After leaving Washington, D.C., in 2009, former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice returned to Stanford University in Palo Alto, California, where she’s a professor of political science. She’s also an incredible classical pianist, an avid golfer and a die-hard football fan—some people thought she’d be National Football League commissioner by now!
The latest addition to her résumé: author. Condi’s new book, Extraordinary, Ordinary People: A Memoir of Family, shows just how deeply she was shaped by her upbringing in a tight-knit family in the deeply segregated South in the 1950s and 1960s. The values instilled in her during her childhood have informed not only her worldview but who she is as a person. I always find her to have remarkable insights. Read on; I think you’ll agree.
KATIE COURIC: How long did it take you to adjust back to civilian life after such intense times in Washington?
CONDOLEEZZA RICE: About five minutes. [Laughs.]
KATIE COURIC: [Laughs.] Really?
CONDOLEEZZA RICE: Yeah, it really took no time at all. I’m an academic at heart. I was an academic who took a couple of detours, because I’ve been at Stanford since I was just barely 26 years old. And so this was coming home. It was great to get back to kind of where I think I belong. So it was really a very easy adjustment back.
KATIE COURIC: Having said that, is there anything you miss about being in Washington and the epicenter of political power?
CONDOLEEZZA RICE: I miss some of the people with whom I worked every day. The president and [former National Security Adviser] Steve Hadley and others whom I loved working with every day. But I really don’t miss Washington very much. I’m really a kind of a west-of-the-Mississippi person anyway. And eight years is a very long time. It was a terrific eight years, but I was very much ready to be done.
KATIE COURIC: What do you think you learned about the political process during your experience in Washington? You know, there’s so much being written and discussed about how Washington is broken. It’s very difficult to get anything done because Capitol Hill is so polarized, as is the country, it seems. When you walked away from Washington, how did you feel about the political process in general?
CONDOLEEZZA RICE: Well, our political process is pretty rough, and I understood that, and I saw that. But our politics has always been a little rough. You know, if you go back to the founding fathers, Thomas Jefferson leaking letters [saying] that George Washington was senile—it’s been a little rough always. And so I think that it’s easy to get caught up in an argument that nothing can get done, and then it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. And in fact I think that people do get things done. It is possible to work across the aisle in Washington, but it’s hard. And I think it’s been made worse by the kind of 24-hour news cycle, the fact that everything is on TV before you can work things out quietly. I think it’s the intensity of information that makes it feel more difficult to get things done. But I didn’t leave with a bitter taste about the politics. I really didn’t. I left tired from the intensity of the period of time. The one thing that I would say is, I do think there is an unfortunate tendency to turn political differences, or policy differences, into critiques of one another’s character or motives, and that’s unfortunate.
KATIE COURIC: I guess somebody once said that watching legislation is like watching sausage being made. And now, I guess as you were saying, you get to watch the whole ugly process as it is happening.
CONDOLEEZZA RICE: That’s right. You get to watch the whole process as it’s happening, and every twist and turn. And I think that’s a part of what makes people feel that it doesn’t work. But I’m actually genuinely optimistic about the United States and what’s possible in the United States. And when you’re out here, you see Americans across racial and economic and socioeconomic lines working together. And you maybe get a little bit less cynical than when you sit in the seat of kind of the epicenter of it all.
KATIE COURIC: I want to ask you about the book, but just two more sort of current event questions. How do you feel President Obama is doing so far?
CONDOLEEZZA RICE: Well, Katie, I said from the very beginning, and I continue to believe this is right, when you leave office you owe it to your successors to just recognize that they’re now elected and it’s their opportunity and their show. And I may not agree with everything that the administration is doing, but I’m not going to be publicly critical. There are people in that administration I admire, including the President. And I think it’s President Bush who said, “I owe them my silence.” And I continue to feel that way. When I have something to say about specific issues, I have a good enough relationship with people in the administration that I can tell them.
KATIE COURIC: Have you spoken out at all, Condi, on sort of the Islamophobia, as Time magazine called it, that seems to be surfacing in this country in the wake of the debate about the Islamic cultural center near Ground Zero? And what is your take on that?
