...On Race in America and Promoting Democracy Around the Globe

Posted by Sean McCormack
March 28, 2008
Secretary Rice During Interview With Washington Times

Sean McCormack serves as the Department Spokesman and Assistant Secretary for Public Affairs at the U.S. Department of State.

I wanted to share with you an excerpt from Secretary Rice's interview yesterday with the Washington Times. I believe it is instructive to consider her responses to questions about race in America in the context of our administration's commitment to promote democracy around the globe. While I read some commentary questioning our commitment to democracy and human rights promotion, I also hear plenty of criticism on the other hand that we come across too often as wagging our fingers at countries struggling with democratic reform. So while we push, prod, cajole, criticize and praise others, we should also keep in mind our own struggles to build a more perfect union. (Full disclosure: you will find that Secretary Rice has made a similar point in public before). Since this exchange took place at the end of the editorial board, I also included the rest of the interview as it addresses the issue of education as an important national security priority.

Interview: Secretary Rice With The Washington Times Editorial Board, March 27, 2008 --

QUESTION: Madame Secretary, I wanted to ask a question that has absolutely nothing to do with any other country. (Laughter.) We're pulling up on the 40th anniversary of the assassination of Martin Luther King. And regardless of what race we were or what class we belonged to, it was a devastating time for America, without a doubt. And there's so much talk about race in the race for the White House. What, if any, lessons do you think Americans, as a whole, have learned since then?

SECRETARY RICE: Well, you know, it's -- America doesn't have an easy time dealing with race. I sit in my office and the portrait immediately over my shoulder is Thomas Jefferson, because he was my first predecessor. He was the first Secretary of State. And sometimes I think to myself, what would he think -- (laughter) -- a black woman Secretary of State as his predecessor 65 times removed -- successor, 65 times removed? What would he think that the last two successors have been black Americans? And so, obviously, when this country was founded, the words that were enshrined in all of our great documents and that have been such an inspiration to people around the world, for the likes of Vaclav Havel, associate themselves with those documents. They didn't have meaning for an overwhelming element of our founding population. And black Americans were a founding population. Africans and Europeans came here and founded this country together; Europeans by choice, and Africans in chains.

And that's not a very pretty reality of our founding, and I think that particular birth defect makes it hard for us to confront it, hard for us to talk about it, and hard for us to realize that it has continuing relevance for who we are today. But that relevance comes in two strains. On the one hand, there's the relevance that descendents of slaves, therefore, did not get much of a head start. And I think you continue to see some of the effects of that. On the other hand, the tremendous efforts of many, many, many people, some of whom, whose names we will never know and some individuals’ names who we do know, to be impatient with this country for not fulfilling its own principles, has led us down a path that has put African Americans in positions and places that, I think, nobody would have even thought at the time that Dr. King was assassinated. And so we deal daily with this contradiction, this paradox about America, that on the one hand, the birth defect continues to have effects on our country, and indeed, on the discourse and effects on perhaps the deepest thoughts that people hold; and on the other hand, the enormous progress that has been made by the efforts of blacks and whites together, to finally fulfill those principles.

QUESTION: Like running for President, for example?


QUESTION: Like running for President?

SECRETARY RICE: Well, yeah. I think the President, or being Secretary of State or having been Chairman of the Joint Chiefs or being the CEOs of some of the most major companies or being the best golfer in the whole world.

QUESTION: I mention it because, obviously, the race has become a major issue this race.

SECRETARY RICE: Yeah, but I'm not -- look, I'm not going to talk about the campaign, because I don't do politics.

QUESTION: It was a serious attempt.

SECRETARY RICE: It was a very good attempt. (Laughter.) I don't – I am not going to do politics --

QUESTION: Darn, that messed up my attempt. (Laughter.) And I wasn’t even going to ask about the presidency, but the vice presidency. (Laughter.)

QUESTION: (Inaudible) Barack (inaudible) speech about race -- did you listen to it?

SECRETARY RICE: I did and, you know, I think it was important that he gave it for a whole host of reasons. But look, I'm not going to talk about the politics. What I'm talking about is how -- you asked me about Dr. King and race in America. And I'm telling you that there is a paradox for this country and a contradiction of this country and we still haven't resolved it. But what I would like understood as a black American is that black Americans loved and had faith in this country even when this country didn't love and have faith in them, and that's our legacy.

