Political commentator and civil rights activist Angela Rye reflects on “the first time I knew I was black”
First published on CNN.com: Angela Rye: “I never had a moment of realization about my blackness — I just was. Blackness was a central thread of my experience as a child and as an adolescent, as it is now that I’m an adult.
It seemed like my father knew everybody in Seattle, where I was raised. When he and I would walk down the street I remember people would regularly ask him how he was doing. He would respond without missing a beat: “You know, just out here fighting this racism, man.”
My mother worked really hard to ensure that I had black dolls (of all hues), black books by black authors, and my personal favorite: a poster from the 1975 Anheuser-Busch Great Kings and Queens of Africa collection (of course, she removed the beer logo). She would regularly have me name family members and friends who looked like each of the queens and kings on the poster.
My mother would always emphasize that we were related to the royalty on that poster because EVERYONE originated from Africa. Not only did I always know I was black, I always knew we were and are beautiful, culturally rich, and creators of everything from the sciences to the arts.
My father constantly reminded me that he named me after Angela Yvonne Davis, a scholar, and activist who was well known for her work in tandem with the Black Panther Party. That felt like a purposeful, beckoning call to engage in strategic resistance and to fight for the oppressed.
Our name means “bringer of truth” or “messenger of God.” For me that meant telling teachers when history books either inadequately represented or misrepresented black people. That meant engaging in high school discussions about re-starting the Black Panther Party and then settling for the creation of a Black Student Union instead. It meant serving on a community committee, developed by the police chief, to address excessive force and police brutality in my hometown of Seattle.
It meant protesting Initiative 200, which worked to strip gains made by people of color in Washington state by eliminating affirmative action policies. It meant serving as a youth chaplain to the King County Juvenile Detention Center while I was in college. It meant running a computer lab at a community center, so people like me had access to technology. It meant tutoring black high school students to make sure they got into college.
Indeed, with every instance of systemic oppression, black people have demonstrated an uncanny ability to succeed and excel — from Black Wall Street (a name given to a economically thriving black neighborhood in Tulsa, Oklahoma, during the early 1900s, which helped the black dollar circulate 36 to 100 times before leaving the community) to working diligently to elect the first black president.
We overcome in the face of unprecedented obstacles. And yes, we still have a tremendous amount of work to do.
Can you imagine the irony of Harriet Tubman being on a $20 bill as the wealth gap between African Americans and whites continues to widen? How likely would it be for the $20 bill to turn over even ONCE in the black community before finding itself in the hands of another business?
Can you imagine what Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. would say about us reciting a portion of his “I Have a Dream” speech from the March on Washington but failing to implement a tangible agenda to ensure our real freedom nearly 54 years later? Can you imagine what civil rights activist Fannie Lou Hamer would say about us being too “sick and tired” to ensure protection of voting rights?
Imagine what our ancestors would say about this being the year of #BlackGirlMagic, with the record-breaking success of “Hidden Figures” in contrast to the disheartening presidency of Donald Trump, who asked us: “What in the hell do you have to lose?”
As rapper J. Cole says: “The good news is n—- you came a long way. The bad news is n—- you went the wrong way.”
We, as a nation, went the wrong way on Election Day. The country embraced systemic oppression, racism, and xenophobia. And it is not the first time this country has taken a wrong turn. It just means we will have to work a little harder to turn this around. It is time to face inward — to strengthen ourselves and our community.
I am so proud to be black. I am, nevertheless, tired of the oppression. We need to develop and support a cohesive black agenda. We need to do what leaders have suggested since slavery. We need to recognize that while we are not monolithic, there is power in embracing a common agenda. There are so many things that can never be taken from us — our desire to seek change, our resilience, and our progress.
This February, I am so proud to be part of a team that launched a campaign called #OurBlackisBeautiful to celebrate our beauty and our unity for Black History Month and beyond. We are working with some great influencers to support a threefold concept: #BuyBlack, #BankBlack, and #GiveBlack.
These three pillars remind us of the importance of supporting each other. We are encouraging people to support these key concepts beyond February because they have been a critical aspect of nearly every agenda developed for the black community.