Rice Interview With Kevin Chappell of Ebony Mag.

Published: Fri 14 Oct 2005 11:36 AM
Interview With Kevin Chappell of Ebony Magazine
Secretary Condoleezza Rice
Washington, DC
July 26, 2005
(1:15 p.m. EDT)
MR. CHAPPELL: How was your trip to Africa?
SECRETARY RICE: It was great. Senegal is a country (inaudible) trying to do the right things. And we had the African Growth and Opportunity Act forum there. And so that was really -- that was great because you have all the African nations that are benefiting from this trade arrangement with the United States and it makes it very exciting to see as they focused not just on development assistance but on the role of trade and investment. And so that was really good.
We also talked about the President's agenda and the Senegalese Foreign Minister said that President Bush had done enough for Africa that he should be called "Bush the African." (Laughter). So we loved that. That's great. So I told the President yesterday and he was really touched because he cares a lot about Africa. So that was good.
And then, we went on to Sudan, which is hard. And on the one hand, the beginnings of the implementation of the comprehensive agreement to end the civil war between North and South is good news and John Garang had come to Khartoum. He had been inaugurated. He was sitting in the palace after decades in the bush. And that's very exciting. But on the other hand, I went out to the displaced people's camps in Darfur and those wonderful children -- it was just really, really hard.
MR. CHAPPELL: Was there one particular memory that touched you most when you were there?
SECRETARY RICE: Well, there are two things. I talked to women who had been victims of violence, which is always very hard, and they were pretty honest about what had happened to them. And we're going to see what more we can do about the violence against women.
The other thing was that these wonderful little spirited children, some of them three, four years old, and these very wonderful aid workers -- UNICEF and the UN and the International Red Cross and all these organizations. And they set up kindergartens, but they are just shaded places in the sand and these children with their bright faces, really not knowing what they were living under, and you just hope and pray that they're not going to grow up in these refugee camps and that you'll -- the world will find a political solution to Darfur that allows these kids to grow up in a normal circumstance.
MR. CHAPPELL: Do you think that the solution will be found in your time of Secretaryship?
SECRETARY RICE: Well, we really have to work hard at it. I do think the international community is very engaged and the United States is very engaged. Bob Zoellick, my Deputy, has been out there three times. I've been out there. That's four times in six months. We have NATO, which is now providing airlift. That was an American initiative. I was the one who brought it up with NATO when we were in Lithuania. I met, when I arrived, American airlift bringing in Rwandan troops and met these wonderful Rwandan soldiers.
We do know that when there are AU monitoring forces, it makes a difference. And the general, who is a Nigerian general, who is overseeing this, is professional and thorough and he's really a competent person. We worked with him -- his name is General Okonkwo and we worked with him in Liberia. He oversaw the ECOWAS mission in Liberia.
So what we've begun to develop is the ability of these regional African organizations to take lead responsibility but with a lot of support from the international system. I think that's really a good formula, but we're still only putting in place right now really something that is temporary until you can get a political solution. So we're trying to find ways to be supportive of the Abuja talks on reconciliation in Darfur, to get the rebels out of the business. So that's the story from Darfur but it was very, very heart-rending to see those little kids.
MR. CHAPPELL: Right. There are a long line of African American leaders, male and female, who have paved the way for recent advances in politics and in the corporate world. Have you been influenced by any of those leaders? And who are your personal heroes?
SECRETARY RICE: Oh, sure. I think I grew up with Jet and Ebony on my coffee table; I think every nice black kid from Birmingham, right? (Laughter). And I remember the stories about all of them and that was one of the great things about having, even in segregated Alabama, black magazines because they talked about these people. And, well, the well-known people like Rosa Parks and Martin Luther King were, of course, a part of my life. But probably to me, my personal heroine is Dr. Dorothy Height who just -- first of all, she's the only woman among the "Big 6," right? So how could you not really admire that? And she was here. I had an African American celebration here at the --
MR. CHAPPELL: Right, right, right. I just read the transcript.
SECRETARY RICE: Right. In February, for Black History Month. And she is still --
MR. CHAPPELL: So sharp.
