Looking at Sarah, Somehow Seeing Condi

As the uproar over the Palin VP pick enters its third week, the media and the blogosphere show no signs of letting go of mining every aspect of the controversy. Feministing put up a Friday Feminist Fuck No as to whether or not Sarah Palin is a feminist, Octogalore says we need to focus on the double standards being aimed at Palin, Alternet is comparing Sarah to Barbie, Alisa Valdes-Rodriguez is trying to talk her friends out of voting for her, Camille Pagila claimed Palin is a new “feminist force,” and Katha Pollitt ripped her a new one in her piece “Lipstick on a Wingnut.

Throughout this all, it appears that there are two dominant ideas swirling around this debate:

1. Palin cannot be a feminist because her views are in complete opposition to what is meant by feminism as a movement.

2. Palin should be supported because she is a strong woman, who represents what feminism is about and in many ways shows what the feminist movement has done for women.

Now, I’ve been following this debate with some interest, and watched many women mount impassioned defenses of Palin, and chide feminists for not providing more support to this strong woman candidate. I don’t care for Palin’s politics at all, and while I can see she was a smart pick for the GOP, there’s a big trump card for me. Palin doesn’t represent anything close to the womanhood I know. So while I listen with interest while people argue about how Palin represents “every woman,” I can’t relate. I just don’t see her in those ways.

But I can put Sarah Palin into context fairly easily, as the issues surrounding Sarah Palin, (white) women, and feminism correspond with the issues around Condoleezza Rice, black (women) interests, and racial politics.

When George W. Bush meandered his way into the White House, he managed to bring two African-Americans into the spotlight – Colin Powell and Condoleezza Rice.

I spent a lot of time checking for Condoleezza Rice. By most accounts, she is a smart, driven, and poised woman. So how the hell did she end up on the side of the Republicans? To find a response, I read. And read. And read. I read Condi’s biography, her news interviews, the long form magazine pieces.

Contrary to popular belief, Condoleezza Rice does not seek to minimize her race. It has been recounted in almost every profile of her I have read.

I have a heavy admiration for what she has done and accomplished. And as a black woman, I must admit that I feel a small sense of pride, scrolling through her entry on Wikipedia, looking at all the things she has accomplished.

And yet, I disagree with her politics, even if I like some of her programs.

And while Condoleezza Rice is an accomplished black woman, who triumphed over adversity to become who she is today, this fact alone does not mean she will be a champion of black issues if elected to public office.

In some ways, Condoleezza Rice is like Clarence Thomas – they both were alive during some of the most pivotal moments in Civil Rights history. But their views on how blacks are to operate within the parameters of this society run counter to what most black Americans find to be true.

With Thomas – who was a former black nationalist – he was raised in poverty and segregation, yet he often ends up with an opposite interpretation of events. In various interviews and articles, he has expressed his rage at Affirmative Action programs, with his sentiments stemming from having to deal with all the assumptions that rise about black intelligence and ability while those programs are in effect. To him, the greater injustice was that people assume that blacks only advance to the levels they do because of government intervention. So, in his mind, the solution is to end these kinds of programs. Thomas now seems a bit uneasy with the pro-black activities he once participated in often clarifying his statements by stressing his age then and his age now. In the same interview in Businessweek, he notes:

The assumption is that, since you’re all black, you have something in common. That’s like saying because you’re all women, you have a lot in common. You might have nothing in common with these people.

Condoleezza Rice has a similar kind of outlook, though she speaks about racial differences often. She notes that racism is an issue in America, and pissed off some members of her party by accidentally reminding them that she was black. She has also expressed dismay at the lack of black faces at the State Department.

Yet, there is little evidence that Condoleezza will advocate for these kinds of changes. In 2005, Eugene Robinson – an op-ed columnist for the Washington Post – spent three days with Rice as she toured Birmingham and offered her commentary on Civil Rights and race. Robinson writes:

When she reminisces, she talks of piano lessons and her brief attempt at ballet — not of Connor setting his dogs loose on brave men, women and children marching for freedom, which is the Birmingham that other residents I met still remember. A friend of Rice’s, Denise McNair, was one of the four girls killed in the bombing of the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church. That would have left a deep scar on me, but Rice can speak of that atrocity without visible emotion.

