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
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
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
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.
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
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
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.