SECRETARY RICE: So sharp. She sat there, essentially without notes, and gave this speech. And she just talked about how her focus had been getting these kids who had been part of the movement to go to college. And I remember how important that was in my community. And my father and mother were educators. My mom was a schoolteacher. My dad was a guidance counselor and Presbyterian minister. And later on, he was -- he ended up as Associate Vice Chancellor at the University of Denver. But they, like my grandparents before them, were educational evangelists.
And so people who had that foresight to see that as the struggle unfolded that education was the key to having a whole generation of people who were ready to take advantage once the United States came to terms with segregation and so those people were my heroes. But Dr. Height, Dr. Dorothy Height, is probably my personal heroine.
MR. CHAPPELL: Good. Good. What was it like growing up in the South during those turbulent times in the U.S.?
SECRETARY RICE: Well, I would divide it into most of the time growing up there and then 1963. The years from the time that I was conscious, which I guess was probably around 1957, 1958 -- I was born in 1954 -- until 1962 or 3, it was like living in two separate societies.
But I was fortunate. I grew up in a pretty cloistered community and in a place in Birmingham called Titusville where the families were strongly pro-education, strongly pro-religion, mostly schoolteachers, a couple of doctors, a lawyer here or there, but we were solidly middle-class. We weren't quite the next rung up. We were solidly middle-class. And our parents fought to make sure that we had our own ballet lessons and, you know, I was dragged off to French lessons every Saturday from the time I was nine. And that community, the teachers in that community were just exceptional and almost everybody was a teacher. You know, it was in the days when particularly black women but also a lot of black men taught school, and the schools were totally segregated. I did not have a white classmate until we moved to Denver --
SECRETARY RICE: -- in 1968. But I didn't feel any sense of deprivation because the community worked so hard. And that community produced some amazing people. The President of the University of Maryland-Baltimore, Freeman Hrabowski, lived up the street from me.
MR. CHAPPELL: Oh, really?
MR. CHAPPELL: You knew him growing up?
SECRETARY RICE: I knew him growing up.
SECRETARY RICE: Cheryl McCarthy who was an ABC news analyst and was the first National Merit Scholar is from that little community -- the first black National Merit Scholar -- was from that community. The first black woman judge in Alabama was from that community.
SECRETARY RICE: My friend, Mary Bush who was an IMF governor in the Reagan Treasury was from that community. So that community nurtured children. And I think we felt safe. We knew that there was something on the other side of the fence. I mean, you know, I can remember my parents and other parents, when you would pass by Kiddieland, which was a big amusement park, and one of my old friends told me that she said once, "I want to go to Kiddieland." And her father said, "You don't want to go to Kiddieland. We're going to Disneyland." Because he knew she couldn't go to Kiddieland.
So there was a sense that there was something on the other side of the fence, but our parents didn't let us feel that there was something wrong with us or we were missing out on something.
But then, late '62 and '63 were pretty violent. And you know bombs went off in the neighborhood all the time and some of those heroes, people my parents knew really well like Fred Shuttlesworth and Arthur Shores, you know, their houses were being attacked all the time.
MR. CHAPPELL: Right, right.
SECRETARY RICE: And there were Knight Riders in the community. And then, of course, when the four little girls were killed in the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church, everybody knew one of them. Addie Mae Collins was in my uncle's homeroom. I knew Denise McNair really well. She was a little friend. So the sense of kind of security was broken in '63 because it became violent.
MR. CHAPPELL: What do you recall about Denise McNair? She was your friend.
SECRETARY RICE: You know, she was -- Denise was older than I am. And I remember that she was just really smart. And, you know, at that point, two or three years is a big difference. You kind of look up to the kid --
MR. CHAPPELL: She was eight and you were --
SECRETARY RICE: Yeah, she was probably eight. I was -- well, when she died, she would have been maybe 10. Yeah, 10 or 11. I'm not sure. And her family was very much kind of a pillar of the community, you know, Mr. And Mrs. McNair. Her dad took a lot of photographs. He was a photographer, so he took photographs at my birthday party and that kind of thing. So, you know, they were part of the community, part of the family. I saw them not too long ago.