She doesn’t deny that race makes a difference. “We all look forward to the day when this country is race-blind, but it isn’t yet,” she told reporters in Birmingham. Later she added, “The fact that our society is not colorblind is a statement of fact.”

But then why are the top echelons of her State Department almost entirely white? “That’s an artifact of foreign policy,” she said in the interview. “It’s not been a very diverse profession.” In other words, there aren’t enough qualified minority candidates. I wondered how many times those words have been used as a lame excuse.

One of the things she somehow missed was that in Titusville and other black middle-class enclaves, a guiding principle was that as you climbed, you were obliged to reach back and bring others along. Rice has been a foreign policy heavyweight for nearly two decades; she spent four years in the White House as the president’s national security adviser. In the interview, she mentioned just one black professional she has brought with her from the National Security Council to State.

As we were flying to Alabama, Rice said an interesting thing. She was talking about the history of the civil rights movement, and she said, “If you read Frederick Douglass, he was not petitioning from outside of the institutions but rather demanding that the institutions live up to what they said they were. If you read Martin Luther King, he was not petitioning from outside, he was petitioning from inside the principles and the institutions, and challenging America to be what America said that it was.”

The civil rights movement came from the inside? I always thought the Edmund Pettus Bridge was outside.

I know very few black Americans who think of themselves fully as insiders in this society. No matter how high we rise, there’s always that reality that Rice acknowledges: The society isn’t colorblind, not yet. It’s not always in the front of your mind, but it’s there. We talk about it, we overcome it, but it’s there.

When Rice was growing up, her father stood guard at the entrance of her neighborhood with a rifle to keep the Klan’s nightriders away. But that was outside the bubble. Inside the bubble, Rice was sitting at the piano in pretty dresses to play Bach fugues. It sounds like a wonderful childhood, but one that left her able to see the impact that race has in America — able to examine it and analyze it — but not to feel it.

Condoleezza Rice is black. She knows this. She understands this. We have gone through similar struggles. But that does not mean she reached the same conclusions, and it does not mean she will use her position to advocate for other blacks.

Sarah Palin is a (white) woman. She knows this. She understands this. Many women can see themselves in Sarah’s narrative, as they have gone through similar struggles. But that does not mean she has reached the same conclusions about women’s rights, and that does not mean she will use her position to advocate for other women. (Of any color.)

I have a soft spot for Condoleezza Rice. I like watching her, always poised and professional, striding across the world’s stage like she owns it. At the same time, I can laugh at political satire like the Condilicious video:

And I can understand the joke and still be miffed at the underlying sexism/heterosexism in this Boondocks strip:

These kinds of relationships with women and nonwhite public figures will be complicated. You can hate someone’s policies and still defend them from ad hominem arguments. I hate when people say that Condoleezza Rice is a sellout and that she isn’t black. That’s a ridiculous assertion to make. However, that does not make Condoleezza Rice a civil rights leader just because she is black and in a position of power.

I hate when people say Sarah Palin is not a woman, or she is a tool of the patriarchy, or any of the other non policy related attacks I’ve seen leveled at her from all kinds of places. But that doesn’t mean you need to start sipping the “this is a victory for women” kool aid. It isn’t. Sarah Palin does not magically become a champion for all women, everywhere, just because she happens to be a woman in a position of power.

In this election, people need to understand to vote with their interests, not the symbolic interpretation they may hold of a certain person.

Listen to the words people speak.

Watch the actions that they take.

But don’t let your own ideas on who that person should be mask who they really are.

(Photo Credit – The Washington Post)

Purple – Skin (from the Fake Chemical State album)

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25 comments for “Looking at Sarah, Somehow Seeing Condi

  1. Dominique
    September 14, 2008 at 1:49 pm

    This says what I was thinking, but more clearly :) While it’s (almost perversely) encouraging to see how civil rights gains have allowed several women to gain some power and defy the stereotype of the submissive little helper, it’s indeed dismaying to see any beneficiaries of civil rights wars actually fighting to turn the clock back… and, in the case of Palin, ensure future generations of women have less freedom than ever. It’s willful blindness on a breathtaking scale.

