On June 28, 2003 Dr. Condoleezza Rice, National Security Adviser, began talks with Israeli and Palestinian officials to promote the “roadmap to peace,” the latest in a long line of efforts at Middle East peace brokering by the United States. As I watched her on the news I felt an inexplicable discomfort. I realized that my feelings resulted from a desire to be proud of the accomplishments of another black woman. Identifying with and being proud of the achievements of black people can be a wonderful source of self-affirmation, a means of casting aside the racism that gives credence to the worst assumptions made about us. But in the case of Condoleezza Rice and others, race pride can become a dangerous means of self-delusion.

Condoleezza Rice definitely lives up to the dictum that blacks must be twice as smart as whites in order to get to the same position. She is a Ph.D. and classically trained pianist. Vice President Cheney flunked out of Yale. But in 1990 when she served as an adviser to the first President Bush, Rice was physically shoved by a secret service agent while attempting to enter the White House. She was literally put back into her place. Incidents such as these make it difficult for those of us who want to move away from knee jerk support of prominent blacks. We know that we are always at risk of being knocked down a peg or two no matter how impressive our credentials or position.
It is undeniably significant that a black woman is one of the most powerful foreign policy advisers in the nation. But Dr. Rice is a foreign policy adviser to George W. Bush, the most cynical and dangerous president in the modern history of the United States. Condoleezza Rice, like the President, Vice President Cheney, Defense Secretary Rumsfeld and Secretary of State Powell is responsible for an invasion of Iraq that has increased hatred in the Arab and Muslim world against the United States, ruined relationships with our allies, and destroyed the infrastructure of an already oppressed and impoverished land in order to benefit corporations with direct connections to the Bush administration.

My awareness of the lies told and wrongs committed by this president’s foreign policy team makes it impossible for me to feel any connection with Dr. Rice, pushing and shoving not withstanding. My opinion of her is no higher than my opinion of any other administration official. The elevation of Clarence Thomas and his ilk had long ago cured me of the habitual feeling of pride that comes when colored people make good. How many of us overlooked Thomas’ very public support of conservative principles during his confirmation as a Supreme Court justice? “Well, I’d rather have a black conservative than a white one.” “He’ll probably be different once he gets on the bench.” “He has that job for life. He’ll change.” The memory of these desperate expressions of wishful thinking came flooding back to me when I read press accounts of Rice’s keynote address at the National Association of Black Journalists convention on August 7, 2003.

In her speech Rice repeated the usual mix of specious reasoning and suppositions stated as facts in defending the decision to invade Iraq. She also added a little pandering to a mostly black audience by noting the Bush proposal to spend $15 billion to fight HIV in Africa. She neglected to mention that congressional approval of the funding is far from certain and that the Bush allegiance to the religious right requires an abstinence based approach to HIV education that renders the funding worthless, assuming that it ever comes to fruition.

The speech probably would not have been worthy of discussion had she not added this little gem of self-serving hypocrisy.

"Like many of you, I grew up around the home-grown terrorism of the 1960s.  The bombing of the church in Birmingham in 1963 is one that will forever be in my memory because one of the little girls who died was a friend of mine. Forty years removed from that tragedy, I can honestly say that Denise McNair and others didn't die in vain. They and all who suffered and struggled for civil and human rights helped to reintroduce America to its founding ideals. And because of their sacrifice, America is a better nation and a better example to a world where difference is still often taken as a license to kill.

But knowing what we know about the difficulties of our own history, knowing what we know about how hard it is to build democracy, we need to be humble in singing freedom's praises.

But we should not let our voice waver in speaking out on the side of people who are seeking freedom. And we must never, ever indulge in the condescending voices who allege that some people in Africa or in the Middle East are just not interested in freedom, they're culturally just not ready for freedom or they just aren't ready for freedom's responsibilities.

We've heard that argument before, and we, more than any, as a people, should be ready to reject it. The view was wrong in 1963 in Birmingham, and it is wrong in 2003 in Baghdad and in the rest of the Middle East."

