Singer, songwriter and actor Andra Day says that being a true ally to the black community means being willing to be uncomfortable.
During a TIME 100 Talks discussion, Day, whose Grammy-nominated song “Rise Up” has become an unofficial anthem of the Black Lives Matter movement, told CNN host Van Jones that in the midst of nationwide protests over racism and police brutality, white people who want to be allies need to start questioning their thought processes.
“People forget that racism — systemic racism, institutionalized racism, racial injustice and oppression — is a network. It’s a network of things happening at the same time in order to make you think the way you think and me think the way I think. Otherwise it doesn’t work,” she says. “You can’t only control the thoughts of the people being oppressed. You have to control the thoughts of the oppressor — whether they’re aware of it or not. So I think one of the first things [white people] can do is really start to question and undo some of the things that they think about people of color in this nation, about black people in this nation.”
Day went on give some concrete examples of actions that allies can take and topics that they can address to help affect change in the U.S. “Having a desire for change is different than having a commitment to change,” she says. “Are you willing to vote for someone you wouldn’t typically vote for because they align with racial justice and equality in this country? Are you willing to have a conversation about changing the national anthem?…Are you wiling to even admit that we have a problem?…Are you willing to take down some of these monuments? Are you willing to change street names?…Are you willing to reform the police and the entire justice system? Are you wiling to be uncomfortable and to do these things so that you can actually see a nation in the future that’s equal where we’re all thriving?”
On May 29, Day debuted her new single “Make Your Troubles Go Away,” a powerful anthem that she says she’s been waiting to release for years. Proceeds from the song go directly to non-profit GiveDirectly to support low-income families affected by the coronavirus pandemic.
“I just wanted to find the right time and place for it and this felt like the right time and place,” she says. “This was before the protests, but it was in the midst of COVID and we saw how COVID was disproportionately affecting our community and how much more underprivileged people were struggling with this virus and how it was affecting them here and in other nations around the world. So it was just like what can I do? I know I can’t give much. I’m not that big of a name. But what can I do with my platform?”
Day delivered a stirring performance of “Make Your Troubles Go Away” as well as “Remember I Bleed,” a new track from her forthcoming album, live on Thursday. She says that her inspiration to continue making music amid difficult and troubling times largely derives from her faith and her belief in the healing power of art.
“I make it because people need encouragement and they need help,” she says. “Sometimes we can discount art as sort of a fringe thing, but the reality is it’s started revolutions in other countries…I think we forget how powerful and how important it is to inspire people…I think it was really designed to be healing and if we lose that aspect of music, then that’s a big chunk that we’re missing in the world.”
This article is part of #TIME100Talks: Finding Hope, a special series featuring leaders across different fields encouraging action toward a better world. Want more? Sign up for access to more virtual events, including live conversations with influential newsmakers.