Mathew Knowles was the original mastermind behind his superstar daughter Beyoncé’s singing career, helping her become one of the most popular entertainers in the world.
But first and foremost, he’s an African American dad. Knowles penned his new memoir, Racism from the Eyes of a Child, so his famous daughters, Beyoncé and Solange, as well as their children will have an appreciation for the struggle that he and his ancestors endured growing up in the Jim Crow South.
“Racism hasn’t ended for us,” Knowles told me. “And if you think it has, then shame on you.”
Knowles stopped by the newsroom Thursday for a wide-ranging interview during which he talked about light-skin privilege and how it impacts the music industry; initially mistaking his first wife, Tina, for a white woman; and the legacy he hopes to leave for Blue Ivy Carter and his other grandchildren. It was a lot to cover in an hour.
Especially because what I really wanted to know was: Who bit Beyoncé’s face? The Beyhive – as Beyoncé fans are called – has been buzzing with speculation ever since actress Tiffany Haddish dished in a GQ interview about being at a party in December during which an unidentified actress supposedly bit Bey. It’s become the biggest pop culture whodunnit since J.R. Ewing got killed on Dallas.
Knowles, 66, no longer manages Beyoncé’s career. The two reportedly have had their ups and downs over the years. Knowles is divorced from Beyoncé’s mother and is five years remarried. He lives in Houston, where he is a professor at Texas Southern University.
Beyoncé’s dad showed up at our offices sharply dressed in a tailored suit and sporting a pair of dark-rimmed glasses. He’s about 6-foot-4 and has a quiet dignity about him.
A former high school and college basketball player, he graduated from Fisk University during the late 1970s before going to work for Xerox, where he became a top-selling salesman in the medical division. Together, he and Tina created a popular hair salon in Houston and also a beauty industry publishing business. He eventually left to create Girl’s Tyme, which morphed into Destiny’s Child, of which Beyoncé was lead singer.
In Racism from the Eyes of a Child, he recounts how his mother used to admonish him, “Don’t ever bring no nappy-headed girl up in my house,” and how he went on to internalize what’s known as colorism: prejudice against people with darker skin. For the longest time, Knowles would date only white or light-skinned black women. In the book, he refers to that form of discrimination as “eroticized rage” and discusses how the preference for lighter skin tones plays out in subtle ways in the music industry as evidenced by the female pop music singers who have made it in recent years – Rihanna, Alicia Keys, Mariah Carey and Nicki Minaj.
“Kelly Rowland when we worked her first single, [it was] very pop. … We couldn’t get any airplay in the U.S. on Kelly,” he said of the former Destiny’s Child member, who has a brown complexion. “We were scratching our heads saying, ‘Why is this?’ ”
Like any father, he’s proud of his daughters, who as youngsters he famously kept from joining Jack and Jill of America, a prestigious black social organization started in Philadelphia in 1938 because of concerns about elitism.
“I’m very proud of Solange’s last album and how she just really from a musical perspective talked about racism and did an exceptional job,” Knowles said. “I really applaud her for approaching that topic of racism. Beyoncé at the Super Bowl [in 2016] made a statement with her background dancers dressed in Black Panther outfits.”
“You planted those seeds, didn’t you?”
“Yeah, I did,” he responded.
I asked about his blunder in June when Knowles made the mistake of announcing the birth of Beyoncé’s twins, Rumi and Sir Carter, on Instagram before their parents had gotten around to doing it. Knowles explained that he had been rushing to get to an airport and thought he’d seen a mention on the news of their having being born.
“I had to call and apologize because that was a mistake,” he told me.
But back to that party and the mystery of the moment: If Sanaa Lathan wasn’t the actress who bit Beyoncé, as has been alleged, then who did it?
“I didn’t know anything about that until somebody called me in the press and asked me about that,” Knowles said, laughing a little. “I said, ‘I have no idea what you’re talking about. It sounds very ridiculous.’ ”
He’s not wrong about that. But still I had to ask.