CONDOLEEZZA RICE: Yeah, I find it odd that suddenly people believe the United States is this Islamophobic country. I think this is the most tolerant country in the world.
KATIE COURIC: But that doesn’t seem to be the case, at least when you listen to some of the loudest voices.
CONDOLEEZZA RICE: Well, they are always—Katie, in any country, in any circumstance, there will be people who hold extreme views. But the great majority of people don’t hold the extreme views. And I think there’s sometimes too much attention to a few people who do hold extreme views. Most Americans go about their lives living in communities that are increasingly multiethnic, increasingly multi-religious. And they are welcoming of people who are not like themselves. Now, I don’t have rose-colored glasses about America, because I grew up in the segregated South. But I watch it every day. I think that Americans are very tolerant people. And I remember at the time of 9/11 that there were women who went out of their way to escort Muslim women to grocery stores because they wanted to be sure that they didn’t experience any prejudice. And so I’m not one who believes that this is a country that’s intolerant. It’s the most tolerant country in the world, and I really think that it’s unfortunate that a number of people are trying to paint America with this brush. I just don’t see it.
KATIE COURIC: What do you think of building the Islamic cultural center near Ground Zero?
CONDOLEEZZA RICE: Katie, I don’t think that this is a place where my comments are gonna help one way or another. I will just say this, this is a country that went through an extremely difficult set of circumstances out of 9/11. And we’ve survived it as a country, and I think we’ve survived it as one people. And we all ought to be concentrating on trying to make sure that we move forward as one people out of that terrible experience.
KATIE COURIC: Would you say anything to a young Muslim reader of Glamour who might feel slightly besieged right now?
CONDOLEEZZA RICE: Well, what I would say is that you are American, whether you profess Judaism, Catholicism, Protestantism, whether you adhere to Islam, or whether you believe in nothing at all, you’re American. And you’re as American as anybody else, whatever your religious beliefs. That’s what we stand for. But try not to get caught up in media stereotypes of your neighbors and of your country. Think about people that you know and how they treat you. I’m a great believer in the fact that as you get to know someone, it matters not what religious background they have, or what their nationality is, or where they came from. And I think that’s how Americans really do relate to each other on a personal level.
KATIE COURIC: Let’s talk about your book. Did you learn anything new about your family in the process of writing this?
CONDOLEEZZA RICE: I learned a lot about my parents, who were both teachers. I had known that my parents were very strongly in favor of education. I had known that they had an impact on a lot of people, but people came out of the woodwork who have said, “You know, without your father, I would never have gone to college,” very successful people. And so I learned how widespread their educational evangelism really was.
KATIE COURIC: I love that phrase—educational evangelism. Why were they so passionate about education? Where did they get the drive from?
CONDOLEEZZA RICE: They got it from their parents, because in the segregated South, education was almost like armor. It was a way to put yourself in a category where even with the slings and arrows and humiliations of racism and segregation, somehow you had better control of the situation. I always said my parents understood that you might not be able to control your circumstances, but they and their parents believed that you could control your reaction to your circumstances. And if you were educated, you had tools with which to do that. And that’s why I think education was so important.
KATIE COURIC: When your mom was pregnant, your dad was so convinced he was having a son he chose the name John and bought you football equipment. But you also write that from the moment he laid eyes on you he was a feminist.
CONDOLEEZZA RICE: Yeah.
KATIE COURIC: That’s pretty remarkable, given his generation. How was he a feminist, and how did that affect your upbringing?
CONDOLEEZZA RICE: Well, he was a feminist in that he just didn’t believe there was anything that I couldn’t do. He believed that if I wanted to play sports, I should do it, even though, by the way, my mother was not so convinced on that score. [Laughs.]
KATIE COURIC: Yeah?
CONDOLEEZZA RICE: He always assumed that I was gonna be very successful. He rarely, if ever, interestingly, assigned girl roles to me, you know? I did play with dolls, but it wasn’t something that my father really encouraged. He always wanted me to think about going to college. And that’s why we visited so many colleges like people visited national parks. And so I think from the day he saw that he had a little girl, gender roles started to disappear for him.
