The Family Retainer

In 1967, a relatively unknown actress took a role as a maid. This breakthrough role showed her maintaining the home and family of Spencer Tracy and Katherine Hepburn for years. Besides polishing the silver, she has raised their daughter, played by Hepburn’s real life niece, Katherine Houghton, who wishes to marry a black man, portrayed by Sidney Poitier.

The maid, played by Isabel Sanford (later to become Weezy on “The Jeffersons”) warns Poitier that she has raised the daughter and will not let him hurt her. She admonishes the black doctor that she is not going to put up with any black power mess in “this house.”

The maid in “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner” has her political counterpart in one Condoleezza Rice. Despite having a doctorate from the University of Denver and stints as senior director for Soviet and Eastern European Affairs on the National Security Council staff from 1989 to 1991, and as provost of Stanford University, she escapes the strident reality of peoples’ commitment to self-determination.

Just as the maid played by Butterfly McQueen in “Gone with the Wind,” escapes helping a white woman in the throes of labor, by exclaiming, “I don’t know nothing bout birthing babies!,” Rice escapes consideration of indigenous nations’ efforts to breathe free air and lift their own arms to build their own roofs.

Rice managed to thrust simultaneous arrows of scorn at two independent Caribbean nations last week when according to Randall Robinson who spoke on an interview on the syndicated radio and television show, “Democracy Now” she told the Jamaican Government to expel President Aristide. According to the former president of Transafrica she emphasized that if anything happened to any American forces in Haiti, that the consequences of that would be exacted against a president or against Jamaica by the United States with full force.

This level of contempt again two independent nations characterizes Rice’s career which has been molded in a cast made from an alloy of Western European interests. This container holds no place for the interests of people of the African Diaspora or the Middle East.

Rice was trained at the feet of her professor of international relations, Josef Korbel, a former Czech diplomat, refugee from communism and the father of former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright. Like her mentor, Rice’s area of specialization has long been eastern and central Europe–the Soviet bloc of the Cold War.

This area of emphasis has left her with blinders towards the fractious strife of the Middle East and the religious fevor which compels the composition and proliferation of terrorist cells.

So it should scarcely be a surprise that the Washington Post reports that on Sept. 11, 2001, national security adviser Condoleezza Rice was scheduled to outline a Bush administration policy that would address “the threats and problems of today and the day after, not the world of yesterday” — but the focus was largely on missile defense, not terrorism from Islamic radicals.

The sad tragedy of her ‘career” as we approach the anniversary of the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King is that she has ignored the role models of her own native Alabama who infused the historic bus boycott there with their refusal to ride the buses to their “madames'” houses after Rosa Parks refusal to surrender her seat.

The maids of Alabama walked and carpooled to their jobs while Condoleeza was studying piano with dreams of a concert career. These family retainers wanted something of dignity for their own homes while caring for their employers’.

Condoleeza has surrendered her dignity for a few pieces of silver and a pedestal of dung. There is a old saying: “call me by my righteous name.” That doesn’t apply to Dr. Rice. When President Bush told Spanish state-run television in Washington that he looked forward to meeting King Juan Carlos and Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar, the latter came out as Anzar.

When the delegation arrived at the Zarzuela Palace to meet with the king, it was the monarch extracted revenge by playing with the name of National Security Adviser Condoleeza Rice–although he did it as a joke. Playing on the fact that many senior White House officials are said to be studying Spanish, King Juan Carlos greeted Rice by saying ‘Buenos Dias, Arroz’–literally, Good Morning, Rice, as in the food. A British reporter wrote that Rice reacted with a big smile.

Call her Auntie Ben!

Her lack of self respect has not gone unnoticed in the Middle Eastern community. A Jordanian newspaper wrote of her earlier this year: “As for you, black Condoleezza Rice, swallow your tongue, remember your origins and stop talking about liberation and freedom.

Have you not been taught by your cowboy masters that ‘slaves’ cannot liberate themselves, that they are not capable to capture the large Islamic world whose cultural roots are planted in the depths of history. The slaves who are happy with their enslavement, O Condoleezza, will continue to be enslaved. They will never be free and will never free others.”

As this daughter of Birmingham, Alabama flies around the world and sits with world leaders, the simple solitary steps of maids have no echoes for her. As she eats at banquets in palaces; the brown bag lunches that mothers packed for themselves at dawn have a sweeter taste; the knees that scrubbed floors have more appeal that those that emerge from designer skirts. The maids of Birmingham knew something about birthing babies. And nations.

FREDERICK B. HUDSON is a columnist for A Good Black Man. He can be reached at: