EBONY: What was it like growing up in the. South during those turbulent times in the U.S.?
SECRETARY RICE: Well, I would divide it into most of the time growing up there and then 1963. The years from the time that I was conscious, which I guess was probably around 1957, 1958–I was born in 1954–until 1962 or ’63, it was like living in two separate societies. But I was fortunate. I grew up in a pretty cloistered community and in a place in Birmingham called Titusville, where the families were strongly pro-education, strongly pro-religion, mostly schoolteachers, a couple of doctors, a lawyer here or there, but we were solidly middleclass. And our parents fought to make sure that we had our own ballet lessons, and I was dragged off to French lessons every Saturday from the time I was 9. And the teachers in that community were just exceptional, and almost everybody was a teacher. The schools were totally segregated. I did not have a White classmate until we moved to Denver in 1968. But I didn’t feel any sense of deprivation because the community worked so hard … But then, late ’62 and ’63 were pretty violent. And bombs went off in the neighborhood all the time, and some of those heroes, people my parents knew really well, like Fred Shuttlesworth and Arthur Shores, their houses were being attacked all the time. And there were Night Riders in the community. And then, of course, when the four little girls were killed in the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church, everybody knew one of them. Addle Mae Collins was in my uncle’s homeroom. I knew Denise McNair really well. She was a good friend.
Condoleeza Rice appeared on The View Friday. She is clearly a poised and articulate woman. She likes American Idol. Hey, she’s just like us! The discussion didn’t delve too much into what her role in shaping foreign policy consisted of but the hosts asked her about packing tips and playing piano at Buckingham Palace. The conversation veered towards Iraq and swung sharply towards Katrina. Ah, it’s the single biggest failure of the Bush Administration – aside from the fake war, the economy and the dismantling of the Justice Department.
Her disconnect with “reality”, the reality of the lives of millions of the non-elite and non-wealthy is palpable. Black people from non-elite backgrounds especially wanted her to have empathy and feel their “pain”. People who move in rarefied circles don’t hang out with the masses, but to hear her tell it during this interview her parents weren’t wealthy. Perhaps not, but I think she was intentionally trying to downplay her upbringing to appear more “common” since the View’s audience is predominantly white women. The interview she gave Ebony magazine in 2005 was much more telling.
I suppose her family decided if you can’t beat ’em join ’em. Become the Model Minority and the Exceptional Negro to gain acceptance, survive and thrive. Well in order for that process to be complete does one have to divorce themselves from “diversity” and be the one raisin in the milk? That might elevate one family’s fortunes but that is not progress. Of course I could also discuss the failure of the Civil Rights Movement and how some Black men used white male animus to elevate themselves individually – not the entire “race” – but that’s another conversation for another time. I understand that Dr. Rice is but one woman and she isn’t responsible for every individual Black person but…..it isn’t so hard to believe that people would look to her to offer some leadership due to her position. What may have been appropriate political and social strategies during the 60’s don’t work now, however.
The ascension of Barack Obama has shown a shift of sorts but even with him being President it only means one more person (with family in tow) got through the “glass ceiling” and only by his bending over backwards to make a core group of white people comfortable. He’s not MLK and he most certainly isn’t Malcolm X (but guess which one his physical appearance more likely resembles). I see similarities to one more than the other in his choice of a noticeably Black wife and his discipline. Things have changed but not as much as some might believe. I also understand people will bring their own life experiences in evaluating this.
There are younger people who may not hold any obvious animus who are thrilled to see a President Obama, but they may likewise be operating under a bubble of historical ignorance. That may be “misguided” if they’re Black or “unintentional” if they’re white but it still smacks of privilege. What about other non-whites who don’t acknowledge the contributions Blacks have made in building this country? That’s why we hear this ridiculous argument of his election being an impetus for a post-racial society being trotted out. It will be post-racial when reparations are administered and after white supremacy has been dismantled and a balanced system put in its place that includes women of color in positions of power – but not until then. The corporate media is consolidating their talking heads even further by adding more white male anchors in case nobody’s paying attention. Now the Republicans have elected Michael Steele as the Chair of the National Committee, but they don’t get it. It can’t be just any Black person, they have to be “exceptional”. There has to be a connection and the masses have to be able to relate – well in theory anyway.