KATIE COURIC: That’s so great. So you guys would go visit colleges for vacations?
CONDOLEEZZA RICE: Absolutely. We once drove a couple hundred miles out of the way to see Ohio State.
KATIE COURIC: Really? How old were you?
CONDOLEEZZA RICE: Probably nine or 10.
KATIE COURIC: So they really, really emphasized college from the time you were a very small girl?
CONDOLEEZZA RICE: Very small girl. When we moved to Tuscaloosa, we would just go up to the University of Alabama and walk around the campus. It was newly integrated, interestingly. We would just go up to the campus and walk around. And we’d go in the library, and I think it was kind of immersion.
KATIE COURIC: You played the piano when you were younger, and of course, still do, beautifully I might add. You were also a competitive figure skater.
CONDOLEEZZA RICE: Yes.
KATIE COURIC: You weren’t as successful in that area.
CONDOLEEZZA RICE: That is an understatement. [Laughs.]
KATIE COURIC: Really? Were you really lousy?
CONDOLEEZZA RICE: I was really bad.
KATIE COURIC: Really?
CONDOLEEZZA RICE: [Laughs.] I really was. You know me. I’m 5’8”. I’ve got 5’10” legs.
KATIE COURIC: And you have pretty big feet, Condi.
CONDOLEEZZA RICE: How many really long-legged figure skaters have you ever seen? [Laughs.]
KATIE COURIC: That’s true, but you also write that failing at skating taught you more about character than succeeding at piano.
CONDOLEEZZA RICE: Yes, because piano came more easily to me, and skating was really, really hard. I would practice really hard, and I’d do my best. And I’d go out for some competition or a test, and I wouldn’t do very well. And it teaches you that you have to get up the next day and go at it again. And that’s more the way life is. Most days are not overwhelmingly successful in your life. And what really marks whether you’re going to be successful is how well you deal with the bad days, not how well you deal with the good ones.
KATIE COURIC: In fact, a lot of people think that one problem with kids today—I sound like Paul Lynde in Bye Bye Birdie—is that they’re not permitted to fail, that everybody’s a winner and they’re given a lot of self-esteem without portfolio.
CONDOLEEZZA RICE: Absolutely.
KATIE COURIC: Do you think kids might be better off if parents allowed them to fail and pick themselves up, brush themselves off and start all over again?
CONDOLEEZZA RICE: I really do. I’m a strong believer that you have to have an equal opportunity to fail and to try things that are hard. I always tell my students, “Don’t just take things that are easy for you. If you’re really good at math, don’t take just math. Take classes that make you write. If you’re a really great writer, but bad at math, take math and make yourself work your way through it.”
KATIE COURIC: They probably say, “But Professor Rice, then we won’t get into law school!”
CONDOLEEZZA RICE: [Laughs.] Exactly. And you have to say, “But, you know, life is not one in which you just get to choose the things every day that come easily to you.” And it’s also true—and this is the self-esteem problem—you learn that there are people who are better at things than you are.
KATIE COURIC: Right.
CONDOLEEZZA RICE: And that it doesn’t crush you to learn that there are people who are better at things than you are.
KATIE COURIC: I also think that the sooner you learn that life is not fair, the better off you’ll be.
CONDOLEEZZA RICE: That’s right, because you’ll spend less time railing against life’s unfairness and feeling aggrieved and entitled, and more time figuring out how to maximize your assets, and your talents and how to deal with things that you’re not very good at.
KATIE COURIC: When you were a child, your dad was a preacher in segregated Birmingham, Alabama, and wanted young people in his church to understand other cultures. He sounds like he was such a remarkable man.
CONDOLEEZZA RICE: He was.
KATIE COURIC: He started an educational exchange program with a white church and brought black teens to learn about Judaism at a local temple.
CONDOLEEZZA RICE: Yes.
KATIE COURIC: That temple, you later learned, was targeted with a bomb. I think that’s really just such a gift to you that he was so open to other cultures because, again, I think for that era that must’ve been slightly unusual, because I imagine particularly in the segregated South that many people became very insulated.
