Is the black community sleeping on Condoleezza Rice?
In a recent Newsweek poll, Ms. Condoleezza was voted one of the most admired women in America, garnering 10% of the vote. She beat out the frighteningly ubiquitous Sarah Palin by four percentage points, competing favorably with venerated stateswoman Hillary Clinton. Rice’s discussion of her singledom on “Piers Morgan Tonight” was a widely-circulated Internet sensation, demonstrating her mass appeal. The politico even made Vanity Fair’s international best dressed list. Still, we as a community have yet to exhibit even a basic appreciation for this ridiculously accomplished woman. White Americans readily accept Rice as an astute leader and epitome of grace. It’s time for black women to give her some overdue credit.
I know. Some feel Rice turned in her black card by supporting a Republican president who many agree – in the words of Kanye – “doesn’t care about black people.” Once you turn your back on our acceptance, you rarely get it back. But we need to rethink Condoleezza’s expulsion. She might steer her ship away from black voters, but this fierce independence is ironically the reason Rice must be applauded.
Condoleezza Rice epitomizes the icon who leads by example – but she is not the type of achiever whose specific acts should be copied. As an African-American woman with a magnificent life that is far from the norm for blacks, Rice herself is a soul-reinforcing image. Until we upgrade our self-image, we will recreate the social scenarios that keep our community stuck. We need more leaders who can teach us to break the mental molds that hold us down, and Rice, by defying all labels, is this type of leader that we need now. At a time when the traditional range of available leaders is seldom inspiring, Rice’s gift of pure self-expression is quietly enriching. Her refusal to stay within the limitations of what our group says a black woman should be shows black women that we can be all we want to be. This makes Condoleezza one of the rarest black heroes around: A hero who achieves not because she is trying to reinforce the black female identity, but because of the strength of her pure desires as an individual. It is only this strength that can take an individual into higher arenas of growth.
This ability to be herself for herself regardless of any stereotypical expectations projected onto her (and as a black woman, I am sure there have been many), is the nugget of gold we can all claim from her as we stretch to fulfill our dreams, regardless of boundaries.
As the audience who most needs to syphon dynamic energy from this renegade to complement the limiting nature of black communal politics, we still shy away from acknowledging the astounding breadth of Rice’s exploits. Instead, we should let her sense of freedom of accomplishment be a personal guide. She became secretary of state when our allies had become enemies through our instigation of the Iraq war, positively handling this critical role at the worst time in recent history. This deft politician is also a dedicated educator, having held prominent teaching and administrative positions at Stanford University and its school of business. Rice has an undergraduate degree, a master’s degree, a Ph.D., and is an acknowledged expert in international affairs with a focus on Russia. Condoleezza sits on numerous boards of corporations and community service organizations, and has authored and co-authored several books. Without even trying, she was even hailed as a style icon by famed designer Michael Kors. Through example alone, Rice demonstrates the power of black women to succeed in fields far outside the insular confines of typical African-American affairs. Yet, she still remains unacknowledged by African-Americans alone for this incredible power. This is undeniably wrong, and not in black women’s long-term interest.
Don’t get me wrong. Condoleezza does many things that make us rightfully angry. For example, she is planning to serve as an honorary chair at the Shoal Creek Country Club — an institution that is infamous for its past discriminatory policies against blacks. Rice’s readiness to partner with an entity with this history is the kind of choice that makes us look askance at her. But just as Bush seemed not to care if blacks lived, she doesn’t seem to care what blacks think. This does not make Rice a race traitor; it only underscores her role as a paragon of individualism. As an example of brilliant black womanhood dedicated to her personhood first, she reigns supreme. I’d rather have a black leader who defies odds and bucks expectations to expose new avenues of development, than a self-limiting automaton focused on making us feel safe by covering familiar ground.
Plus, if you look at her record you might be surprised at some of Rice’s statements. She’s not all that bad, even by popular black standards. At her Senate confirmation hearing in 2005, she said: “[O]nly the spread of ‘liberty and democracy’ could defeat the threat posed by terrorists and rogue states. She said there remained ‘outposts of tyranny’ in the world – Cuba, Burma, North Korea, Iran, Belarus and Zimbabwe were cited – and that the US would ‘stand with oppressed people’ everywhere […].” Despite the actual implementation of her ideology under Bush, we should give Rice credit for articulating a vision of universal democracy that only the most self-righteous cynic could snark at. But that is exactly what most blacks do when we consider her politics. If we’d study her actual words we might find that many of her ideals are close to our own, but sadly Rice has yet to earn this level of respectful attention from the black female audience.
You might always have a strong distaste for her values, but Rice still deserves to be elevated by us for what she has done. The fact that in reality the mainstream thinks more of her than we do makes me cringe. We are the community that spawned her, even though we may not be the group she consciously represents. She will still always be a black woman first whenever she walks into a room, even if that room is in a country club from which she was banned as a black woman years ago. But it’s precisely because she never asked our permission to chart her own trajectory that she will soon be commanding that previously off-limits space as a shining star. As a leader and individualist, she comes from us, but was not dependent on us to reach her goals. Still, she has represented us wonderfully in the process of her self-determined growth. For this alone, Condoleezza Rice deserves to get her black card back. She may not want it, but we can bestow it on her spiritually. Through our acceptance of her as a legitimate icon for all black women, her life will effortlessly teach us to be our best, while refusing the often covert restraints placed on black women by our own people.
If even reformed racists can recognize her shine, then so can I.