On the Way to Extraordinary
A recent review, by Charlotte Allen, of former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice’s memoir of her family, Extraordinary, Ordinary People, is unfortunately not online except by subscription. (It appeared in the February 7 National Review.) It does give some of the feel for the path to success of a black woman who grew up during times of racial turmoil:
Like other blacks in Birmingham scraping together respectable lifestyles on meager salaries during the 1950s, the Rices were determined to do two things: ignore the indignities of segregation, and refuse to have anything to do with what today would be called “ghetto culture,” the undisciplined speech, mannerisms, and mores of poorly educated lower-class blacks. When young Condoleezza, an only child, watched Amos ‘n’ Andy on television with her parents, they “went out of their way to point out and correct” the “butchered English” of the show’s black characters, she writes. …
Rice writes that “because Birmingham was so segregated, black parents were able, in large part, to control the environment in which they raised their children. They rigorously regulated the messages that we received and shielded us by imposing high expectations and a determined insistence on excellence.” There were few single mothers, and therefore plenty of men around to enforce rules. The black schools in Birmingham were poorly funded, but boasted dedicated teachers like Angelena Rice, who tolerated no excuses for low performers. “‘To succeed,’ they routinely reminded us, ‘you will have to be twice as good,'” her daughter writes. Middle-class blacks tended to avoid public places where they might be exposed to such indignities as “colored” restrooms. With equal fastidiousness they avoided many of the places where blacks could legally go: dives in rough neighborhoods characterized by drinking, knife fights, and the “loose women” that no respectable black females wanted to be. Middle-class social life took place exclusively within a dense network of churches, clubs, fraternities, and the homes of friends.
Even on the losing end of America’s racial atrocities, faith, family, and dedication were able to provide hope. Disagreement about the best ways in which to end discrimination and recompense the damage of the past is sincere, but a better formula would have placed more emphasis on individual initiative in those three areas.