It wasn’t surprising that former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice would take the stage in support of GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney Wednesday night. She’d long since come out for the robotic challenger, even though in 2008 she seemed to hint that her leanings were with our current president, Barack Obama.
But Condi, if nothing else, has always been a team player. Even if it didn’t benefit her all that much. A dutiful daughter, who is earnest and hardworking, even in being so very wrong.
Rice is an educated woman who has the unfortunate distinction of being woefully negligent at best and a war criminal at worst, depending on who you’re speaking to. This is especially true if who you’re speaking to still has a working memory of the Cheney-Bush administration’s foreign policy disasters. But if you can dissociate the toll of two non-funded wars that broke the U.S.’s bank and sent our men and women of the Armed Forces on endless deployments until they saw more battle time than Brokaw’s “Greatest Generation” in World War II, you can appreciate Condi Rice at her most basic level.
Black girl now grown done good.
And normally, as long as she’s not talking about foreign policy, I can do this. We have so much in common. Both products of the black middle class from families who escaped the Jim Crow of the deep South to offer their daughter(s) a better shot at success. We even play the piano, although she’s infinitely more skilled at it than I am. And at one point in my life I dreamed of going into international relations, traveling abroad to speak on behalf of our country. Our points diverge at the point when I diverge with most black conservatives who share my background – the belief in whether or not we should fight the inherent unfairness in our system to make things more fair for all, or if, in the pursuit of pure individualism, screw everyone else and let God figure it out, I gotta-get-mine, you-gotta-get-yours.
My theories for why rappers would make the best Republicans aside, that’s really the crux, the bone black Liberals and conservatives are picking at. Community versus self. A level playing field versus simply altering the rules a little so when you finally have the upper hand you too can reap and exploit the benefits of being on top. Being equal versus being “better.” Fighting the man versus the chance to be “the man.”
A high tide rises all boats, unless you jerry-rig all the other boats to sink in that high tide so you can be the only boat to take advantage of it.
This philosophy was evident in Rice’s speech where she endorsed Romney of sorts, extolled the virtues of warmongering and gave a shout-out to ol’ Jimmy Crow and how she’d gone from not being able to eat at a Woolworth’s counter to Secretary of State. But Rice notably skipped a few steps between a legal form of oppression and overcoming. To fit in to the conservative philosophy of boot strap pulling, she had to gloss over the blood, sweat, tears, and sacrifices many had to make so she could be on that stage. Instead she encouraged a logical fallacy, that freedom and equality was something given to black people in America out of the kindness of the hearts of people who’d seen the error of their ways, and racism died in its sleep peacefully on a Sunday morning in 1968. The reality is four little girls, close to her own age at the time, died in a church that was fire bombed in Birmingham, Alabama, for daring to be the same race as the people who wanted to eat at a Woolworth’s counter and vote.
She ignored that some in the room still romanticize a past built on the backs of oppression – of a society where things like welfare and Medicare and Social Security weren’t controversial because the only people benefiting from these entitlement programs were white. The plantation owner who my grandparents and great-grandparents worked for refused to pay into Social Security for people who historically have not legally been seen as people in the eyes of our government.
Our independence was bloody and hard-won. Many of those who gave the most never got to see this day when one of their daughters could take the national stage on their backs and gloss over everything they’d done. It’s as if to say, “All’s fair now because I got a job.” As if it works that way, that if the individual climbs from the swamp to ascend the mountaintop, we all have the glory – even if we’re still watching her from the swamp, even if we’re all still there, still fighting, still demanding the equality we’ve long struggled for. Who cares? She made it. Damned if anyone else does.
And the applause she received was the most absurd thing. What were some of these delegates really championing? That Rice had managed to succeed despite the foot they and their forefathers had placed on her neck? Hooray for the girl who took our shit and made fertilizer? Because, really, those are the only black people who deserve a standing ovation – those who took on the hell we created for them and still made it out unscathed anyway – the unicorns, the modern miracles, the model minorities. The beat down didn’t take, so let’s clap as if we had a damn thing to do with it.
Denying the complex and ugly battle to make the United States live up to words of its founding is an insult to progress and to how far we have come and how far we have yet to go. While the situation has changed, we can’t simply gloss over old horrors to make things easier for the same people who tried to stop progress because they claimed it was happening “too fast.”
So as the GOP shouts “We Built That” in this misguided, misappropriation of President Barack Obama’s words on the role of government in creating infrastructure, Rice should have pointed out who built the future where she could be Secretary of State, where she could take that stage. She should have celebrated those who built our world as black people today – Ida B. Wells and Harriet Tubman. Martin Luther King Jr. and Thurgood Marshall. Fannie Lou Hammer and Shirley Chisholm. Civil Rights workers and nameless protestors who spent nights in jail. Activists and ministers and people who don’t have streets named after them who died. Former slaves who died in the same poverty they were born into even after they were freed. All those who had to deal with that dream deferred and see potential and opportunity dry up, but still fought anyway in hopes they’d leave a better world, if not for their own children, for us many, many years later down the line.
It’s not healing when you avoid the truth of our past. It’s not progress if you can take a stage and say you overcame Jim Crow, but never say how you did it exactly.