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tv   Tavis Smiley  PBS  November 23, 2010 2:00pm-2:30pm PST

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tavis: good evening. from los angeles, i am tavis smiley. tonight, our conversation with former u.s. secretary of state condoleezza rice. following her role as national security advisor and america's top democrat under president bush, she has returned to stanford. this week she is out with her new memoir about her early years called." we are glad that you have joined us. our conversation with dr. condoleezza rice, coming up now. -- this week she is out with her new memoir about her early years called "extraordinary, ordinary people." >> all i know is his name is james, and he needs extra help with his reading. >> i'm james. >> yes. >> to everyone making a difference, you help us all live better. >> nationwide insurance supports tavis smiley. with every question and answer, nationwide insurance is happy to help tavis improve financial literacy and remove obstacles to economic empowerment one conversation at a time.
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nationwide is on your side. >> and by contributions to your pbs station from viewers like you. thank you. [captioning made possible by kcet public television] tavis: dr. condoleezza rice is the former u.s. secretary of state and national security adviser under president george w. bush. prior to serving in washington, she served as provost of stanford, where she is now a professor of political science. her new memoir is called "extraordinary, ordinary people." she joins us tonight from new york. dr. rice, an honor to have you on this program. >> pleasure to be with you. tavis: let me ask about the
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book. there are two versions and there is also a version for young adults. tommy the distinction. -- tell me the distinction. >> the young adult version is more on my earlier life, it is more condensed, it is before going to government for the first time, but both books i hope will be inspirational to young adults and their parents because mine is really a story of the unconditional love of parents and what it can mean. tavis: is there a particular message to young people? >> i want young people to understand, as my parents believed and convinced me, you may not be able to control your circumstances, but you can control how you react to them. education is the key to being able to do that. my parents believed education was really armor against desegregation and prejudice in
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birmingham, and i believe that today, that education can be armor against anything that you face. tavis: to questions, first on me put the quote on the screen. "race is a constant factor in american life, but reacting to every incident is crippling, tiring, and counterproductive. i grew up in a family that believe you may not control your circumstances, but you can control your reaction to them. despite gross inequities, there has been progress and race is today no longer determining how far one can go. that said, america is not colorblind and likely will not be. it is like a birth defect that you learn to live with but cannot cure." you really believe that race is no longer determinative of people's opportunities in this country?
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>> i believe that. we had it to black secretaries of the that the states, and we have a black president of the united states. race is an obstacle when linked with poverty and lack of opportunity. yes, i believe that race is no longer the impediment it once was. we don't see people and assume we know how far they can go, although we still see color. tavis: why it the description of race as a birth defect? >> the u.s. is born with a dirt -- birth defect called slavery. when slavery is the beginning, it has long long-term effects. i was 10 years old before i could go into a restaurant. my father cannot be guaranteed the right to vote until 1965. even today, even though race is not determinative of how far you could go, too many people who don't have opportunities, who are living in poverty, are in
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fact black. tavis: how do you respond to people who say race may not be determinative of certain people, but just that it is the case for most black folk misses the point? >> there is an insidious nature of racism, but it is most insidious when it shows up as a belief that someone cannot achieve what president bush once called the soft bigotry of the low expectations. of course one has to overcome race, but if you are educated, if you take opportunities before you, you can overcome that. my question, tavis, is what are we doing to make sure that kids who may not have means, kids who are not as fortunate as i was to have educated parents, that they have a chance. those other people we should be worried about. not people like me or my friends. tavis: how important was it and
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what role did it play specifically in the aggressive way that they put education in front of you that both of your parents were educators? >> it mattered, and it mattered that my grandfather, my father's father, went out of his way as a young sharecropper's son to get a college education. he kept asking people how colored man could go to college, and they told him about film and college about 30 miles from where he lived in alabama. he went there and when he ran at of money, he made a deal to become a presbyterian minister. once he had that college education, he was able to pass on that transformative power of education to his children, my father and his sister, and on the other side my grandparents were determined and educated all five of their kids. what education is not everything, without it, you really cannot have a chance in
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modern life, and i'm just grateful that all the way back to my grandparents it was valued. tavis: you were an only child, your mother and father of both deceased. i want to go back to your childhood in birmingham. at first, i think some people are trying to figure out -- i have talked to you a number of times and i think i get it, but for those who don't know how it is you could have grown up in segregated birmingham, alabama, friends with two girls who lost their lives in the 16th street baptist church, one of them your dear friend, how does one espoused views, the beliefs, the political ideas that you believe? how does one end up on that side of the aisle with that upbringing? >> but first, i have to say that people have an awfully vanilla, simplistic view of what people think. not all republicans think alike.
