir, Mr. Knowles takes readers on an unforgettable trek back in time, highlighting moments from his childhood in Alabama, during the early 1950s and 1970s, and the racial barriers that came with it.
We had the honorable opportunity to speak with Mr. Knowles about “Racism from the Eyes of a Child,” the effects of colorism in entertainment, and more. Check it out below.
Parlé Mag: In your latest book, “Racism from the Eyes of a Child,” you not only explore the untold truths of racial division growing up in the South, leading up into this day and age, but you also take readers on an intriguing journey of your own personal struggles and firsthand experiences. So, for you, why was it important to bring this particular story to the forefront?
Mathew Knowles: Well, it was important for me for a number of reasons. First, I wanted to go and relive that journey for myself, and I wanted to share that with my readers. Secondly, it was important because, as a college professor of eight years, in academia, it’s important that we research, we write papers, and we write books. So, that was part of it. Also, I wanted my kids, my grandkids to be aware and knowledgeable of their forefathers.
Parlé Mag: Right.
Mathew Knowles: And of their heritage. Before I actually started on this book, I could not tell you the name of my great-grandfather, and I certainly couldn’t tell you the name of my great-great-grandfather. So, this allows my grandkids to be able to now know their great-great-great-grandfather. I would dare to say that most people couldn’t even go to their great-grandparents.
Parlé Mag: That is definitely true.
Mathew Knowles: Why is that important, Ashley? Because a part of racism is to erase our history. When you erase our history, you keep us from having the knowledge of where we came from. And if you keep us from having the knowledge, that takes away our power. An example of that is to look at our current president and how he’s trying to erase everything that Obama has done. Right?
Parlé Mag: Yes, sir.
Mathew Knowles: Lastly, I wanted to instill a sense of social courage and create dialogue. For example, those kids down in Florida who just had the major bombing, those kids really impressed me when I saw that they had the social courage to speak out and tell the lawmakers, “Hey, if you guys don’t change, we are going work our tails off to ensure that you don’t win the election.” So, those are the reasons why.
Parlé Mag: The beginning chapters delve extensively into your early life in Gadsden, Alabama. What was the city of Gadsden, itself, like?
Mathew Knowles: It was tough. That would be the one word that I would use… tough. I was born in 1952. I went to elementary school in 1958. Believe it or not, in Alabama, in 1958, I went to a Catholic elementary school.
Parlé Mag: Woooow.
Mathew Knowles: Yep. With all-white Nuns, which is kind of unheard of in Alabama. Then there was junior high school, Litchfield Junior High. [I was] one of six Blacks to be integrating at that junior high school. There was about six hundred White kids, so you can imagine what that was like.
Parlé Mag: Oh, certainly.
Mathew Knowles: You know, being the first. [I was] one of the first at Gadsden High, then one of the first [Blacks] at University of Tennessee at Chattanooga. It was tough for me because I had gone through all of those years of the struggle–of being one of the first and to be integrating schools. Then, in my senior year of high school, that’s when I started to play the Carver High School, the black high school. I went from becoming one of the first [Blacks] to becoming an “oreo,” which was very hurtful as a kid, growing up. So, I had a very lonely childhood growing up in Gadsden, because, literally, as I got into my teenage years, I couldn’t go to any Black events. They would want to beat me up because I went to Gadsden High. I never got invited to any White events.
Parlé Mag: Unbelievable. That had to be terrible to go through such thing.
Mathew Knowles: Yeah, it was very lonely in my teenage years.
Parlé Mag: You also speak candidly about your family, maternal grandparents, and their background. How would you describe your relationship with your mother?
