The facts of Condoleezza Rice’s ascent to power read like the archetypal ‘American Dream’. Rice, 51, was born in the Jim Crow ‘redneck’ city of Birmingham, Alabama, in the United States. Her early years were spent encircled by racial segregation and the epic Civil Rights struggles in the leafy suburb of Titusville.
Rice’s parents, the Rev. John W..Rice and his school teacher wife, Angelena, were part of a Black middle-class elite in the American South who believed that individual advancement was best achieved through education. So they eschewed the call to collective action of Dr Martin Luther King and his mass movement.
They ‘turned a blind eye’ to the issue of racial discrimination, according to sources close to the family, and preferred not to ‘pay any attention to it’. The Rev Rice would persistently tell his only daughter that ‘she would be able to become the President of the United States if only she had a wish to work hard for it’. Eugene Robinson, a highly-respected Black journalist who interviewed Rice last year for The Washington Post, noted that she was sheltered from the harsh world outside the cosy home. But, 'inside the bubble, Rice was sitting at the piano in pretty dresses to play Bach fugues. It sounds like a wonderful childhood, but one that left her able to see the impact that race has in America - able to examine it and analyse it - but not to feel it'.
She told Robinson, revealingly: 'I have always said about Birmingham, that because race was everything, race was nothing.'
In another interview four years earlier, she spoke about her mother and father ('Lessons of Might and Right', Washington Post, 2001). 'My parents were very strategic. I was going to be so well prepared and I was going to do all of these things that were revered in white society so well, that I would be armoured somehow from racism. I would be able to confront white society on its own terms.' She added: “My family is third-generation college educated. I should’ve gotten to where I am.'
A child prodigy, Rice could play the piano at the age of three and gave her first recital at four. Her unique first name originates from the Italian musical term ‘dolcezza’ which means, ‘with tenderness’. An accomplished ice skater with a precocious intellect, she was accepted by the University of Denver in the US to study political science at 15.
It was Josef Korbel, a Czech migrant to America and father of former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, who inspired Rice’s interest in international politics and specifically the Soviet Union. She wrote her thesis on the Czech armed forces and became a Sovietologist at America's top Stanford University. Consequently, Rice speaks fluent Russian as well as four other languages.
Her talents were quickly spotted by Brent Scowcroft, national security adviser to Republican President George Bush senior, who later confessed that everything he knew about the USSR he learnt from Rice. According to the influential Russian state-owned newspaper Pravda, Rice believed from an early age that ‘if a person becomes an expert in the field of US-Soviet relations he or she would be able to approach the doors to which others will never be able to make even a step forward’.
For many Americans and political observers abroad, Rice remains something of an enigma. She is carefully protected by the White House press and public relations machine and therefore is able to attend to affairs of state free from the usual media intrusion into her private life. Unlike other prominent American and European politicians, Rice avoids the Tv chat show circuit.
With President Bush due to end his second and final term of office in 2008. there is now a vigorous campaign by Republican ‘Condinistas’ (www.rice2008.com) who want to ‘draft’ in his female alter ego into the presidential race. So public interest in Rice’s racial identity and unmarried status has intensified. The-Latest's 'view of Rice, gleaned from the web, provides an uncensored snapshot of America’s second ‘First Lady’ and the controversies which could plague a presidential campaign of hers.
- Race. “Condoleezza displeaza Spike” was the front page headline earlier this year on www.nydailynews.com as they reported firebrand Black film director Spike Lee’s attack on Rice over her apparent indifference to the issue of race. Lee said: “I dislike Condoleezza more than Bush. The thing about it is that she’s gotten a free ride from Black people. People say ‘she’s so successful and ‘look at her position as a Black woman’. She is a Black woman who grew up in Birmingham, Alabama, and said that she never experienced a day of racism in her life. Condi stop smoking that crack! While people were drowning in New Orleans, she was going up and down Madison Avenue buying Ferragamo shoes.' Lee’s comments provoked passionate responses from Americans. Here is a sample what they had to say:
Anastasia Beaverhausen: “Hey Spike, get back to me when you become the Secretary of State of the most powerful nation on the planet. Until then keep making your racist movies and flapping your pie hole.'
Lisa: 'Rice is a sell-out? You know, that kind of attitude is what is perpetuating racism in this country. I find it disgusting that Black women are expected to he unwed mothers, multiple children with multiple men, welfare, crack heads, etc. When they actually do something with their lives, they are selling out. Would you say the same thing if she was working under a Democratic administration?'
Mo: 'Spike Lee is married to a very successful Black lawyer who was raised with a lot of money. He too is from an educated successful family. So he is not criticising Condi Rice for being successful. He is criticising her for not having enough of a connection to her roots by supporting insensitive policies that Bush tells her to support.
Why do people think just because she is Black, she represents Black people? No she does not represent Blacks. She is too busy supporting Bush while he alienates the rest of the free world with his offensive policies and disregard for the rest of the international community. Condi Rice is a sell-out. So what if she is Secretary of State? Oh what any Black will do? No, the right Black person will do - the one with balls and who has the ability to be humane and of service to mankind - neither of which she is. Spike Lee is right and he is the only one who has the balls to speak up against her. Good for him. So many famous people are so by the book and express views that their PR people tell them to express. Thanks Spike for saying what you feel.'
That said, even Condoleezza Rice would have found it difficult to ignore the racism directed at her recently by an American radio show host, widely reported on websites like www.smirkingchimp.com.
Dave Lenihan used the word ‘coon’ while presenting a live programme on KTRS radio in St Louis, Missouri in the US. He apologised immediately, saying it was a slip of the tongue and he meant to say ‘coup’.
The boss of KTRS agreed the remark was accidental but said it was nonetheless ‘unacceptable and unforgivable’. Lenihan used the abusive word while arguing live on air that Ms Rice deserved to become the next boss of America's National Football League. He said: “She's got the patent resume of somebody that has serious skill. She loves football. She's African-American, which would kind of be a big coon. A big coon”. After realising that he used a racial slur, Lenihan apologised immediately: “Oh my God. I am totally, totally, totally, totally, totally sorry for that." Listeners soon began calling the radio station to voice their complaints. About 20 minutes later, KTRS boss Tim Dorsey went live on air to apologise to Ms Rice and to listeners. Dorsey said: “There can be no excuse for what was said. Dave Lenihan has been let go. ... There is enough hate. We certainly are not going to fan those flames,” Lenihan - who had been working for KTRS for less than two weeks - later said he was preparing a letter of apology to Ms Rice.
- Sexuality. Rumours about Condoleezza have persisted on internet message boards and sites like the gay www.afterellen.com since the Washington Post decided not to run a comic strip which suggested that Rice’s single status may be contributing to President Bush's divisive ‘War on Terrorism’, which she allegedly conceived. The exact words in a caption were: “Maybe if there was a man in the world who Condoleezza truly loved, she wouldn’t be so hell-bent to destroy it.' While no other newspaper suppressed the strip that day, the Post defended its decision to self-censor by invoking a questionable newspaper policy not to comment on the personal lives of political figures. They stated: 'We had no way of knowing whether Mr McGruder’s (the cartoonist) assertion that Condoleezza Rice had no personal relationship was true or not.'
It should be noted that Rice represents a neo-conservative ruling Republican Party whose natural constituents are the rabidly anti-gay, male chauvanist religious far-right who fervently promoted racial segregation in her native Deep South of America. Some commentators might say that, in order to be the tribune of these 'neo-cons', Rice has sacrificed her race, gender and personal life and this explains a character that is brilliantly calculating but has a cold lack of humanity.