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i am, for instance, a defender of affirmative action, and i say in the book out quite clearly that i myself benefited from affirmative action. by the way, i don't think the work of affirmative action is yet done. i do, however, thinks simply thinking of the groups -- black, minorities, women, the port -- does not help the circumstances of the individual. you have to give the individual the tools to achieve, and for the most part i am very comfortable in that mainstream republican belief that individuals are the court to achievement. i think people are very simplistic in their view of what republicans believe. tavis: that phrase bake's a follow-up. what does dr. rice mean -- that phrase begs a follow-up. what does dr. rice mean by, "for the most part"? >> i can very much myself to be
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a free trader. there are people in the republican party who do not believe in free trade. i am a defender of immigration as key to america's success, america's renewal, and i know some parts that are anti- immigration in the republican party. i don't believe everything that everyone who calls themselves a republican believes, but the core values i think are really american values. by the way, i think we will find a lot of those same values among many democrats. sometimes we are awfully simplistic in the way that we apply party labels. tavis: your father was a republican, and there is a straightforward reason and the book about why. >> in 1952, when my mom and dad went to get registered, they were not get married, they were dating, my mother who was very pretty, but light skinned, the pull tester -- the poll tester
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said was the first president of the net estates, george washington. he said to my father, how many beans are in that jar. he was very disappointed that he was not allowed to register to vote. he went back to his church, and mr. frank hunter, one of his elders, said i know how you can register. there is a woman down there who was a clark and she was a republican and she will register anybody who says there republican. in those days, there were not really any republicans and birmingham and she was trying to build the party. that is how my father got registered to vote as a republican, but he remained republican his entire life. tavis: you ever think about how the republican party welcomed your father for whatever reason they may have wanted him to be part of your group, and today there are still people wondering about when the republican party will get serious about reaching out to folks like your father? >> it is kind of funny that the
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only two black secretaries of state or serving republican presidents. the only black chief was serving a republican president. the democratic party does not have the only option on to win well for minorities. i served a president who i think cared about minority achievement, kids in school, minority kids in school. let's be fair, both parties have a lot to atone for what comes to issues of race and poverty. tavis: on that last point, we agree. i was about to say that you and colin powell were wonderful and econo, but you are just two people. -- you were wonderful and iconic, but you are just two people. but i digress given that we agree on your last issue. that said, going back to birmingham, your father is a black republican, and yet you have folks hanging out at your
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house that did not fit the bill. when one thinks of condoleezza rice, you do not think about the black panther party, and you are having dinner at your house with socolow carmichael? >> he was head of the student nonviolent committee. it was because my father invited him at film and college -- at p hilmon college. my father was attracted to the radical side of black politics, although he himself was very conservative. i have always thought, one reason that i know my father was uncomfortable with some aspects of the civil rights movement was that he thought he would never be able to meet nonviolent -- meet violence with the posture of nonviolence. tavis: something that may seem some plastic -- that may seem
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simplistic is childhood obesity. anybody who follows your work knows your an avid fitness person, get up at 4:30 every morning to work out, but you grow as a chubby kid. what was that like and how did you get dedicated to a fitness regimen? >> i was kind of chubby. if you look at the pictures in my book, i always had long legs, so i always looked like a round ball on long legs. later on, i actually decided to take up figure skating. it was kind of high-priced child-care. my parents were in graduate school and could drop me off at the ice rink and i stayed there. that started me off being more athletic and slimming down, and i have been fairly dedicated ever since. tavis: it was not just if it is an education that turned you want as a child. you got turned on it in music and i will let you tell the story about how you got to be named condoleezza.