MR. CHAPPELL: Oh, really.
SECRETARY RICE: They came to Washington when I was at the White House to visit during the time when the FBI agent who had finally caught the people that they believe did it.
MR. CHAPPELL: Right, right.
SECRETARY RICE: They came to honor him and they came by and we talked.
MR. CHAPPELL: Oh, really.
SECRETARY RICE: Yeah, it was really --
MR. CHAPPELL: Did they bring any old photos with them?
SECRETARY RICE: We were just sitting and talking and Mr. McNair said something that really stuck with me. He said, you know, Denise would have been -- I think he said would have been 51. And because so many kids in that community did so well, you kind of think back what might those four little girls have been.
MR. CHAPPELL: Right, right. Did you take part in the Civil Rights Movement, the sit-ins, protests at all, or --
SECRETARY RICE: We were all part of the Civil Rights Movement because it was right there at the front porch. My father didn't want me in the Children's March, for instance. I think he worried about violence against the children. And my parents were part of what I would call the network for the Civil Rights Movement, but they didn't march. And there were a lot of people who didn't --
MR. CHAPPELL: Behind the scenes.
SECRETARY RICE: Behind the scenes. For instance, I remember when the big arrests of high school kids who had marched would take place, my father -- and I was on his shoulders -- they put all the kids in a fairground, you know, because there's not enough room to hold them in the jails. And my father walked out, and I was on his shoulder for a while, just asking all his students, you know, "Are you okay? Is there anything I can do for you?"
I hope I'm not exposing anything here. They probably can't be hurt about it now. But there was a request from the school district for the names of all the students who had missed time from school. They weren't going to let them graduate.
MR. CHAPPELL: Oh, really.
SECRETARY RICE: And the teachers falsified the names so those kids could graduate.
MR. CHAPPELL: Could graduate. Right, right.
SECRETARY RICE: So everybody did their part in their own way. And I just -- I remember my parents wanting me to know about it and be a part of it, but they didn't want me to march.
MR. CHAPPELL: Let's talk about the Secretary of State. As the first African American female, what do you think you bring to the position that's unique?
SECRETARY RICE: Well, you know, everybody brings something unique to the position just because we're all unique individuals. But as I've gone out and talked a lot about democracy and how hard it is and how democratic institutions have to be protected, but it takes a long time for them to mature, I actually think my experience as an African American is important. I've talked in a lot of places about the fact that Thomas Jefferson, who said my favorite line, you know, "The God who gave us life, gave us liberty at the same time," was a slave owner.
SECRETARY RICE: And so, these were not perfect people who created America's institutions, but they did create institutions that allowed people like Frederick Douglass or Rosa Parks or Martin Luther King to appeal from within those institutions. And so, when I talk to people about democracy, I talk about it being a process and it's being hard, and I remind people that it was not until my lifetime that the Voting Rights Act passed and that everybody was assured the right to vote. My mother had no trouble voting. My father had a terrible time voting.
So, I think that's brought a kind of special understanding of America's -- what is great about America and what has also been flawed about America and has had to be fixed. And in Brazil, I talked about overcoming race, and I think that was important and one of the Foreign Ministers said to me that he was really glad that I had talked about the flawed experience in America, because to him, it -- so often America sounds like it's saying, you know, we have it right and everybody else has to do that, and this gave a sense that America had not always had it right and still has a way to go.
MR. CHAPPELL: And you embody that, you know, from where you came from and where you are now.
SECRETARY RICE: Well, it's, you know, it's an American story. I mean, I'm not that unique. (Laughter.) If you look at my generation, we started in segregation, all of us. And you look at where people in my generation are. We've -- they've broken ceilings as CEOs and as presidents of universities and as, you know, people and Secretaries of State. I mean, it shows how change can happen and how fast it can happen.
MR. CHAPPELL: What areas would you say the country continues to need to work on in order to ensure the full inclusion of African Americans?
