Bringing Down the Hope: Condoleezza Rice, Black Capitalism and War
By Max Gordon
December 13, 2004
Having grown up in Birmingham, Alabama as the daughter of a Presbyterian pastor, it is easy to image that Condoleezza Rice kicked the underside of a
church pew with patent-leather shoes, that she was shushed during a lengthy service with a peppermint from her mother’s purse; or worse, an arched
eyebrow silenced her and a girlfriend’s giggles with the promise of a beating after church. Mrs. Rice may have stayed up late ironing Condoleezza’s
Sunday dress or pressing her hair by the stove, finally styling it with red ribbons the next morning. Pastor Rice might have carefully mouthed the
words from the front pew as Condi remembered all her lines in the Christmas pageant. As a young girl growing up in Birmingham, it is likely that
Condoleezza Rice, at least once in her life, hesitated before two drinking fountains; finally approaching the one with the sign marked "Colored
She was born the year of the landmark decision, Brown vs. Board of Education, ending the legal segregation of public schools. In 1963, Dr. Martin
Luther King, Jr. wrote "Letter From Birmingham Jail", having been imprisoned for the 13th time for protesting segregation. Dr. King had called
Birmingham, "The most segregated city in the country." Police Commissioner "Bull" Connor promised that before integration was realized, "blood
would run in the streets" and kept his promise. At the urging of his aides, King had made movement history by recruiting high school students and
elementary-age children to march, hoping to stir the moral conscience of the nation; Connor unleashed police dogs and turned fire hoses on them,
blasting many protesters against concrete which ripped off their clothes and bloodied their skin(1). That same year, at the age of nine, Condoleezza
Rice's schoolmate Denise McNair was killed in the bombing of the Black Sixteenth Street Baptist Church when Ku Klux Klan member Robert Edward
Chambliss planted 19 sticks of dynamite in the basement of the church.
At 15, Rice began attending classes at the University of Denver with the goal of becoming a classical pianist, her aspirations changing soon after to
political science. After earning a degree at 19 with honors, she continued post-graduate education at the University of Notre Dame. For six years she
served as Stanford’s provost, where she was also a tenured professor; she was on the board of directors for the Chevron corporation; and joined the
George H.W. Bush Administration as Senior Director of Soviet and East European Affairs in the National Security Council. On December 17, 2000, Rice
was picked to serve as National Security Advisor and stepped down from her position at Stanford. If confirmed by the Senate in January 2005,
Condoleezza Rice will be the first black female Secretary of State ever in the United States.
Dr. Rice is an unusual black American icon. Refusing to play any of the Hollywood black glamour tricks, she doesn’t wear a foundation that is three
shades too light for her skin, she isn’t photographed from strange angles to keen her features, nor does she wear blonde dye-jobs, flowing
shoulder-length extensions or green contacts. With her combed-back, straightened hair in a gentle flip, the tiny, friendly space between her front
teeth and her carefully considered makeup, she recalls a handsome matron of the church or a favorite conservative aunt; authoritative and adequately
fashionable, yet not enough to make a point of it. If you’d never seen a photograph or watched her on television, her first name alone would reveal to
you who she was. Condoleezza Rice is an American black woman.
Which is the reason why the racism that she represents is so elusive, and that much more maddening. There is no question that Dr. Rice’s achievements
will be marked in the annals of black capitalism as a triumph. She is a talented woman, a successful business person, a military hawk; dedicated and
fiercely loyal to her country and her president. She represents American progress, and specifically black American progress. Yet something is
painfully, deeply wrong. The theme-song to the 70’s black upward-mobility sitcom "The Jeffersons" cried, "We finally got a piece of the pie!" My
sister and I would jump up and dance to the song when the show came on. Maybe all black America danced to it. But did anyone stop to ask what kind of
pie it was?
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