  2. September 14, 2008 at 1:57 pm

    Sarah Palin is about as much a feminist as Glenn Sacks (he would be one of the ringleaders of the MRA movement for those of you who haven’t got a clue who Glenn Sacks is).

    She deserves to be defended against sexist double standards, but that’s about it…as far as I can tell.

  3. Peter
    September 14, 2008 at 2:34 pm

    Kudos, on this post. I think it makes a lot of sense. I don’t have the life experience or background to judge what drives a handful of african-americans into the conservative republican wing of american politics. But, I never thought that “traitor to their race” narrative made much sense. Yeah, it would be great if every american, or in this case, every person of color made every effort in their public lives to promote civil rights, equality and egalitarianism. But, I never thought Condi was a total sell out. As far as I’ve read, she’s pro-choice and pro-affirmative action. Why she serves conservative republican politicians, I’ll never really understand, but your post made some good points.

  4. September 14, 2008 at 2:51 pm

    Latoya, you slammed another one out of the park.

    Even though I hate a lot of your points, I hate that they exist and are true, I agree with them. Palin WAS a slamming pick for the GOP: I hate it, but it’s true. Palin and Rice ARE powerful, hardworking women. But I still hate what they’re trying to do. I hate the hypocrisy of the ther party’s politics, I hate that WOMEN are excited about Palin.

    “But that doesn’t mean you need to start sipping the “this is a victory for women” kool aid.”
    The kool aid…it’s poisoned! Hahahahaha.

  5. Todd
    September 14, 2008 at 5:33 pm


    Siding with the right tends to require a particular worldview, which in turn requires a certain culture and frankly a certain myopia. (Although to be fair, the same could be said for much of the left.) Right-leaning philosophies are perfectly reasonable assuming everybody is a rational free actor with free access to information and certain resources, and growing up with the right set of advantages (including, most importantly, the expectation that these advantages are somehow standard issue for everybody) makes this an easy assumption to make.

    That does imply that race is the weakest leg of the race/class/culture intersectionalist tangle, but that’s more a trivia point than anything else. And it does make me wonder how many of the readers here would take to a “Republican’s bargain”; render us a truly colorblind society once and for all, but in so doing assimilating all our subcultures into a milquetoast monoculture.

    Latoya and the thread in general:

    For a more depressing train of thought, many of the women in my own (anecdotal) experience who are most excited about Palin are the ones who have vague misgivings about a young black man in the oval office. Never said in those words, but it’s amusing watching them skate around the topic. Also interesting in the perverse sense is disentangling Palin in the abstract – getting a woman into the white house would have major feminist benefits – from Palin in the specific.

  6. September 14, 2008 at 6:04 pm

    This is a much better breakdown of the bedgrudging, head-shaking-in-disbelief respect I have in these situations. I wonder if this kind of analysis would sit well side-by-side an evaluation of a tokenism model?

  7. September 14, 2008 at 7:14 pm


    I too, strangely, have an easier time with Condi, she doesn’t scare me half so much as Palin does… But that’s just me.

  8. shah8
    September 14, 2008 at 10:02 pm

    I do not find comparing Rice to Palin in terms of sellout-ness useful.

    Condoleeza Rice is an obnoxious quietist. Sarah Palin is a culture warrior. They are sort of opposite, even if they play for the same team, with vastly different motivations that throw doubts on comparisons of uncle-tom behavior. Not to mention that Condoleeza Rice is quite more accomplished than Sarah Palin.

    It’s a vastly better idea to compare Sarah Palin with Michelle Malkin, Clarence Thomas, or Jesse Venture, for various reasons.

  9. fool42
    September 14, 2008 at 10:41 pm

    Well written, I enjoyed this post.

    In response to #2.
    I don’t find any relevance in identifying with “strength” in either of these business-fascists
    and the goal of liberation and equality of feminism. They both ally themselves with the conservative right and their goals of occupation (sanctioned murder) for financial profit, undercutting personal freedoms, and slashing social services.

  10. fool42
    September 14, 2008 at 10:43 pm

    I think they are both directly responsible for violence against women. Connect the dots.