My grandmother and my great-grandmother, and my father, who endured terrible humiliations growing up -- and my father in Baton Rouge, Louisiana; and my mother's family in Birmingham, Alabama-- still loved this country. And I've often spoken of the Civil Rights Movement as the second founding of America, because finally we started to overcome this birth defect. But if anybody believes that black Americans love this country any less than white Americans do, they ought to go and talk to people who live under very tough circumstances, sometimes doing menial labor and doing tough jobs, and really all they want is the American dream. All they're focused on is is their kid going to be well educated enough to go to college and have a better life than they had. And one of the things that attracted me to George W. Bush, one of the primary things, it was not actually foreign policy, it was No Child Left Behind. Because when he talked about the soft bigotry of low expectations, I know what that feels like.

And so to my mind, where our understanding of and conversation of race has got to go. And I mean now, race. Black Americans aren't immigrants. We may call ourselves African Americans, but we're not immigrants. We don't mimic the immigrant story. Where this conversation has got to go is that black Americans and white Americans founded this country together and I think we've always wanted the same thing. And it's been now a very hard and long struggle to begin to get to the place that we can all pursue the same thing.

QUESTION: Madame Secretary, I know you have to go. I just want to ask one last question. What does the future hold for you? You say you don't do politics now, but if you could change the things you've just talked about -- race in American, economics, opportunity -- would you do politics?

QUESTION: And would you consider vice president? (Laughter.)

SECRETARY RICE: Not interested. I’ve been at this, as you’ve kindly said, a long time. It's time for new blood. But look, I will go back to -- first of all, back East -- back West of the Mississippi -- which is where I’m from. There's a reason I'm an educator. There's a reason that the first thing that I would describe myself as is an educator. Because I believe that really is the basis on which we finally bring these two streams together: those of us who were fortunate enough to have parents and grandparents who set us on that path so that I became Secretary of State and my cousin became executive vice president of a major drug manufacturer, and people who are still struggling. And the difference is my parents and my grandparents were able to educate us.

I have worked hard on matters of providing educational opportunity for underprivileged kids. I started a program in East Palo Alto, California, that's -- in 1992. It an after-school and summer academy, called the Center for a New Generation. And the whole idea is that they should have limitless horizons and they shouldn't let anybody tell them what they're going to be, and somebody has an obligation to provide them that set of opportunities. But I'll tell you, the more I've been in the national security realm and in the foreign policy realm, I also recognize that it is absolutely essential for the health of our country as a whole because -- and for our role in the world. Because if our people are not educated and don't have opportunity and can't compete in a globalizing world where we're not going to be able to protect, I think that we will turn inward and we'll turn protectionist and we'll turn fearful. But if it really is the case that Americans can compete and can be educated and can be retrained, if necessary, when that job goes away to do the next job, then we're going to continue to be the leader on free trade and we're going to continue to be an open economy and we're going to continue to welcome people here from other countries, and we're not going to be fearful and we're not going to turn xenophobic. And so I consider the state of education to also be a key national security problem for us, maybe the most important national security problem.

I'll end with a little story, because it goes back to why, you know, why my family was educated and just says something about race --

QUESTION: Can I just follow up?


QUESTION: Do you think that -- you mentioned No Child Left Behind, do you think that turned out the way it was supposed to?

SECRETARY RICE: I think it’s had enormous impact, I really do. And I hope -- you know, I hope it can continue. But look, you can't tell if a child is succeeding unless you measure, and then somebody has to be held accountable if children aren't learning. If you don't hold somebody accountable that children aren't learning, you must believe that they can't learn. And so, I think, the program has had real impact.

