Political commentator and strategist Angela Rye challenges white people to show “true allyship” to reach “common ground” in King Day speech.
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 the theme.
“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.”