  11. September 14, 2008 at 10:49 pm

    Latoya some days you hurt my head forcing me to think. Condi is a problematic body to me, and like you I have done a lot of reading about her in a quest to understand. I usually refer to her as that woman so often that those closest to me know whom I am speaking about. As a black woman I want to support Condis achievements. I want to see her as a role model and be inspired, but I simply cannot. Condi does not stand for the same things that I do. I don’t necessarily see her as a sell out to her race or to women in general, but her politics are far from desirable in terms of uplift for marginalized bodies.

    As for Palin, in my mind is a colluding, opportunistic dupe, with little to qualify her for any esteem. I simply do not feel that it is fair to compare the two. Both have very different resumes and even diverge on some major issues. I defend Palin against sexist attacks because no woman should be subject to that. She is not now or ever will be a feminist. Feminism encourages autonomy for women and almost everything Palin supports is about control. She has made it clear where she stands and we should take her at her word. Voting for Palin is not supporting women, it is the fast track to the dark ages.

  12. debbie
    September 14, 2008 at 11:03 pm

    I don’t have much to add, but I saw Angela Davis speak in February, and she talked about Condoleeza Rice. They are roughly contemporaries, both living in Birmingham at the same time. They knew some of the same people, but not each other. The juxtaposition was interesting – how did these women grow up in the same place and go in such different directions? What is it about Angela Davis that leads her to fight for social and economic justice – what Renee called uplifting of marginalized people, and Condoleeza Rice as part of the Bush administration, complicit in the deaths of thousands of civilians in Iraq?

  13. peter
    September 14, 2008 at 11:09 pm

    Yeah, I give high fives to condi for being accomplished, smart, and for being enlightened on affirmative action and choice.

    But, I can’t forgive her for what I consider to be her direct involvement and promotion of war crimes and crimes against the constitution. I pretty much consider her, Cheney, Bush, Wolfowitz and that whole crowd to be war criminals.

    Props for being pro-affirmative action. That doesn’t excuse a million dead people in Iraq.

  14. denelian
    September 15, 2008 at 1:56 am

    it drives me nuts when people call Palin a feminist! she’s so incredibly anti-woman, it makes my teeth hurt.

    but, the same as when i had friends calling Ms. Clinton a bitch, i yell at them for calling Ms. Palin a bitch. personal attacks are BENEATH US, damnit!

  15. September 15, 2008 at 7:44 am

    One of my colleagues sent me a joke that I think highlights a major difference between Palin and Rice.

    It was a conversation between a farmer and a doctor and the farmer called Palin a post turtle. The doctor was confused and the farmer explained that on occasion you drive by a post on the side of the road and there is a turtle on the post. You are then confused because a) you do not know how the turtle got up there b) it obviously did not get up there by itself and c) it has no idea what to do now that it is up there.

    Also, I fail at punch lines so I am sure in the e-mail it was funnier….

  16. September 15, 2008 at 10:05 am

    This is a great great post. I too really enjoy watching Condi, and although i don’t agree with her politics, am proud of what she’s accomplished. When McCain chose Palin my automatic response was, “if he was so bent on selecting a woman he should have chosen Rice!” But then i realized, Condi would probably not want that job, she’s so much better than that…

  17. shah8
    September 15, 2008 at 10:12 am

    Of course the following opinion is from a guy, and material in this case.

    I do not favor using sexism to attack other women. However, I *am* in favor of means-testing proactive defenses against sexism. Of course, that should be obvious, since I was pretty full-throated in such a stance with Hilary Clinton.

    Anyways, as far as sexist attacks go, I am not in favor, however, I am most certain a Machiavellian (in the sense that means and ends have [necessary and sufficient] in between) when it comes to more extreme situations. It is becoming incredibly obvious that Sarah Palin is a canidacy that is truly beyond the pale. I just got done reading that she was one of those kooky abortion protesters at the big orange, and Pandagon just told me that she was full-throated in her attitude that Alaska government shouldn’t hire black people.