But I want to just close with this little story because -- maybe some of you’ve heard it. But -- my grandfather, my father's father, was a sharecropper's son in Ewtah, Alabama -- E-w-t-a-h, Alabama. And for some reason, he decided he wanted to get book learning. And so he would ask people who came through where could a colored man go to college. And they said, well, there's Stillman College, which is a little Presbyterian school about 60 miles from here, but you're going to have to pay to go there. So he saved up his cotton and he got enough money from his cotton to go to Stillman. He made his way to Stillman. He made it through his first year of school. And then the second year they said, okay, now where's your tuition for the second year? And he said, well, I’ve paid with all the cotton I had. And they said -- he said, but -- well, how are those boys going to school? They said, well, you know, they have what's called a scholarship. He said -- and if you wanted to be a Presbyterian minister, then you could have a scholarship too. And my grandfather said, oh, you know, that's exactly what I plan to do. (Laughter.)

And so I always say, my family has been Presbyterian and college

QUESTION: Madame Secretary, thank you so much.

SECRETARY RICE: Thank you very much.



District Of Columbia, USA
March 29, 2008

State Department Spokesman Sean McCormack writes:

"...A more perfect union" in my post refers to language in our Constitution. A journalist in my briefing today asked if I was referring to the title of a recent speech by Senator Obama. I was not.

New Mexico, USA
March 29, 2008

Eric in New Mexico writes:

@ State Department Spokesman Sean McCormack -- Sean, I don't know if this helps, but I look upon democracy as a tool to develop the human potential whereas racism by its nature seeks to undermine the premise of democracy as well as being a self limiting awareness of human potential.

The bigot is bound by mental chains incompatible with a free society.

We can provide blueprints for folks how to build a free society of their own, but they must realize themselves as their nation's builders. Just as "we the people" are building tomorrow's America today. Attitude is everything; a humble approach and a smile are our greatest weapons against arrogant extremism.

Inspire them to not make our mistakes, as we fought ourselves long ago to define what freedom was in America and are witness to the world defining it for themselves today.

Encourage good governance with economic incentive, and expand present initiatives like the Millennium account.

I hear it said that some folks in this country don't believe it possible for folks in other parts of the world to create a free society. I think the issue is whether folks believe they can create this for themselves rather than whether someone else believes they can or not.

March 29, 2008

Amir writes:

Great job writing this blog, keep up the good work.

Tennessee, USA
March 29, 2008

Joe in Tennessee writes:

Personally I feel RACE is only an associative word, which even here is used out of the actual context. If you acknowledge a difference, you are accepting a difference. You are drawing a line in the sand and the Office of State should be above that.

1. Jefferson was against slavery per se and knew there would be an evolution of equality within America in time; if, in fact we continued to exist as a democracy.

2. Indentured bondage was for both white and black and it still exist in the manner of punishment within certain States. Working for free is punitive if it is not voluntary. Working for below standard wages or in sub standard conditions is also forming indentured slavery is it not? Does that not still exist?

3. Slvery was brought to America by the English recorded first in Virginia in 1619 and I beg to differ over the issue of Race. It was cheap labor. That is the actual root of the problem. Race is a Political term used for separation and control functions. All nations had a form of slavery in their history. America is still being built by cheap labor that is one problem still not corrected by Congress.

4. The idea of only blacks being brought here in chains should not be a continued topic. The Asian Population adapted and was in chains with an even more diverse culture. The American Indian owned the very land we reside on. Taking what is not yours then impoverishing the owner was and is on the level of Hitler by all standards. The Irish and German were also indentured building the railroads. The Italians were hung in LA when they migrated here as late as the early 1900s. In fact many German and Irish workers were killed with intent so the railroad could make its miliage. Much as the Biblical Hewbrews building the Pyramids. They had no rights and not even homes or a stable enviornment. The real problem is in class strata association. The representation of poor, lack of education, lack of civility, which in the past was due to forced conditions put upon all cheap labor. That was then. Today a person is still not considered equal who resides in any impoverished area of the United States. Not even in the Religious community. Race is simply another word for seperation.

4. Why do we relate to the history of America as being so equal to begin with? It never was from the beginning except in the Masonic Halls of craft. Washington married Martha for the purpose of advancement of class. His book on Gentlemens manners is a complete opposite of what we paint in history books. He was an Aristocrat by all standards of his time and today. He wanted to move up. George would have fit in well in the French court, in fact more so then picture of him crossing the Delaware. The concept of equality for citizens opportunity evolved. Freedoms were established, but so were limitations. There was also supposed to be freedom from Religious persecution, which still does not exist here due to a false separation of Church and State. The original premise was a REPRESENTIVE government and an advancement of the Magna Carta Liberatum, a base for Common Law.