CONDOLEEZZA RICE: Absolutely. And that was one of the things that I learned in doing the research for this book. I didn’t remember that, and it was in talking to some of his former students that they brought up this opportunity that they’d had to go over to the synagogue and learn about Judaism. And it really did strike me. We all talk so much about multiculturalism and understanding other cultures, and this was something that I had not remembered about my father, that he was determined that his students would have an open outlook, not a closed one.
KATIE COURIC: And what do you think your dad would think about all this stuff that’s going on regarding Ground Zero and the preacher in Florida? Do you think he would try to help people have an understanding?
CONDOLEEZZA RICE: Oh, my father would be in the middle of it, you know? He would be holding meetings at his church and inviting imams and rabbis. I can just see him. That’s what he would be doing because he just didn’t believe in barriers.
KATIE COURIC: Again, he sounds like he was an amazing person.
CONDOLEEZZA RICE: Yeah, he was an extraordinary person. He really was. And I think you never really fully give your parents credit for who they are outside of being your parents. And what this book allowed me to do is to get to know my parents from the perspective of other people. My parents somehow in deepest, segregated Alabama didn’t—and this is actually true of our community—you know, bitterness just wasn’t permitted. And you learned not to hate the people as a people who were doing this. And so I was struck when we went to Denver for the first time and I had white friends for the first time. Somehow, that wasn’t strange for me. And that must’ve been in the way that my parents managed to pull off this trick in segregated Birmingham.
KATIE COURIC: How did you manage not to be full of anger and bitterness and hatred because friends of yours died in the bombing of the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church? Your dad and other men watched Klan members riding through to wreck havoc in your neighborhood. Putting myself in that position as a little girl growing up under those circumstances, I would be filled with fury.
CONDOLEEZZA RICE: I think you are at the people who do it. You know, I remember hating “Bull” Connor [Birmingham official who turned water hoses and dogs against civil rights protesters]. But somehow my parents—and maybe it had to do with my father getting his kids to go over to white churches and all of that—not to hate people as a whole, because there were extremists among them who were horrible people. And that goes a little bit back to what we were saying, you know, that there are extremists who hold sway over societies like the South. I think the great majority of whites in the South were ready to see Jim Crow and segregation go. But they weren’t able, and they weren’t maybe even brave enough to overthrow that system, but it was being held in sway by some extremists. Somehow my father and mother managed to help me to separate the great majority of people from the “Bull” Connors of the world.
KATIE COURIC: What do you think this country needs to do to become more racially tolerant? Obviously, we’ve made tremendous strides, but still there can be an undercurrent of racism that is disturbing. Is there anything that we as a society could be doing, or should be doing to help close the racial divide?
CONDOLEEZZA RICE: I’m of two minds about it, frankly. On the one hand I think that just living together we are doing that work over an extended period of time. If you look at where we started, as a slave-holding country, to where we are now with a black president, human emotions and human frailties don’t change very rapidly. And yet we’ve changed a lot. You know, going back to Birmingham, I’m always struck. I left Birmingham not long after the Civil Rights Act passed. And I’m struck now when I go back to Birmingham by how basically the interactions between blacks and whites are pretty easy. Now, do I think that people don’t still recognize, “Oh, that’s a black person, or that’s a white person”? Of course they do. Maybe as human beings we’re programmed to see difference.
KATIE COURIC: I think that’s funny, because my minister gave a sermon yesterday about our natural human instinct to “otherize” people.
CONDOLEEZZA RICE: Yeah, and I think it’s there, but it doesn’t have the same devastating effects now that it once did. And I think we’re working through that. And so, on the one hand, I think if we just keep doing it, and we keep living in the same places, then we’re gonna work through it. On the other hand, when we verbalize it too much and we find racism under every mattress, I think we do ourselves a disservice. You know, what I don’t like is that every time people disagree, we decide that it’s an issue or race. I think that’s really damaging.
KATIE COURIC: I also think that, sadly, there’s a lot of de facto segregation that still exists because of socioeconomic factors.
