As a teen and a young adult, I attended overwhelmingly white schools. The college that I went to, in Bellingham, WA, is currently only 2.5% Black and that number was lower when I attended—my social group mirrored this. When I started becoming heavily invested in political and social matters, I found myself holding back. Even as I grew more vocal, I felt sheepish about loudly expressing opinions that my peers would consider militant or divisive. On top of that, I was very much concerned with “sounding smart,” in a traditional sense.
Among the young, Black women I know personally, these feeling were not uncommon. From the way we speak to the way we wear our hair, we are made to feel like we need to temper ourselves, particularly in professional and academic settings. As a result, knowing that we’ll often be labeled ghetto or hostile for expressing ourselves emotionally, the pressure to make people feel comfortable can often overpower the desire to passionately speak on the issues that affect us the most.
Enter Angela Rye.
In an email conversation with the eye-rolling attorney, she said that, although she’d always been a raw, unfiltered person with no poker face, she initially believed that she needed to behave in a similar fashion to her political commentating peers to be deemed credible.
“I guess with this past election, it was only a matter of time before I could not filter through (and did not want to) information for people. If it's hateful, I called it hateful. If it was racist, I called it racist. If it was outrageous, I called it just that. People began to make clear that is exactly what they wanted and needed to hear.”
In a time when our mainstream pundits and platforms, at best, tiptoe around calling out racism, it should come as no surprise that so many marginalized people feel a connection to the outspoken commentator.
“If our culture is so often readily and easily appropriated,” Rye went on to say, “imagine what happens when we embrace our full Blackness and know that our contributions are just as important to the shaping of the country and more broadly, the world.”
As a teenager, I would’ve benefitted greatly from seeing more young, assertive, brown women on CNN. Before I became familiar with Angela Rye, however, I mined the inspiration to express myself without fear of critique from a source outside of cable news: Black Twitter. This enchanted place continuously talked me out of suppressing myself. There, I discovered intellectual role models who could both break down the ways in which capitalism and racial oppression support one another and tell me which rap label was taking over for the ’99 and the 2000, and how that impacted their lives.
I found incredible thinkers, like Eve Ewing, Trudy, Zoe Samudzi, who were quick-witted, bullshit intolerant and seemingly unrestrained by the traditional ideas of how a “cultured, intelligent woman” is supposed to express herself. Women who served as a constant reminder that you can roll your eyes into the back of your head, use Black vernacular, raise your voice and that doesn’t take away from the validity of your message.
I began to question things like, who decided that “surely you can’t be serious?” was more appropriate or professional than “are you for real?!”
We are now, it seems, moving into the era of Black women unabashedly and unapologetically speaking on the issues that are most relevant to the communities that we belong to and discussing topics that are culturally significant to us, most of which are widely ignored outside of our circles. From calling out Shea Moisture for a marketing campaign that excludes its primary consumers to reminding the world that there are thousands and thousands of missing Black girls and women, across our country, whose faces will never appear on the nightly news, we will be crowding the platforms available to us to address what matters to us.
It’s clear, especially in the midst of our current social and political atmosphere, that now is not the time to soften our voices.