Extraordinary, Ordinary People
Condoleezza Rice’s memoir is largely a loving tribute to the parents who were "anxious.... perhaps a little too anxious" to give her a head start in life.
The lovely but atypical name “Condoleezza” is a phonetic spelling of an Italian musical term. The Rices fiddled with the idea of naming a first child – who would, as it happened, be their only child – “Andantino” or “ Allegro” but her mother settled upon con dolcezza when she learned it translated “with sweetness.” In keeping with Condoleezza Rice’s birth name, her memoir focuses on the sugary side of her life and work. Though politically, Rice may be a moderate to conservative hawk, Extraordinary, Ordinary People is the work of a dove – an ode to her parents, with sweetness and love.Skip to next paragraph
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Remember, too, that Condoleezza Rice is a Southerner by birth. “Extraordinary, Ordinary People” exhibits a Southern belle’s exaggerated sense of propriety by abhorring those politically indelicate subjects: Iraq, Guantánamo, Colin Powell’s resignation, the Patriot Act, 9/11, and ensuing events are not discussed in this nostalgic commemoration to her parents. But while the Iraq is off the table in a book that abruptly closes in 2000, “Extraordinary, Ordinary People” still offers glimpses of insight into a question which many will find equally as compelling as the controversial war: How did a black woman from Birmingham, Ala., rise in the Republican ranks to become George W.’s national security adviser and then secretary of State?
The book’s thematic answer is pat and simple. “My parents were anxious to give me a head start in life, perhaps a little too anxious ... but somehow they raised their little girl in Jim Crow Alabama to believe that even if she couldn’t have a hamburger at the Woolworth’s lunch counter, she could be president of the United States.” Fortunately, Condoleezza Rice is not too coy to portray both the ups and downs of her early years as the daughter of two educators who stretched their incomes to allow Condoleezza to study classical piano and ice skating. The Rices enjoyed a high social standing (probably higher than they would have had as members of a desegregated middle class America) and they prohibited Condoleezza from visiting the homes of “rough” lower class children. In Rice’s enclave of community, school, and church named Titusville, she was taught by “excellent teachers.” But the 9-year-old Condoleezza was terrorized by the Birmingham church bombing. “Birmingham isn’t that big and everyone knew at least one of those little girls.”
Rice’s family avoided the protest marches. Her father supported Martin Luther King in principle, yet preferred status quo order to revolutionary chaos, and made a choice to restore order by voting for Nixon in 1968. “It is true that few adults in my community marched with Martin Luther King,” Rice concedes. She was not so much influenced by a social activism and the protest tradition – from which she was markedly separated from by class and family persuasion – as she was impressed by lasting memories of civil self-defense. The night of the Birmingham bombing, Titusville armed itself against intruders and Klansmen.