CONDOLEEZZA RICE: I think that’s a big problem. Most middle-class Americans, even working-class Americans, encounter each other across racial lines all the time, but it gets really hard-core when you get into that witches’ brew that is the combination of race and poverty.
KATIE COURIC: Right.
CONDOLEEZZA RICE: And that’s what, to me, is so frightening.
KATIE COURIC: I agree. What can be done about that?
CONDOLEEZZA RICE: Well, everybody, everybody has got to demand that K-through-12 education be the way out for the least of our kids, not just the ones who can get to a pretty good school.
KATIE COURIC: I agree, and there’s an excellent documentary [on education] called Waiting for “Superman,” by Davis Guggenheim, who did An Inconvenient Truth, and it’s so well done, it’s so heartbreaking. I hope it will be a tipping point for us to say, “Subquality education is simply unacceptable.”
CONDOLEEZZA RICE: It’s unacceptable.
KATIE COURIC: Not only for the fabric of our own society but for global competitiveness.
CONDOLEEZZA RICE: Absolutely.
KATIE COURIC: We have got to really change the way education is done in this country. And just because you live in a poor neighborhood does not mean that you’re relegated to a substandard education and a 50 percent chance of dropping out.
CONDOLEEZZA RICE: That’s exactly right. I always say: Something’s gone wrong when I can look at your zip code and tell if you’re gonna get a good education. And I’m very involved on those issues. I’m working with the Boys & Girls Clubs because I think they have a platform where you can do extended learning and education. And for me, that is absolutely the key, because if by third grade you can’t read, you’re done in this country.
KATIE COURIC: Talk about Hillary Clinton for a second. Obviously, she’s got the job that you held.
CONDOLEEZZA RICE: Yeah.
KATIE COURIC: And I wonder how you feel about how she’s approaching the job, and if she’s doing things differently than you did, and just what your overall impressions are.
CONDOLEEZZA RICE: I have known Hillary Clinton since she brought her daughter to Stanford. I’m fond of her. I think she’s doing well. She’s doing great. And of course we would approach it differently—we’re two different human beings. But the secretary of state is secretary of state, and I hope she’s enjoying it because it’s the best job in government.
KATIE COURIC: At the end of August, as you know, our combat mission in Iraq ended, although some people have taken issue with even stating that fact. How do you feel about the situation in Iraq right now? And do you have any regrets about being one of the architects, or being involved in the planning and execution of that war?
CONDOLEEZZA RICE: Well, I certainly have no regrets about overthrowing Saddam Hussein. I’d do it again. And, yes, there are a lot of things that I think we’d all do differently. Maybe we made some erroneous assumptions about the fabric of the society in Iraq and about the solidity of some of the institutions. And yes, there are a lot of things I would do differently. I’d probably work to rebuild Iraq from the outside in, rather than concentrating so much on Baghdad, for instance. But I believe that the Iraqis have an opportunity now, without Saddam Hussein there, to build the first multiconfessional Arab democracy in the Middle East. And that will make for a different kind of Middle East. And these things take time. History has a long arc, not a short one. And there are going to be ups and downs, and it is going to take patience by the United States and by Iraq’s neighbors to help the Iraqis to do that. But if they succeed, it’ll transform the Middle East, and that’s worth doing.
KATIE COURIC: How big an “if” is that?
CONDOLEEZZA RICE: Well, of course, all of history’s outcomes, until they are done, are “ifs.” That’s just the way that life is. And look, it doesn’t mean that I don’t recognize the tremendous sacrifice and mourn the many people whose lives were altered or lost in that war. I do. And all of us who were responsible have to live with that. I also know, though, that nothing of value is ever won without sacrifice, and that what one day seemed impossible on another day seems inevitable. You know, if you told people in 1946 that the Soviet Union was going to collapse without a shot in 1991, they would’ve had you committed.
KATIE COURIC: And Afghanistan, that seems to be an even more vexing conundrum.
CONDOLEEZZA RICE: It was always going to be harder.
KATIE COURIC: And people I talk to are so negative and cynical about our prospects there.