For Dr. Rice to still tout that weapons of mass destruction lie is inexcusable though. Her excuses for #43’s failure to properly address the Katrina situation baffles me. So if she’s saying the former President’s response to those majority Black people who were left to fend for themselves before AND after Katrina is not based on racial animus, then what is it based on? He showed how much he cared on a personal level as well as politically by his inaction. He was the President and the buck stopped with him. Actually, I have to restate that. The insurance companies were allowed to deny legit claims, all public housing (even buildings unaffected by damage) was razed, people were stuffed in toxic trailers, it has been open season on non-criminals in NOLA by police and racist vigilantes and most of the non-white population has not returned. That is definite action – of opposition. Is it racism or fascism? Hitler or Marie Antoinette?
So whatever you want to call it, that’s what it is. Incompetence is a good starting place but it’s so much more than that. It’s a very powerful disconnection from people’s suffering. She’s clearly not an incompetent woman. She’s become a millionaire many times over during her time serving at the feet of white male patriarchy. I say at the feet because despite all of her servitude she’s still not sitting at the table on equal footing with them. Or is she? She might be an occasional special guest or co-host of the party. I could be wrong though, but I’m not sensing the plotting for power antics of Lady MacBeth, er Hillary Clinton. Publicly at least, Dr. Rice is still offering a certain deference that’s intriguing. I can’t help but wonder if it’s because she’s being protective and not trying to draw more attention to herself because she’s a Black woman with a lot of clout – and we see how the society at large resents Black women who are unbowed. Or perhaps she is more secure with her place in this world and doesn’t feel the need to prove anything to anyone.
I certainly don’t hold her to any different standards than all the other politicians who stood by and did nothing, but she had direct access to the President at a time when the voice of urgency needed to be shouted at him. #43 was doing flyovers and having birthday cake with McCain when people were drowning. I still stokes my ire to see Sean Penn in a boat rescuing people on television but hearing our elected officials claim there was nothing they could do. I don’t think the bulk of his fan base are poor Blacks yet he felt compelled to take action and help people – and he’s an actor! So I don’t think it’s unfair to see his example (and Oprah’s) and wonder why Dr. Rice was buying overpriced shoes and enjoying Spamalot even if it was her day off.
So if she’s just one of many public “servants” and doesn’t owe the community at large (such that it is) anything why should she be given any deference or paid any attention? She was the highest-ranking Black official in the government, but is that an achievement for one person alone or a progression of Civil Rights? Was she the safe exception for a group of white men who made her an honorary white person and did she play a role for them while securing a future for herself? I never saw her or heard of her displaying any of the foolishness we see from certain politicians or entertainers – and do I really need to name any names? She is clearly secure with who she is as a woman – but are we? I am under no delusions that she would’ve fared better had all the men in power been Black for she wouldn’t have likely been appointed at all. That sounds harsh but let’s face reality – it’s true.
Colin Powell lied to the U.N. on behalf of a President. I guess some people were fooled, but I wasn’t one of them. Even he had a “moment” of clarity at some point and got out of Dodge, leaving the Bush Administration. Of course the biggest irony is that Dr. Rice would be appointed under a Republican administration because the Democrats for all their “we are one” spiel doesn’t want to elevate qualified Black women to the highest positions of prestige and authority within the party or in Presidential Administrations. We’ve had one Black female Senator period! No one is going to convince me it’s due to a lack of qualified individuals either. If Black women are waiting for the “right” time to seize power it’s already here. If there is a lack of support (which I believe there is from certain corners) then this is a situation that requires strategies and movement. Go to where the door has been cracked open and kick it in.
Lastly let the last President’s inaction be a warning to people to hope for the best but prepare for the worst. Your government will not be there for you when you need it the most if you are poor and non-white. All of the hero worship for President Obama aside, he is now in charge and may not address those horrific loose ends still dangling in a meaningful way to those most negatively impacted by those events. I want to be wrong about this, but if you look at the history of elected and appointed Black officials over the past 20 years, 30 years and even 40 years you will see a big FAIL! Do you think Black people as a whole are doing better today than a few decades ago with the crime, the out of wedlock births, the complete abandonment by Black men, the deteriorated neighborhoods and the standard of living? Individuals – yes. Masses – no! Let the reaction and response of the former Secretary of State to the Katrina survivors (is that being generous?) be ample warning to those that would deny this.