5. The fact the Secretary of State even thinks what Jefferson would think I feel is very diminutive to the Office. Colon Powell never used race as an issue and is without doubt one of the most honorable men to have ever graced our Military and Government. I do admire Rices intellect, fortitude and perseverance. We are all victims of our social environment and past; but, at some level we are supposed to be above it.

6. Race is a tool of propaganda and separation for control. The less any population majority has, the more any minority is separated from the base core. Are we not experiencing that even now?

Again: If you acknowledge a difference, you are accepting a difference. You are drawing a line in the sand.

March 29, 2008

John in Greece writes:

America is the only nation in the world that has nothing to prove concerning democracy, colors, races and religion freedom. America has already taken the exam test with an A+ grade.

And this was not a multiple choice, but a real "race" test.

These values (democracy, color & race equality, religion freedom) that already have been intellectually, but also practically secured in the States are "matters" that other nations will -- have to deal with in the next 30 years.

And this is tough!

The world is changing.

America did it before.

America had the inspiration to be ahead.

What about the other nations that will now have to face a more "complicated" society structure?

The real modern one! Updated!

All these human issue-achievements in the U.S. begin from the States -- principles, as well as from the people who loved and still love this perspective. And, the real Freedom, begins from the USA philosophy, from these Amendments that the U.S. Constitution and the great men that inspired it; creating FREEDOM.

Mrs. Secretary of State, please reconsider running for the Presidency, ...after some years.

You have already done a GREAT JOB! (I am not the one to judge, but to me you did)

The "thinking" modern World does not care if a leader is a black or white, a man or a woman.

And you, personally, have helped this achievement a lot.

(I am white and male)

New Mexico, USA
March 30, 2008

Eric in New Mexico writes:

@ John in Greece -- John in Greece writes:

"America is the only nation in the world that has nothing to prove concerning democracy, colors, races and religion freedom. America has already taken the exam test with an A+ grade."

Mmmm. Well John, it seems we Americans keep proving it to ourselves by taking the test every four years.

A society in process of using what works and discarding what doesn't is not an "American" thing, if you look at the number of democracies and emerging democracies out there in the world today.

It is essentially the persuit of happiness that drives the trend as I see it, and the public rejection of anything standing in their way, including their own old outdated mindsets.

Thus I don't think in terms of leaders or followers, but as the spread of a rumor that humanity can actually achive its potential, despite what all the critics say.

Despite the terrorists among us. Despite climate change.

It is not ours alone to envision common solutions to common threats. This be the task of all nations.

The diplomatic legwork done over the years to achive consensus is indeed something remarkable in the history of foreign affairs. It would be sad to see the American contribution to this unravel should continuity of policy not be mandated by the next president in office.

I would hope Sec. Rice would consider staying on as Sec. of State should she be asked to do so.

April 1, 2008

John in Greece writes:

@ Eric in New Mexico -- I would also hope that Sec. Rice would consider staying on as Sec. of State.

However, I wrote in my previous post, "after some years" (concerning the Presidency, or the SD as you say) not on the ground that I wouldn't like her to keep on serving, but on the basis that she already had an extremely difficult and tiring mission.

She is SUPER-woman.

Just think that during her service she had to fly from country to country, usually making 2-3 transatlantic or long-mile flights per week. Plus the usual SD (inside the USA) based jobs.
Itãs the first time I see so much "mind & physical durability" in a Foreign Affairs minister worldwide.

Of course we have no right to comment on her decisions or career plans. Itãs exclusively her decision to make.

Nevertheless, I hope she stays in politics in general. The Globe cannot afford to loose so charismatic politicians.

Tennessee, USA
March 31, 2008

Joe in TN writes:

QUTOE: Africans and Europeans came here and founded this country together; Europeans by choice, and Africans in chains. End quote.

