As a little girl, Condoleezza Rice posed in a sundress in front of the White House. Decades later, Rice worked in the White House as the second woman, and the first African-American woman, in history to be Secretary of State and the first woman to serve as national security advisor. In her new memoir, Extraordinary, Ordinary People: A Memoir of Family, Condoleezza shares stories of her childhood growing up in the racially segregated South as a little girl who was not even sure she’d be allowed to sit on a white Santa Claus’ lap.Condi Rice’s educator parents raised her in Birmingham, Alabama, in the 1950s and 1960s, where her father was also a Presbyterian minister. As a child, she played with a youngster named Denise McNair, who was later killed in the bombing of Birmingham’s 16th Street Baptist Church in 1963.
Condoleezza’s parents would not go to protest marches, however. Her father was not the sort of man to back down from a fight and he worried that he’d get into a tangle with the cops and be killed. Instead, the Rice family boycotted racist businesses and stressed education as a way to combat racism. Her parents called white people “them” or “they,” she explained, and they thought the best way to protect themselves would be to acclimate themselves to white people’s culture. Wrote Condoleezza in the first chapter of her book:
“Certainly, in any confrontation with a white person in Alabama you were bound to lose. But my parents believed that you could alter that equation through education, hard work, perfectly spoken English, and an appreciation for the “finer things” in “their” culture. If you were twice as good as they were, “they” might not like you but “they” had to respect you. One could find space for a fulfilling and productive life. There was nothing worse than being a helpless victim of your circumstances. My parents were determined to avoid that station in life. Needless to say, they were even more determined that I not end up that way.”
Rice further explained to NPR her parents’ attitude: “‘Well, you may not have been able to control those circumstances, but you could control how you reacted to your circumstances.’” She continued, “That was a sin, to consider yourself victimized, or not able to control your destiny, or your fate — that was the one cardinal sin in our community.” It may have meant folks like her “had to be twice as good to be accepted,” but they had their dignity intact.
I may not be a fan of Condoleezza Rice’s politics (or more specifically, the president she served), but she’s had a truly remarkable life and this is one memoir I don’t want to miss. [NPR]