SECRETARY RICE: Education. It probably comes from my own background. Like I said, my father was an educational evangelist. My grandfather was an educational evangelist. My father used to go door to door in his community and tell parents who had never been to college themselves or maybe never even finished high school, you know, your child is smart and I'm going to get your child a scholarship to college. And then he'd make a deal with, you know, one of the historically black colleges, usually Stillman College, because it was: Get these kids into school.
And so, as long as people have access to a really good education, they've got a chance in this country. And I worry a lot about the state of our public schools. I really worry that too many of our kids are being warehoused. You know, they're just being moved along. There are low expectations for them.
In fact, one of the things that attracted me to the President -- actually before I knew him very well -- I knew him as George H.W. Bush's son before I knew him very well -- was some of the things he had said about education. You know, the soft bigotry of low expectations and just not expecting black kids to be able to learn. It's not okay when third graders can't read at third level. That's not okay. And so, I think we have a lot to fix on education.
We obviously -- I believe that those of us who were fortunate enough to either have been born in the middle class or to have found our way into the middle class, need to stop worrying less about whatever little slights there may be toward us because of race and mobilize for people who are trapped in that witch's brew of poverty and race.
MR. CHAPPELL: Yeah, that was my next question, actually. I mean, is there something that we can do that we're not thinking of?
SECRETARY RICE: Absolutely. You know, I've looked up some friends in California who started something called the Center for a New Generation, which was -- is still now a program of the Boys and Girls Club of Mid-Peninsula and it's an after-school and summer enrichment academy. And one of the things we did was to have an instrumental band. Now, why did we have an instrumental band? Because music had been cut out of the schools in budget cuts. And you think about the number of African Americans, black kids who went to college on a music scholarship or learned to play the trumpet or marched in the, you know, A band or the Grambling band. And we're going to have a whole generation of black kids who can't play musical instruments because it's been cut out of the schools.
So, where does black philanthropy come in? You know, how many of us are giving to historically black colleges or to the schools or adopting these programs? And I really think that for -- education and economic opportunity are the civil rights issues and I think the President has a view that this is now about ownership and empowerment. And I couldn't agree more, because that's really what -- that's how you enjoy the fruits of America, is ownership and empowerment.
MR. CHAPPELL: Right, right.
SECRETARY RICE: And those of us who are fortunate enough to be in a position to be there, you know, there are more minority-owned businesses that have been started and all of that in this period of the President's time in office. But it's only going to work if -- we have a responsibility also to reach out and back to people who aren't that fortunate.
MR. CHAPPELL: There's an undeniable, I guess, animosity and hate that some people have across the globe towards Americans. But it is generally felt in the African American community that that hate is pointed more toward, I guess, white America than African Americans who, by and large, have had little to do with past and current U.S. policy. Is that a true assumption?
SECRETARY RICE: I think when you go around the world, you realize we're all Americans. And, actually, African Americans who travel out of this country might sometimes be surprised at some of the attitudes that are held about African Americans. You know, America is an awfully good place to be a minority. If you're going to be a minority, I'd rather be a minority in the United States.
And I remember my first trip to the Soviet Union when people said things I just couldn't believe. And it was kind of -- I had studied Russian, you know. I had studied the society and it was sort of a rude awakening to me that how -- some of the attitudes about people with dark skin. So, I would not color myself in the notion that somehow, when people look at America, they separate it into black Americans and white Americans. It's also the case that, you know, we're all Americans. You know, if you were in the Twin Towers, it didn't happen to matter what your skin color was.
MR. CHAPPELL: Right, what happened in the Soviet Union? How old were you?
SECRETARY RICE: I was in my -- I was 25. No. In 1979, yeah, 25 -- 24 probably. And some people would say things like, "Well, are you African?" And I would say, "No, I'm American." And they would say, "Well, what kind of American are you?" And I would say, "Well, I'm a black American." And they would say, "Well, how did you get out?" What? (Laughter.) How did I get out? And they said, "Well, you have internal passports." I said, "No, that's South Africa that has that, has an internal passport."
And just a lot of -- you know, there was a tendency toward just misperception and myths and, even to a certain extent, hostility. I mean, we've had problems and we've had to talk the East Europeans about this. We've had -- we had -- in the Ukraine, we had an African American Foreign Service officer beaten up by skinheads.
