Political commentator and analyst Angela Rye is a powerful Black woman in media, a purveyor of the culture and political force in the commentary space. She is also one of my biggest inspirations for becoming a journalist. Watching her unapologetic Blackness worn on screen is inspirational to Black girls who refuse to let their skin, hair or racial background be a deterrent from anything they set their minds to.
Angela’s fearless nature is one to be admired, and I was in awe at the opportunity to speak with her about her career as a Black woman in the political industry, her beauty as a Black woman and the importance of young Black girls tapping into their voter power through style and fashion.
“Hello,” Angela said upon joining our call. I collected myself before sharing my name. Once we exchanged greetings (and I admittedly fan-girled for a moment), we hopped right into the topic of Eurocentric definitions of beauty and the feeling of pressure on the average Black woman on-air to “look presentable.”
“I think what’s most important to me is that I feel and look my best for myself. That’s always something that I think Black women have taken the liberty of defining themselves,” Angela explained. “I think that if people run [the] tape back to when I first signed with CNN to now, I’ve always worn exactly what I wanted to wear, wore my hair exactly how I wanted to wear my hair, and I think as a result, it has set trends for others. There were commentators on the network who would ask me where I was getting my clothes from to do something similar.”
The former MSNBC correspondent recalled when she wore hoop earrings on-air, and there was a Black man on Twitter who questioned, “How could you wear hoop earrings on TV? That’s ghetto.” The Seattle University School of Law graduate remembered how taken aback she initially was because of her love for hoops and wore them almost everyday – and still didn’t change who she was for neither on-air nor off.
“I think that times have changed because now if you look at the earrings that people wear, they wear all kinds of stuff on TV,” she adds.
As a political analyst, who has worked for political juggernauts like CNN, MSNBC and NPR has been on the forefront and oftentimes deemed as the face of unapologetic #BlackGirlMagic in the media space. “Some of us have made braids and cornrows acceptable on-air just because we’ve worn them. Some people are wearing their natural hair and it’s beautiful, and they’re setting trends that way. I think there was a time for commentators and anchors when you could only wear a blouse or a suit, and that’s what was accepted more than nothing else – and I think that all of that is changing,” adds the YouTube masterclass curator.
Oftentimes in the Black community, we hear the terms “good hair,” “bad hair,” “kinky hair,” and “nappy hair.” However current times have forced the normalization the conversation surrounding self-love and natural hair. We’ve seen the widely respected political commentator wear box braids, straight backs, and everything in between – but she makes it known that she wasn’t setting out to make any political or cultural statement.
She reflected on a time when she started doing more appearances on-air and at red carpet events a few years ago. “The amount of heat that was being applied to my hair damaged it so much that one time I washed it, and my curls were completely gone,” she shared. In a state of shock and frenzy, Angela cut off all of her hair into a bob and began to wear more protective styles and even tried out a few wigs.
“The reason for that was [because] my hair was damaged. Period. It was like, ‘I don’t need to be wearing my hair straight every time I go on-air’.” Even though she had been told that others preferred her hair straight or in a particular style, she wittingly responded with, “that’s great, but that’s not good for my hair. That might be something that you all don’t understand, but I’m going to do what’s in the best interest of protecting my hair.”
She reiterated that it was no more of a statement than the importance of hair health and the many ways to implement that as beautiful Black women. And, that’s on period.
Angela has a few words to share with any Black women, or women of color, who experiences racial profiling, negative backlash or simply struggles with being told that their hair isn’t the right look for the job they’re going for.
“I think they should combat it with their sisters, and that means letting us know so we know who to drag online,” she laughed and I join in. “Seriously, it means exposing it because I don’t think that people have any concept of what it means to be discriminated [against] or treated differently simply because your hair grows out of your head differently, and that’s crazy. That’s something that’s not changeable.”
On the side of fashion and style, Angela Rye has been seen wearing her “Powerful Black Voter” crewneck on a live interview with Black Futures Lab founder Alicia Garza and “#ENDMONEYBAIL” tee on IGTV. Fashion is a non-verbal medium for communication, especially nowadays in culture and politics, but the On One with Angela Rye podcast host assured us that this is nothing new.
“You know what’s so funny,” she started. “I think that particularly Black designers have always been that way. I think about what FUBU the name meant – “For Us, By Us” – or what Cross Colours used to put on shirts and jackets. All of these folks have traditionally made some statements politically and culturally. Ultimately, what we have to talk about is the fact that there are other designers who are catching on now.”
Angela continues to shed light on other prominent Black designers including Enyce’s Tony Shellman and the work of women, Asian and Latinx designers who understand the importance of their voice in their art. “A brand that I really love, Pyer Moss, has not only taken it to their designs, but also into their marketing. It’s just incredible to see and I love that it tells up-and-coming Black designers that there can be space made with the voice that you create.”
When you read the receipts of the self-proclaimed #TruthBringer-In-Chief, she has clearly made a legacy for herself and successfully set a stunning example of what a woman in the media industry should be. When I asked her about the mark that she intends to leave on the industry and young girls who aspire to follow in her steps, she hopes to be a helping hand in getting any young girl where she needs to go, even if it doesn’t mean directly opening the door for her.
“I want them to feel like I set a stage that says, ‘when the door opens for me, I’m bringing some folks along with me, alongside of me, in front of me and behind me,’ and they feel compelled to do the same thing and do as a result of that feeling.”
As Angela steps back into her steps as a young girl, she reflects on how her perception of beauty has evolved into the woman she is today. “I was so fortunate to grow up in a house where Blackness was always beautiful, appreciated and celebrated. I’m grateful for that and I know it’s a privilege,” she reflects. “I think Blackness and all of its shades, all the ways that we celebrate; the beauty of Blackness has always been front and center, and central, to my upbringing.”
The interview was winding down to a close, but I couldn’t talk to the esteemed political commentator without speaking about the importance of young girls of color tapping into their voter power. The twist was, how do we do so through fashion and style?
“There comes a point in your life as a young woman of color when you really step into defining yourself for yourself, and deciding for yourself what is what, what is beautiful to you and what is beautiful on you. The most empowering thing that we can have is walk into that fullness and that confidence sooner than later. Not having to ask anyone permission and not that we can’t be guided or inspired by people, but still being able to be empowered enough to make that decision for ourselves is key.”