Political commentator and strategist Angela Rye challenges
white people to show “true allyship” to reach “common ground” in King Day
Angela Rye began with a citation of
the Rev. Martin Luther King’s 1960 text The
Burning Truth in the South and ended with the Black Panther salute: “All
power to the people.”
The political strategist and
commentator for CNN and NPR was the keynote speaker for the 19th
annual King Day celebration on Monday co-hosted by Winston-Salem State
University and Wake Forest University. The event celebrated the partnership
between the predominantly white institution and historically black university
when Wake Forest students joined their peers at Winston-Salem State to sit in
at the Woolworth’s lunch counter in downtown Winston-Salem on Feb. 23, 1960.
Rye admitted that she struggled with
“I was in my room today preparing
for this speech and a train came by,” she said. “I was so frustrated because it
was loud, y’all. It was so loud: The notification bell that the train was
coming. The even louder horn that it’s close and it’s coming, and if you are
anywhere near this train, you might get got. The train was saying very clearly:
‘You in danger, girl.’
“But then I was really grateful in
that moment for what the train signified,” Rye continued. “My message is
supposed to be rooted in ‘On Common Ground: Embracing Our Voices.’ How can we
embrace voices that are silent, that are never used, particularly in moments
when they’re needed most, like right now? How can we be on common ground when
we aren’t even on the same page?”
Rye said she felt some her of audience
at KR Williams Auditorium on the campus of Winston-Salem State go cold when she
cited statistics showing stark racial disparities in imprisonment, home
ownership, education and other factors.
“How can we be on common ground when
we are looking around and [asking ourselves]: ‘What unity? What solidarity?”
To reach common ground, Rye said,
white people need to show “true allyship” and stand with African Americans to
ensure “meaningful participation.”
As an example, she mentioned a
campaign her father, an activist in Seattle, has launched.
“Every year, my dad, Eddie Rye Jr.,
the perpetual protester and activist that he is, is an active member of the
Martin Luther King Host Committee. He was there today at the rally. He also
sets the agenda [of] what the asks and demands will be every year for this
march. And this year my dad has taken on as his thing that 10 percent of the
NFL’s more than $13 billion should be going to black banks. 10 percent. We’re
talking about an entity where 70 percent of the players are black, 9 percent of
the managers are, and there are no majority-black owners. We’re talking about
10 percent to help fortify and ensure that our institutions are long lasting.”
Rye said she finds herself
struggling with how modest the goal is, while also confronting how much
resistance it’s likely to engender.
“I can hear some of the
uncomfortability with that — maybe not in this room — ‘Well, what did you do to
deserve that?’” she said. “I mean, we’re talking about financial institutions
holding cash. ‘How do we know the black bank isn’t going to close?’ Sometimes
that kind of language comes from us, directly. It’s a shame, but it’s real. We
are often challenged by the smallest things, because people see that once we
get the smallest amount of power, they’re concerned that we’re going to abuse
power in the same way it was abused on us.”
Rye also challenged white and black people
alike to stand in solidarity with Latinx migrants who are seeking humane
treatment at the southern border.
“We are right now turning a
collective blind eye as children are separated from their families, as human
beings come to this country seeking asylum, as is their legal right to do,” she
said. “We’re turning a blind eye…. I’ve been getting dragged in my Instagram
DMs and on my Twitter for defending immigrants. And I will do it over and over
and over again. Martin Luther King Jr. said this, and I believe it and will
live by it. He said, ‘Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.’
I’ve never seen people who are so oppressed, still trying to find their power,
trying to justify why we can’t be a voice for Latino people…. Why would we not
use our voice to stand up against what we know is wrong, regardless of their
race and their background?… With the little bit of power you have, you’re
going to turn a blind eye. You’re abusing the little bit of power you have.
Imagine how powerful you could be if you stood with other oppressed people.”
To come together genuinely, Rye
said, people need to be willing to face unpleasant truths.
“We need to get on the train because
it’s moving,” she said. “We are headed for the collective purpose together. We
are headed to that change together. We are headed in the same direction and
trying to reach the same destination, at least our view of it. If we want to be
on common ground and embrace our voices, this is what has to be our truth.”
“Where are you?” she asked. “Do you
even hear the train coming? Do you even see the train coming, or are your
hearts hardened? Are your ears closed? And are you blind to the facts? These
kinds of dangerous times are upon us. So, I dare you to take your blindfold
off, and lean in so that you’re standing on common ground. We can embrace
collective voices, as Dr. King would have us to do it.
Rye concluded, “Don’t give up. Don’t give in. Keep the faith. All power to the people.”
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