SECRETARY RICE: And, you know, we said this isn't acceptable, you know. It's not acceptable when you do it with anybody. This is an official of the United States Government, but he happened to be black. So I think it's illusory to think that somehow, abroad, there's great sympathy for the plight of black Americans.
MR. CHAPPELL: We're all Americans.
SECRETARY RICE: We're all Americans.
MR. CHAPPELL: Okay, well said. As America's top diplomat, you, perhaps more than anyone else, have a good idea how American culture, particularly African American culture, is perceived around the world. From hip-hop and jazz to professional athletes and African Americans like yourself who are making historic strides in government, business and academia, how does the world view African Americans?
SECRETARY RICE: Well, I think it's changing because now there are, you know, for a while it was just musicians and then it was sort of just musicians and athletes. But now the world is encountering, you know, Dick Parsons or Ken Chenault or Colin Powell or me, and so, there is a sense that something must be different in America if African Americans are to cross this broad spectrum in American life. And that's a very good thing.
But for a long time, and I still think this is the case, the talents of African Americans have been appreciated and our music, in particular. You can go anyplace in the world and a Foreign Minister or a Defense Minister will say, "Do you like jazz?"
SECRETARY RICE: Oh, yeah. It's a huge impact around the world, just a huge impact. And people like Wynton Marsalis are more popular than I'll ever be or Colin will ever be. (Laughter.)
SECRETARY RICE: Really loved. And, of course, Michael Jordan is in a whole different category. He's off the charts. (Laughter.)
MR. CHAPPELL: Right. I want to ask you a couple of questions --
SECRETARY RICE: Or Tiger Woods, that's another one off the charts, yeah.
MR. CHAPPELL: I want to ask you a couple of questions about the President. What is the biggest misconception you think that African Americans have about the President?
SECRETARY RICE: That somehow the President is either unaware of or uncaring about African Americans and their progress in the United States. From day one, the President, you know, has talked about these issues. When he was Governor of Texas he was trying to figure out how to deal with the educational gap between minorities and whites. From day one, he has cared about the ownership society reaching out also to African Americans, so whether it's caring about minority business ownership or home ownership. But really believing that African Americans want the same thing for their kids and their families that all Americans want, but that there has been a gap in their ability to get it because of our own history, you know.
I remember Sean will have to find this for you, but, you know, when they had the first Jefferson family reunion and he invited both sides of the family, I mean, you know. (Laughter.) I remember talking to the President about the Public Accommodations Act of 1964, and he was trying to decide how we should commemorate it. And, you know, we had a huge thing about it.
So, both the history of what blacks have been through, but also I think this fundamental belief that black Americans have not fully had an opportunity to enjoy what all Americans want, but that they're no different in what they want. And so, he doesn't have a black agenda and an American agenda. He has an agenda for Americans in which he cares deeply about how blacks are doing in terms of achievement and enjoying the prosperity that you can enjoy as an American.
I shouldn't probably be the one to say it, but look at his appointments. Look at how many black Americans there are serving in non-traditional slots.
SECRETARY RICE: Not just me, but, you know, his domestic policy advisor, Claude Allen. He has done that across the board and it is not saying, well, I have to have some black Americans. He has really worked at having a diverse administration.
MR. CHAPPELL: Is this over?
MODERATOR: You've got five more minutes.
MR. CHAPPELL: Okay. What is the biggest misconception you think African Americans have about you?
SECRETARY RICE: Well, I'm not very self-reflective, so I don't know. I don't know. People tend to, if you're Republican, they will tend to assume that they know your views on everything. And so, I don't know what people think my views are, but I would suspect that they don't really know them. I also think -- and this is a misconception I think is kind of widespread. It's not just African communities. I really am not a workaholic, you know? (Laughter.)
I love life. I have really close family and friends. My parents are deceased, but like a lot of black families, you know, I was as much raised by aunts and uncles and my cousins were siblings. And so, I'm very close to all of them and make time for them, you know. And I love music and I absolutely love Brahms, but I absolutely also love R and grew up on it and still listen to it.