I don’t know anyone who protested against this war because they believed that Iraqis were not interested in democracy and freedom. I am certain that the Iraqi people wanted freedom in 1983 when the Reagan administration Middle East envoy, Donald Rumsfeld, met with our then friend Saddam Hussein. At that moment in history Iran was the bogeyman in the region and the United States government was all too pleased when Hussein invaded that nation. Rumsfeld was in Baghdad again in 1984 when the United Nations concluded that Iraq had used chemical weapons against Iranian military targets. No condemnation or protest was forthcoming from Mr. Rumsfeld or anyone else in the Reagan administration. In fact, American arms sales to the Iraqi regime increased. Saddam Hussein was an evil tyrant then, but because he was “our” evil tyrant we turned a blind eye when he started a war that resulted in the deaths of over one million Iraqis and Iranians.

I was initially dismayed at Rice’s attempt to link American imperialism with the human rights struggles of this country, but upon further reflection I was not at all surprised. The modus operandi of George W. Bush has always been to use black people at the most opportune moments. Are poll numbers falling? Bring Ugandan AIDS orphans to the White House. Is there a need to fool moderates into believing that you are indeed the compassionate conservative? Hold a Republican Party convention that features T.D. Jakes and Chaka Khan. What to do on those all too rare occasions when the Democrats find it within themselves to speak out against the administration? Visit a black church, school or community organization and create yet another photo opportunity with brown faces.

Fortunately for Mr. Bush there aren’t many people who will turn down the chance to meet a sitting president, even one they don’t like very much. It doesn’t even matter that they won’t vote for him. The photo opportunity isn’t for their benefit. The same racism that demonizes black people holds up our plight as the standard by which all injustice is judged. The reasoning goes that anyone who is kind to oppressed black people can’t be bad. This tacit admission of guilt is at the very least ironic and at the very worst an indictment of the sickness inherent in racism.

While Rice’s comments were not a surprise to Bush watchers they should not go unchallenged. Does she really believe that those who opposed the war in Iraq are comparable to those who kill innocent children to further the cause of white supremacy?

Why should anyone be humble in singing freedom’s praises? Poor Condi Rice and company are left unable to sing about freedom or little else because our Iraq policy was based on lies and is now such an obvious failure.  It is difficult for the Bush administration to build democracy in Iraq because that was never their true intention. Had they been serious about bringing freedom to Iraqis instead of profits to Halliburton we would have involved the United Nations and Arab nations in bringing about positive change. Instead we have both the sorry spectacle of continued killings of Iraqi civilians and American troops and of a National Security Adviser making ridiculous statements.

As for the martyred Denise McNair, she and the other children killed by American evil doers deserve better than to be used as cover for the worst that America has to offer. As an aside, I have always found it offensive when victims like Denise McNair are described as having “sacrificed” or “given their lives.” Miss McNair’s life was taken from her. People who in all probability called themselves Christians murdered her in her church.   The only thing crueler is for people in power to evoke her name when telling us that peace is war and freedom is slavery.

Margaret Kimberley is a writer living in New York City.

Copyright 2003 Margaret Kimberley

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Issue Number 52
August 14, 2003

Other commentaries in this issue:

Cover Story: Wanted: A Plan for the Cities to Save Themselves - Black labor's role in transforming the urban landscape

Ward Connerly’s Crusade to Erase Black People: The Racial Privacy Act - Pure Racist American Illogic

Cartoon: Ward Connerly

Imperial Racist Fantasies and The Digitalization of Colonialism by Kweli Nzito, Ph.D.

e-MailBox: The IRS sweats the poor... Rich, secessionist white men... AIPAC’s long political hit list... African Americans and Zimbabwe

RE-PRINT: Racism and the heartland reparations drive by Derrick Z. Jackson

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Contents of Issue 51 - July 31, 2003:

Cover Story - Analysis: The Debate on Zimbabwe Will Not Be Throttled... African Americans must debate the issues of human rights and economic development in Africa among themselves

The DLC’s National White Man’s Conversation - Let the rich rump of the Party go where they belong

Cartoon: Halliburton Coming and Going

Bush Uses IRS To Push Around Poor People - ACORN fights fed's proof-of-poverty scheme

e-MailBox: Hip-Hop Hits Back... Killing Africans as Policy... Bush Mental Disorder Catalogued... Obama’s name off DLC list

No safety without peace, no peace without change - A speech by Cynthia McKinney, Former U.S. Rep. (D-GA)

You can read any past issue of The Black Commentator in its entirety by going to the Past Issues page.