Mathew Knowles: You know, Ashley, it’s a mixed relationship. My mother was a strong woman. Not only in her beliefs or her statuesque; she was 5’11. She was pretty dominating when I was a child. I didn’t have a choice to go to Litchfield High School. That was a decision that, quite frankly, my mother made. I don’t think any kid, especially when they’re eleven or twelve years old, decides what school they’re going to go to. [laughs]
Parlé Mag: Agreed. [laughs]
Mathew Knowles: But, when I look back, and I tell the story of my mother, I’m quite proud of her, for her beliefs, her intuitiveness, and how she stood up. Again, she had social courage. I talk about some examples of when I was a little kid and we were on the bus; it was packed, and we were standing up in the Whites section. As a little kid, I didn’t know about that. There was a seat sitting there, empty, and I sat down. Everybody started laughing. Then, the bus driver pulled over; he was going to make me get out of the seat and make us get off of the bus. My mother said, “He’s not moving.” Another example is when a White insurance man came and knocked on our door. He asked, “Is Helen Knowles here?” She came to the door, and she said, “Young man, you can either get back in that car and leave or you can get back in that car and come knock back on this door and say, ‘Is Mrs. Knowles here?’” So, those are some of the moments that my mother helped mold and shape me and helped me to understand what social courage is all about.
Parlé Mag: As a child, was racism something that was blatantly talked about in your household or among the elderly?
Mathew Knowles: Being that you’re also from Alabama, you’re one of the few people who might actually know where this place is. [laughs] When I talk to all of the other people who interview me, they have no clue where I’m talking! Have you ever heard of a town called Marion, in Alabama?
Parlé Mag: I have!
Mathew Knowles: My mother actually grew up there. It’s a little small, country town. It’s like twenty-five hundred people; I’m not sure if five hundred Black people live there. [laughs] But, in this town, Coretta Scott-King was also from there. My mother even went to high school with Mrs. King.
Parlé Mag: Really?!
Mathew Knowles: Yes. T.D. Jakes is from Marion, Alabama, too. I mean, it’s very prominent and success people, who had an impact in Civil Rights, from Marion. So, my mother picked up this torch of Civil Rights.
Parlé Mag: In what way would you say that your childhood upbringing and the people who influenced it had an affect on your adulthood?
Mathew Knowles: Good question. It’s positive and negative. In a positive sense, again, it helped shaped and mold me to have a sense of being the very best, because when you’re one of the first, any mistakes that you made were magnified. I remember in my first class ever at Litchfield–it was my English class, I made a mistake reading a paragraph. All of the White kids starting laughing, throwing spitballs. You know, that makes one’s self-esteem feel extremely low. But, because of that, I said that would never happen again. I focused, and I really worked on my reading skills. My parents got me an encyclopedia. So, in that way, it helped mold me to want to be the very best.
Parlé Mag: Right.
Mathew Knowles: In a negative way, when you’re a kid, you internalize things that are said to you, and some of the actions that happen to you in your childhood, you internalize that, too. So, as a result of that, there were some destructive behaviors that I had in my adult life that I had to go and seek help for.
Parlé Mag: During a recent interview, you mentioned that you also became familiar with colorism at an early age, which impacted the type of women who you chose to date. Talk to us about your views on the topic of colorism and how you hope your book will set the table for these kinds of discussions.
Mathew Knowles: Colorism is not just a Black thing. It’s all over the world; in Mexico, in India, the Islands. Basically, it’s a belief that there should be discrimination based on the shade of color. It’s a belief that the lighter you are, the smarter you are, the better social skills you have, the richer you are. You know, like, you’re the “richest and the most successful.” So, yes, colorism does exist in America. But, it also exists all over the world. And, again, one of the things that I hope my books does is continue to create a dialogue. People are already dialoging. Not that they weren’t already, but I hope that, with this book, they are having more dialogue about the impact of colorism in our society.
Parlé Mag: Being a veteran of the music field and seeing the mainstream disparity of Black women in the business, do you feel that colorism is more prevalent now than it was back then?
Mathew Knowles: No, I think it’s always been very prevalent in music. I mean, when we go back and think of the legends, you could see that it was always the lighter-shade Blacks who were displayed and played in Pop radio and mainstream radio. That’s been going on for some time now. Four years ago, at Texas Southern University, one of my classes actually did research on that. They looked at the last fifteen years, at the ‘Top 40’ [in Pop Radio], and there were maybe one of two artists who actually had made it to the ‘Top 10’ on Pop radio, of darker complexion. So, that’s something that truly exists.