MR. CHAPPELL: Who's your favorite artist?
SECRETARY RICE: Of R? Probably Smokey Robinson.
MR. CHAPPELL: Oh, really. Wow, okay.
SECRETARY RICE: Yeah, I think over time, Smokey Robinson did more than anybody else, but I love it all. You know, I love Motown and --
MR. CHAPPELL: How about hip-hop? How does that compare to --
SECRETARY RICE: Well, I'm kind of old for hip-hop. I think this is age thing, because all my friends would say, "What's with that?" But then I remember, too, my parents thought that what I was listening to was pretty awful, too, so -- but I like but, kind of my time stuff with, you know, Kool and the Gang -- actually I'm a big Gap Band fan.
MR. CHAPPELL: Oh, really, wow.
SECRETARY RICE: Yeah, I love the Gap Band.
MR. CHAPPELL: Okay. You love sports also.
MR. CHAPPELL: Football?
SECRETARY RICE: Absolutely, number one.
MR. CHAPPELL: There's been talk about you being commissioner one day. Is that --
SECRETARY RICE: If that job comes open, I'm gone. (Laughter.)
MR. CHAPPELL: Oh, really?
SECRETARY RICE: Yeah, that's right. Yeah, I love football. My dad was a football coach when I was born.
MR. CHAPPELL: Oh, really?
SECRETARY RICE: He was Assistant Athletic Director and he was coaching football and I was supposed to be his all-American linebacker. He thought he was going to have a boy, so he started me watching football when I was three or four years old.
MR. CHAPPELL: Oh, really?
SECRETARY RICE: And I watched it, you know, all those years.
MR. CHAPPELL: Like now, any given Sunday --
SECRETARY RICE: Any given Sunday, that's where you'll find me.
SECRETARY RICE: Oh, absolutely.
MR. CHAPPELL: Double-headers at home?
SECRETARY RICE: As much of it as I can possibly get in. Yeah, I love it.
MR. CHAPPELL: And the last Super Bowl?
SECRETARY RICE: Oh, yeah, we were in Israel for the last Super Bowl. But I have never missed a Super Bowl.
MR. CHAPPELL: Oh, really?
SECRETARY RICE: And I wasn't going to start, despite the fact that it was three o'clock in the morning in Israel. So, I woke up -- I woke myself up for the kickoff.
SECRETARY RICE: Watched the kickoff, left the game on, slept on and off, woke up at about the third quarter, checked the score. Woke up just in time to see the Philadelphia drive that brought them within a touchdown.
MR. CHAPPELL: Right, right.
SECRETARY RICE: That was great and then watched to the end.
MR. CHAPPELL: Okay. Yeah, I was there, actually.
SECRETARY RICE: Were you really?
MR. CHAPPELL: Yeah, I've been to the last three, one of the perks of the job.
SECRETARY RICE: Yeah, I've only been to one and I'm going to fix that. I went to the one that was at Stanford.
MR. CHAPPELL: Oh, really, okay. So who do you like this year?
SECRETARY RICE: To win it all? Well, you know, it's really boring, but it's hard to bet against the Patriots, isn't it?
MR. CHAPPELL: Yeah, it is.
SECRETARY RICE: They just keep coming. And I think the Baltimore Ravens are going to have a pretty good football team. I do, yeah. I think they're going to have a pretty good football team and there are a couple good teams out there. This could be a good year for the Steelers.
SECRETARY RICE: I wish I could say that it was going to be a great year for the Cleveland Browns, but it's going to take Romeo Crennel a year or so to get the Browns turned around.
MR. CHAPPELL: Right. You're always I'm not sure you're always asked this MR. CHAPPELL, but I have to ask you, would you ever consider running for President? Is that something that's on the agenda at all?
SECRETARY RICE: I just can't even imagine myself running for office. You know, you either want to or you don't, and I never even ran for high school anything.
MR. CHAPPELL: Never have?
SECRETARY RICE: Never did, no. I was appointed to something once. I ran for President of the family every year, but that was an easy election with my parents.
MR. CHAPPELL: I think that should do it.
MR. CHAPPELL: Thank you.

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