Condoleezza Rice tells the story of her family and early influences in her new autobiography.
Few prominent public figures remain as much of a mystery as Condoleezza Rice, who broke new ground as the Secretary of State under President George W. Bush. Her autobiography, Extraordinary, Ordinary People: A Memoir of Family, which traces her fascinating rise to those august heights, does little to dispel that mystery. But it does reinforce Rice's refusal to be typecast.
As the title suggests, Rice attributes much of her success to her parents, Angelena, a high school teacher, and John, a high school guidance counselor and Presbyterian minister. Through a comfortable middle-class upbringing filled with piano and skating lessons, and rigorous academics, the Rices tried their best to shield their only child from the horrors and humiliations of segregated Birmingham, Ala. They couldn't hide everything, however: Rice knew the girls who died in the 1963 bombing of the 16th Street Baptist Church.
In a refrain that still rings familiar to women in business today, the Rices exhorted their daughter to be "twice as good" as her more privileged counterparts in order to compete. That lesson has, in many ways, defined Rice's career. Before becoming George W. Bush's National Security Advisor and then, in 2005, his Secretary of State, Rice excelled at Stanford University, where she was first a fellow, then a tenure-track assistant professor and ultimately the institution's youngest provost. In Washington, she's also worked at the Council on Foreign Relations and National Security Council.
Although much has been made of Rice's ambivalent relationship with the African-American community--which stems as much from her politics as from her staunch individualism--she chafes at the notion that there's a "right" or "wrong" way for a black woman to act or think in the 21st century. Further complicating matters is a reality that's far more nuanced than the image. Though politically conservative, Rice believes in affirmative action. In her youth, she was exposed to radical leaders such as the Black Panthers' Stokely Carmichael, a friend of her father's. In the 1976 Presidential election, she voted for Jimmy Carter.
Rice's life story underscores the importance of judging individuals on their own actions and merits rather than on the expectations placed upon them. Hers is a lesson about how far talent can take a woman who puts it to its best use.
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