Parlé Mag: To a certain extent, what’s something that you’ve always tried to instill into your daughters in regards to these issues?
Mathew Knowles: I’ve always instilled in Beyoncé and Solange that you treat everybody the same. You give the same respect to the janitor that you would give to the president. And I hope that both of us, my former wife and I, taught our kids also to respect others, respect their culture, understand their culture and embrace other cultures, and don’t be judgmental. Understand it and embrace it. Don’t feel that you’re superior ever. I think that’s one of the things that I think everybody can say when they talk about Solange and Beyoncé–they’ve never done anything that ever made anybody ashamed. I’m quite proud of that.
Parlé Mag: What are your thoughts on the current social climate of the entertainment industry as a whole?
Mathew Knowles: That’s a really good question. That’s very difficult for me because, as an executive, and as a manager, I always focus on the business climate. I focus on the trends of the consumer. But, from a social standpoint, the first thing that comes to me is social media–the impact of social media on entertainment. That’s been also a positive and a negative. A positive is that, now, artists can reach their consumers from a social platform. A negative is that anybody on that platform can say something extremely negative that can impact an artist’s success, and it cannot even be true!
Parlé Mag: Oh, yes! And they can get away with it!
Mathew Knowles: Exactly! And, by the way–I said this the other day, it could be a twelve-year-old, it could be a fourteen-year-old. You have no idea!
Parlé Mag: You don’t!
Mathew Knowles: It could be the competitor of a record label! That’s my concern about social media from a negative sense. But, from a positive sense, it can allow a new artist, who doesn’t have a record contract, to build an audience.
Parlé Mag: I can certainly agree with that, because there are a lot of up and coming artists who become famous basically just off of social media.
Mathew Knowles: That’s true!
Parlé Mag: With “Racism from the Eyes of a Child,” what do you feel readers will take from this conversational piece?
Mathew Knowles: What I’m hopeful for that they’ll take from it, again, more than anything, is social courage; I want people to stand up. Social courage is, whenever we hear racism, whenever we hear sexism, whenever we hear about homophobia, we speak out. You know, it could be something as simple as, in a restaurant, and you hear somebody say something racist–who’s sitting next to you, and you say, “Hey, man. I just don’t appreciate you saying something like that.” It could be as simple as that. It’s just time that we have social courage to speak up and speak out against all of the hatred that exists in the world today. That’s what I hope the readers get.
Parlé Mag: In today’s world racism and colorism are still both sensitive topics that often get swept under the rug in our community. Why do you think that is? And how do you hope to continue pushing the envelope and enlightening the younger generation on these subjects?
Mathew Knowles: I go back to what I said about those kids in Florida. Those kids didn’t agree with that. Their sense was, “We are going to say something. We are going to make a change.” I often tell my students at Texas Southern that they are the customer. You know, at the end of the day, the students are the customer, right? So, they can either have that opinion that they’re not important, and what they think and their needs as students aren’t important, or they can simply rally together and make a stand… if they feel something is happening that should not be happening. I think our young people have to understand that they have power. I also think that our young people have to understand, just like those 98% of Black females in Alabama understood, the importance of going to vote.
Parlé Mag: So, in closing, what’s next for you?
Mathew Knowles: I’m doing a lot of public speaking! When you put out books, you have to start almost a couple of years in advance; it’s not like you wake up one day and you’re like, “Hey! I’m putting this book out.” [laughs]
Parlé Mag: [laughs]
Mathew Knowles: Two years ago, I couldn’t predict what was going to be happening today. But, I’m glad that it turned out this way. [laughs] I’ve been working on my next book; it actually includes my students from one of my classes, last semester–a research class. So, I’m allowing my students to be co-authors with me. I won’t give the title away yet, but it’s talking about the impact of music. Before slavery, during slavery, and after slavery. Then, I have Knowles Institute, which is a new, online continuing education [program]. There are courses in entrepreneurship, entertainment, and music business.
Parlé Mag: Nice!
Mathew Knowles: More to come!
To purchase “Racism from the Eyes of a Child,” please visit: www.mathewknowles.com.
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