Thursday, February 8, 2007

The Dr. Condi Lesson

By any measure, Condolezza Rice, Dr. Rice - is a smart, educated, accomplished and distinguished African-American woman. As the mother of a 7 year old daughter, I aspire to teach many of the lessons her parents so clearly taught her. At a time where she couldn't eat a cheeseburger at a Department Store counter - they convinced their daughter that she could be anyone, do anything, reach the stars if she decided that to be her course. Condi evidently believed them.

There are many lessons to be learned from Dr. Condi - I use her title because I think people forget, she has earned her academic and political standing. Her parents, both educators, realized that the most powerful lessons are taught at home. Her mother, an accomplished pianist, taught Condi how to play in the comfort of their home. There is a lesson to be learned right there. You can only teach - when you have something to offer. Further, when the world outside is ridiculous and cruel, the comfort of home is designed to be a safe landing place. I think both lessons are often missed in a society that seeks fame and fortune. Outside attention has become such an accepted lifestyle that we can easily become prey to what others think of us. We live in a culture that values the success story - earned and unearned. Or do we?

If we valued success, we would routinely praise Condolezza Rice for setting her own course. We would recognize that her pursuit of education didn't rest with what she was taught by others, she "actively pursued" knowledge and learning throughout her life. The daughter of two educators, their love for education was a living legacy for their daughter. She started college courses in high school and graduated at the age of 19 magna cum laude. From personal experience I know what it is like to change majors in the midst of your college education. No matter what the revelation, you need Jesus himself to help people to understand why your are making that choice. Rice decided that her love of Piano was not enough to make it a full time career - and thus began pursuing other options. I started off wanting to be a chemical engineer...that too was not to be.

The answer came in a classroom presided over by Josef Korbel, the father of former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright. A lecture by Korbel on Josef Stalin mesmerized Rice. Fascinated by the intrigues and complexities of Soviet politics, she decided on the spot to major in political science. For more information about Rice there are numerous links. This paragraph comes directly from a free black history resource worthy of your visit. The lessons continue. Rice was encouraged to find her voice and to seek her highest calling, and she did just that. A parents ability to teach a child to find their own way in the comfort of their support is laudable. We can all take a page from their lesson plan.

Rice's parents had to do quite the job in teaching her to be resilient. When you can be on the receiving end of the extreme bashing from liberals such as barbara boxer and tavis smiley - you have to be resilient. Not that Rice is above criticism, but the slant of her critics tends to be so extreme you can't take it at face value. I secretly mourned Rice not slapping boxer as she went on a rant about not being in touch with those who are at-risk in the war. I am not supportive of the war as it exists, but I think boxer was low, no-dignity in her comments. Regardless of Rice's marital status, or her lack of children, I find it hard to believe she is devoid of any sensitivity to what is happening as far as the war. Barabara was equally low in her assessment of a black conservative judge in California - while signing every possible piece of legislation that sings the praise of pro-choice. Never mind that the choice happens after a baby is conceived, not before. She doesn't champion that choice. The criticism of anyone, regardless of their lack of moral backbone, can sting.

Tavis Smiley is an entirely different story. At a recent PBS fundraiser he gave a speech regarding love in political discourse - a part of his series about American living up to its promise. He did what he intended to do - for me that is - I left thinking more about the impact of race, politics and America than I had the night before. I agreed with his fundamental premise, we must live up to our personal promise, for America to live up to hers. I am working diligently on that pursuit. Meanwhile, he indicated that love should be the primary calling card in public conversation - and he showed no love to Condi. His comments at first were uncomfortable but ultimately showed me a dimension of hypocrisy that seemed lost on many in the audience. If we are called to show love, he did anything but when it came to Condolezza. He later sealed my discontent when he indicated that J. Jackson had earned his political stance while Barack Obama had yet to prove anything... clearly we should always look at where the criticism comes from, before we invest too much energy. Jesse Jackson can not be a political hero for me. I appreciate Condi's resilience.

In a day and time when role models are hard to come by, I appreciate the diversity offered by Condi. Her academic, political and foreign policy knowledge are worthy - not because she is a black woman alone, but because she is good. I don't have to agree with her loyalty to Bush to appreciate that she has a stance and an approach and has been unwavering to it. I doesn't make me like her politics necessarily, but I still admire her.

I admire Rice with some level of disappointment, however. In 2003, Rice was drawn into the debate over the Affirmative Action admissions policy at the University of Michigan. As a resident of the state at the time, I was deeply moved by the discourse and discussion about whether or not Affirmative Action was even necessary. The debate brought to mind a memory of being on Purdue's campus when a heated classroom debate led me to walk out of a classroom before tears rolled down my face. Short of cussing, I tried to eloquently inform the entire class that both my ACT and SAT scores were so far above the national average, that I was indeed not a product of affirmative action. I went on to give a litany of views on racism, favoritism, alumni preference, corn field preference - I was probably anything but graceful when I thought about the implication of the comments in the room. As one of the primary crafters of Bush's position on race-based preferences, Rice stated that she believed race-neutral means were preferable - although race "could" be considered with many other factors. Here we disagree.

Unlike her predecessor Colin Powell, Condi appears to fail to mitigate disaster or give unwelcome advice about the consequences of failure in Iraq. Instead, she has seemed to fade into the background at key times when her independent voice is most needed. I don't get a sense of who Condi is and what she believes, and thus it appears that she is a "Bush yes woman" at any cost. That stance has colored my impression of her, and I would be lying if I stated it any different. That, does not however, remove her from being significant in the lives of African-Americans, in the lives of women, or in the life of this country. She is a testament to what can be done when you tap into your skills, talent and passion. I simply wish that her presence was more powerful because of the voice she wielded independent of Bush.

As a mother I think there is plenty to learn from the Dr. Condi story. I want to raise my daughter to be clearly aware of her power and to pursue her greatest ambition without limitation. In that pursuit, however, I want her to be a voice for people who have come before her and will come after her. I don't want her legacy to be in the shadow of a man misguided or the criticism of people misdirected. I want her life to be a testament to the power of Christian women, African-American women, educated women, and women who believe that choice is best made before - - not after intercourse. Most of all, I aspire to be a woman and mother that teaches as well as learns, and then offers a safe place to land when life is not well.

One of my greatest wishes for Dr. Condi right now, would be a safe place to land. A place not filled solely with judgment, jokes and justifications for the liberal position - just a safe place to land. I'll trust that in the absence of her parents, her relationship with God will serve her well. With so much to offer, let not her legacy be determined by people who have neither balance nor perspective on what our future really needs. She's got a lot of life ahead of her. I hope history serves her well.

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