    If you wanna hedge for Lester Maddox in drag (which I’m not kidding–she does have many similarities to Lester Maddox besides the race thing), feel free, but I’m of the opinion that a very wide suit of options should be considered in bringing her down. Sexist attacks are bad in the long run, but damn…

  18. Joseph
    September 15, 2008 at 2:37 pm

    Another amazing piece for Feministe Latoya. I hope we can agree to disagree about Condoleeza Rice though. Her instrumentality in constructing and carrying out what has proved to be the worst foreign policy in the history of this country trumps all other considerations for me. The fact that she kept her job after 9/11 still makes me sick to my stomach.

    But you have crystallized something for me though in thinking about the role of racial and ethnic diversity in the Bush Administration. Fact is, W has chosen several conservatives of color for extremely high-ranking positions during his tenure (Rice, Colin Powell, Alberto Gonzales, John Yoo…) although this hasn’t been much commented on, maybe because the pervasive image of the neo-conservative movement is white, rich and male. However this political/religious philosophy obviously has a broader appeal.

    It seems to me that a hybrid political/evangelical Christian philosophy is what unites people as diverse as Bush and Rice and, by extension Pallin. Pallin’s popularity is based on her appeal to politically conservative Evangelical Christian voters–of both sexes. So while gender is being foregrounded in the campaign her political philosophy is incidental to it. While I agree that saying Pallin isn’t a woman is stupid and offensive, I think criticizing her for actively opposing feminist (and other progressive) values is important to opposing her campaign.

  19. DMcD
    September 15, 2008 at 5:28 pm

    In seeing all this evolve , I’m thinking that Palin is more closely likened to “Sanjia” than, Barbie.

    A preposterous “No-talent” freak of nature that , although popular , had absolutely no business being positioned in the public eye let alone , being thought of seriously.

  20. Kimba
    September 19, 2008 at 2:18 pm

    Ok time for this feminist to chime in.

    A little background on myself. I am a Nurse Practitioner and Teach at a major University. I have a masters and I am working on my doctorate. My specialty is women’s health. I have been a nurse for 20 years and a feminist for 25 (started at age 15 when I discovered the boy at my summer job were making 10 more an hour than the girls).

    I have 4 children the youngest is 11mo and the eldest is nearing 20. She is at University studying Business Management. I AM WOMAN! I KNOW I can do anything, and most of the time much better and quicker than a man. I DON’T NEED A MAN (Obama)to fight for my rights.

    My husband comes home from his full time job and cooks dinner, cleans, and puts the kids to bed! Yes I make more than my husband, and I am looking forward to the day He can be a stay at home dad! I am the center of it all!

    Sisters, we need to get down to business.

    as I have written on other Feminist Blogs I feel the need to write here.

    As a feminist I AM NOT a one issue girl. You can read my comments on Women against Sara Palin if you would like clarification.Feminists began fighting for equal pay for equal work (which we STILL do not have) and Abortion rights. I need to set the record straight.

    Those of you who think Roe v Wade will be overturned are swallowing the Dem bull. It simply will not happen. If this election for you is simply about a prochoice candidate, you are throwing away your vote. They need your vote to win and are now scampering to get it.

    The Dem should have picked Clinton. It will be 8 years before they get another chance to pick a woman. NO MAN will support women like women will!!

    WAKE UP SISTERS there is only 1 ticket that actually had the guts to put a women on the ticket and that is the one we MUST support. THIS IS OUR SHOT.

    McCain will hand over to A WOMAN! Do you really think a MAN from Chicago really cares about equal pay and power for women? What does he pay his male staffers compared to the females (about $10,000 more a year, but McCain pays females on his staff MORE than the men!). Obama had the chance to put a women on the ticket and did not.

    The Dems PASSED OVER a more qualified women for a MAN! What does that tell you? So them dems throw us a bone by supporting abortion right. THIS IS NOT ENOUGH! WE NEED REAL POWER!

    Join with me sisters, support EVERY powerful women who is running. When we win the feminist war, we can argue about the spoils later. WE NEED THE POWER FIRST!!!

    As for the rape kits, this is a standard charge for ALL HOSPITALS to insurance companies. THIS IS WRITTEN OFF FOR THOSE WITHOUT INSURANCE! This is a non-issue and a farce.

    Not supporting Palin is the BIGGEST mistake a feminist can make!

    I was going to vote for Clinton…but the choice is clear…VOTE FOR THE WOMAN!

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