CONDOLEEZZA RICE: Well, I believed Afghanistan was always going to be hard. It’s the fifth poorest country in the world. And when you fly over it, you realize that there’s not much there. And, of course, it has the problem, too, of being on that border with Pakistan in basically an ungoverned region that has given the terrorists a staging ground. So it’s a very difficult place. But I do believe that the mission there can succeed if success is defined as helping the Afghans to prevent the Taliban from being an existential threat to the Afghan government, and starting to lay the foundation for a decent life for Afghans. We forget that, yes, things are very, very, very hard there, but it’s also not a place where the Taliban execute women in a public square anymore. It’s a place where girls go to school. It’s a place where roads are being built, where as difficult as governing has been, there are people who are committed to democratic processes there. So, yeah, it’s really hard and something has to be done about the corruption. And, unfortunately, I think it’s going to be very violent for some time to come. But we shouldn’t lose sight of the fact that this is a different place than it was in 2001, and it’s not likely a place from which Al Qaeda could plan 9/11 again.
KATIE COURIC: I went to Afghanistan recently and visited a women’s shelter, and I was so moved by their stories and their lack of freedom—still—in this society. And I worry that as the Karzai government, as well as through back channels from the U.S. government, reaches out to the Taliban to kind of bring them into the process, I’m afraid for all the girls and women in Afghanistan that their newly established rights—the ability to go to school even if some of them have acid thrown in their faces while they’re walking there—are going to be thrown by the wayside because the Taliban just has no interest in protecting women.
CONDOLEEZZA RICE: I do think that one thing that has to be said and said clearly is: We have an obligation to those women. And any reconciliation that we are going to support would, I think, have to be on the basis of protection of the Afghan constitution and the rights within it.
KATIE COURIC: How do you do that though? I mean, you have NATO and the rest of the world put political pressure?
CONDOLEEZZA RICE: Yeah, no, of course. But I think that we do have a lot of chips here. We have a lot of leverage here. This is one that I feel very strongly about is that these women, their rights have to be protected. And you’re right, it’s not as if the rights can be fully exercised. But for the first time, these women actually have enshrined rights. And over time those institutions and those rights will matter. So, yes, we have an obligation there.
KATIE COURIC: Obviously, you share a close personal friendship with President Bush. How has your friendship transitioned to civilian life? Do you talk to him? Do you see him?
CONDOLEEZZA RICE: I do. We talk. We e-mail. And I’m involved. You know, he’s building a library and an institute, which is doing some very interesting things, particularly on dissidents and the freedom agenda, and actually women’s empowerment is a big part of what they’re doing as well as global health and the economy. And I’m chairing the advisory board for him. And so I’ve been down to SMU a couple of times, and I really love it.
KATIE COURIC: Do you get upset when President Bush is blamed for every woe the country is enduring? And are there things that you wish people would recognize in terms of his achievements?
CONDOLEEZZA RICE: Oh, I think time will take care of that. History’s judgment and today’s headlines are rarely the same. And I think that what President Bush did in advocating for freedom for people wherever they are, I think what he did in terms of the global health agenda, AIDS, foreign assistance, building excellent relations with big states like India and Brazil. And one thing that I think people recognize about him, and that’s being said, is he led this country through 9/11 with a strong sense of not alienating Muslims and Islam. And that was no small feat on September 12.
KATIE COURIC: And I was talking to a doctor recently who said, “They could not have tackled AIDS in Africa without the support of President Bush.” And I know some articles, after he left office, I think one penned by Bono, gave him credit for that, but that’s something that people sometimes forget as well.
CONDOLEEZZA RICE: Yeah, but that’s why I said history has a long arc. People are beginning to recognize the way that he led and the humility and strength with which he led. And again, as we’ve just gone through the anniversary of September 11, it’s now easy to look back and say, “Well, you know, maybe it wasn’t that. It didn’t turn out to completely change the world as we knew it.” So I think on September 12 the world had changed. And he recognized that but was able to do it in a way that brought out the best in America, not the worst.
KATIE COURIC: Let me ask you a couple questions from Glamour readers.