I took exception to that statement as it is not entirely true and to be honest, during Jefferson's time, an English Caucasian who was a blacksmith, store owner, miller or any tradesman would have had little or no opportunity to be Secretary of State or have the opportunity for an advanced education, with or without fiscal resources. I still think rattling chains and martyrdoms of the past are beyond the Office of State.

What sets Secretary Rice apart from so many politicians is the fact she brings viable solutions to the table...not simply charisma. We have entirely too many politicians with Charisma and no substance or put into office simply for political or family purposes. It is one of the short comings of our Democratic process. The public is persuaded by words and not deeds all too often. The result being,it is not the cream which floats to the top. I do agree Secretary is the cream. President Bush is fortunate to have such a strong ally. She is one of the last pillars and promoters of his principles. Loyalty is one very, very, strong attribute to add to her many. She is a wonderful American.

Quote on Palo Alto: And the whole idea is that they should have limitless horizons and they shouldn't let anybody tell them what they're going to be, and somebody has an obligation to provide them that set of opportunities. END quote.

Secretary of Rice may best serve the country in a Representative position in Congress or the Senate and enact Bills to provide jobs for opportunity for EVERYONE, with or without advanced education.

Maryland, USA
April 1, 2008

Dan in Maryland writes:

Re: the issue of Africans and their historic role and contributions in the United States, as Joe in TN suggests it was never quite as simple as all Europeans were entirely "free" and all Africans were entirely "in chains." In this regard, here is an informative link to an article published by the Colonial Williamsburg foundation addressing Colonial African American life:

As an excerpt from this article points out: "Most blacks (in the Colonial United States) lived in the Chesapeake region, where they made up more than 50 to 60 percent of the overall population. The majority, but not all, of these African Americans were slaves. In fact, the first official United States Census taken in 1790 showed that eight percent of the black populace was free."

Obviously any group of people that that comprised 50 to 60 percent of the overall population had to be responsible for making tremendous contributions to any progress in the communities where they lived. Indeed, if you visit Colonial Williamsburg, you will hear how essentially that city and the State of Virginia as a whole were only viable thanks to the contributions of African Americans living and working in those areas.

For an inspiring story of how as single African American who lived in Colonial Williamsburg, VA made the transition from a slave to a "free" man, and about the tremendous contributions this man made to the progress of Williamsburg, Virginia and indeed our nation, see the Colonial Williamsburg link below that discusses the history of Gowan Pamphlet. Pamphlet was a great man, born in 1748, who began his life as a enslaved tavern worker and ended his life as a "free" man, as a Baptist preacher and founder of the first Baptist Church in Williamsburg, and as a land owner. (I put "free" in quote as obviously during Pamphlet's life -- he died in 1807 -- even thought he was no longer considered a slave before he died, as an African American he obviously by no means enjoyed nearly all the rights and freedoms that other U.S. citizens did.)


New Mexico, USA
April 6, 2008

Eric in New Mexico writes:

I hear you John, America's been lucky to have her as Sec. of State.

She's probably rolling her eyes if she's reading this conversation, having been asked now some 1000 times by the press if she's running for office....ever. But I've never heard one of them ask if she'd stay on as Sec of State, (hypotheticly) if the circumstance arose.

Being the gentleman and scholar that I am (chuckle), I take it for granted that when a lady says "no", she does not mean "maybe".

So trying to put myself into her shoes here, I suspect she may think calls for "Condi for President" about as absurd as having one of us citizen Dipnote contributors become Sec. of State for a day. (Now there's a dangerous idea indeed...!)

So, let me say that I think as "America's face to the World" she exceeded this citizen's expectations of the job description, and that the "on the job training" she received will no doubt carry over into what she chooses to do in the private sector.

In any case John, it is only human to ponder hypotheticals, and we be dreaming...LOL!

April 7, 2008

John in Greece writes:

@ Eric in New Mexico -- I "underline" and "bold" this phrase of your post:

"She exceeded this citizen's expectations of the job description".

Eric, you are absolutely right, it may be hypothetical, but I'm sure!

She'll be around, anyway.

In a way she will choose.

Best Regards!

(P.S.) I am sure that you also know that when a lady says No, she always means a Maybe, but she wants to secure that the man proposing is accurate.


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