The Homegirl and the Trailblazer: Why Black Womanhood needs Michelle Obama and Condoleezza Rice
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While many black women admire Condoleezza Rice for her accomplishments, we don’t always identify with her story. During Secretary Rice’s speech, we got a glimpse of her experience as a black woman—she told us about how she grew up in Jim Crow Birmingham—but we still don’t feel like we “know” her the way we know Michelle Obama. When I was watching her speech I saw a woman who had overcome many obstacles to get to where she is, but she still didn’t tell us why Republican values speak to her as a woman in general and as a black woman in particular. Rice’s “up from the bootstraps” narrative is a familiar one, though in a lot of ways it is not relatable to many black women’s experiences in climbing up the career or social ladder. When we hear Rice, we hear a story about a black woman who has “made it” but there is no mention of the ways in which she had to overcome racism and sexism, and break the glass ceiling to get to where she is today. It is as if those factors don’t even exist in her world, perhaps because the Republican party does not embrace identity politics in its party platform or its overall narrative. Rejecting—and perhaps denying—that race and gender play key roles in an individual’s success is in fact a Republican value, so it is not surprising that Rice would choose to de-emphasize the ways in which race and gender intersect in her own life.
But Rice’s position as a single black woman who has never married is just as meaningful as Michelle Obama’s position as a wife and mother. By now we are aware of the “single, lonely, black woman” meme that is so talked about in the media, from essays written by single black women to articles pondering why black women are supposedly not getting married. The stereotype implies that black women who choose not to get married are somehow flawed, as if our relationship status is what defines us. One of the things we love about Rice is that she is a single woman with a full life, and is not defined by her singlehood. In her "60 Minutes" interview from 2006, Rice gave us a window into her personal life, introducing herself as a black woman who is not consumed with being single; she is a concert pianist, a football aficionado, a college professor, and an avid golfer—all facts that come before her relationship status.
Condoleezza Rice and Michelle Obama are very different black women, though room exists for both of them. Through them, we see that there are plenty of ways to be a black woman in America.