CONDOLEEZZA RICE: Sure.
KATIE COURIC: Katie Martin from Farmington Hills, Michigan, wants to know, “Dr. Rice, your career and personal interests are quite diverse—politics, higher education, music, football—and not all of these arenas are welcoming to women. What advice would you give women who are looking to reinvent themselves and take their careers down a new path?” Or, I guess I would add, pursue a path that is more traditionally male-oriented and not that open to women?
CONDOLEEZZA RICE: Well, Katie, you can answer this question too. The fact is that women are breaking into areas that were never open to them. And when you enter areas that were not open to women, you have to have a sort of confidence that you have what it takes, that you’re ready for it in terms of training and preparation. So the first thing I would say is, make sure you’re really good at what you do and prepared.
KATIE COURIC: Yeah.
CONDOLEEZZA RICE: And that in itself gives you a kind of confidence. And then you have to lay aside a tendency to take every sling and arrow as aimed at you for reasons of gender. That will just blow up your blood pressure. And you have to know when to confront and when to sort of let it slide off your back and move on. I’ve generally had very good experiences in these areas. It was harder when I was younger. When I was younger, there was the occasional Soviet general who would say something like, “Why’s a nice girl like you interested in military affairs?” Well, it actually doesn’t happen to you when you’re secretary of state, so just keep going.
KATIE COURIC: A question from Cherice Allen of New York City, “My parents also grew up in the South during segregation, so I’ve heard many accounts about how things were. Having lived through that, what are the most important lessons you would impart to African American youth today?”
CONDOLEEZZA RICE: The most important lesson I think I could impart is don’t let anyone determine what your horizons are going to be. You get to determine those yourself. The only limitations are whatever particular talents you happen to have and how hard you’re willing to work. And if you let others define who you ought to be, or what you ought to be because they put you in a category, they see your race, they see your gender and they put you in a category. You shouldn’t let that happen. You know, I would never have become a Soviet specialist if I had stuck to categories that people would associate with being African American.
KATIE COURIC: And I also think that anyone who is striving will face adversaries along the way no matter their race or gender.
CONDOLEEZZA RICE: Absolutely.
KATIE COURIC: And you have to have a thick skin and a sense of humor and kind of a goal that always is in your mind’s eye so that you don’t let detractors—or people for whatever reason don’t want to see you succeed—so they don’t become obstacles in your path.
CONDOLEEZZA RICE: Absolutely.
KATIE COURIC: I think a lot of people just resent successful people.
CONDOLEEZZA RICE: That’s right. And very often if you’re not careful, you’ll spend too much time saying, “Well, they must’ve done that because I was a woman.” And I’ve always said, “Look, I can’t go back and reinvent myself as a white male to know how I would have been treated.” And so I try to put it aside and realize that there are always gonna be obstacles. I don’t care what color you are, and I don’t care what gender you are.
KATIE COURIC: I also think treating other people with kindness and respect is so critically important.
CONDOLEEZZA RICE: Yes, it is.
KATIE COURIC: Because people want to see good things happen to good people. And they want good people to succeed.
CONDOLEEZZA RICE: Katie, it takes nothing to be nice to people. It takes so much energy to be disagreeable.
KATIE COURIC: You know, I don’t know where those people get the energy to be mean.
CONDOLEEZZA RICE: Exactly, exactly. It takes so much more energy to be disagreeable, so treat people like you’d like to be treated.
KATIE COURIC: And KiKi Davis from Richmond, Virginia, asks, “How did you remain true to yourself, your upbringing, culture and background, and still manage to succeed in a different world?”
CONDOLEEZZA RICE: Well, you have to have a strong sense of your values and a strong sense of who you are, because there are a lot of events and a lot of people who will pull you in this direction or that direction. And for me, it also came through my strong religious beliefs. I’m just a very religious person. And I pray and I also found that it was very helpful to stay close to people who knew you before you were successful. Your friends and your family, if you’re close to them, they won’t let you get too far from who you were or from who you are. And so I love staying close to people who’ve always known me. That’s probably the best leavening that you could possibly have.
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