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the story behind your name and a connection to music? >> first of all, if i was a father -- if i was a boy, my father was going to name me john and i was on to be an all- american linebacker. but my mother wrote named the girls, and she wanted an italian musical name. it meant, "walking slowly." she did not like the implications. even worse was "allegro," which meant fast, and in the 1960's, that was not a good thing. so she settled finally on a name that meant "with sweetness," and she change the ending so it would appeal to english speakers. we have italian ancestors my mother's name was angelina. name is genoa.
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tavis: what role has being able to play played in your life? i suspect given the levels you have operated at it must have been at times a respite. what role does it play? >> music is very much part of me. at first of all it has allowed me to have a place to go. when you are wrestling with brahms, it is not exactly relaxing, but you cannot think about anything else, so it really gets you away. and also allows me to do things like play with other musicians and play with the king of salt -- queen of soul. in that regard, i am very glad when i wanted to quit when i was 10 years old, my mother said, you are not old enough or good enough to make that decision. fortunately, i knew that was not a point for debate, and i kept playing. by the time i decided not to be
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a music major, i played well enough to play just about anything now want it to. tavis: how does a black girl from birmingham and of being fluent in russian, of all things? >> good thing. first, the start as a failed piano major, and you start looking for another major in college. i wandered into a course taught in international politics taught by madeleine albright's father, and you learn for some reason you are just passionate about international policy. for me, it says that sometimes your passion will find you, and it is something you would have gone looking for. i tell my students very often when they are searching, as many college students do, try to find something you are passionate about and don't let anybody tell you that because
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she looked a particular way, you are a particular gender or race or ethnicity, that you should not be passionate about something that makes you very, very happy and content. tavis: my first question, we all know that you and madeleine albright, both women, but secretaries of state, both with unique and very different world views, but both of you connected to the same man. what do you make of the fact madeleine albright's father was your professor? amazing one of life's coincidences, one of those six degrees of separation. i think that the professor had to be understood as somebody who really valued freedom. he was tremendously appreciative of what the united states had done for him and his family when they escaped, first as refugees from communism -- or nazism, and
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refugees from communism. he instilled that in me and i also know madelyn is a fierce defender of freedom. tavis: in this memoir, you talk a bit about this, and we will come back to this, that this book really ends where a lot of us hope it would begin. i know there will be another book that will perhaps talk about your policy positions and your role in government more intricately and intimately, but this is about your earlier life. that said, in a book written about you that you cooperate with, she writes a book and suggests that it is fascinating for heard that most all of your mentors have happened to be white males, starting with the first professor. i wonder what to think about that characterization?
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-- i wonder what you think about that characterization? >> i have had lots of mentors, going back to childhood, but if you're going to be a specialist in politics and military and the soviet union, your mentors are going to be white men. that is the kind of the way it is. it just says to me that is a wonderful thing when you find mentors that look like you, but if he cannot, the most important thing is to find mentors. indeed, today, young women or young minority looking to make a mark in international politics or international security and russian studies would have the possibility of having mentors and role models that do look like them. but if we always wait for someone who looks like us, there won't be any firsts. that is just the way life is. tavis: you have made the point that we have had two african american secretaries of state.
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i have a youth program and a young man you can't in my program called me and decided he could be -- who camped in my program called me and decided he could work and the state department. he was so excited because it wants to build a life in public service, specifically in diplomacy. i raise that to ask, how important is it to you now to see other people of color get into foreign service? >> it is really important. i used to say when i was secretary that i could go all day at the state department, meeting to meeting, and another -- and never see another person who looked like me. something is wrong when the foreign service of the most diverse democracy in the world has a foreign service that is that homogenous. i tried through a number of programs to increase the
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number of black people coming into the foreign service and other minorities. i know that colin powell had the same concerns. but it is also incumbent upon students, graduates, undergraduates, to strike out and do something a little different. go to another country, learn of language, dedicate yourself to understanding the world better. because the foreign service of the united states of america should not be so white. tavis: let me connect that back to the book, specifically the fact that dr. king spent a lot of time in birmingham. you talk about the fact that your father did not march with dr. king, although they were in birmingham. tell me more about that decision. >> my father did not, although people like my father, middle- class of birmingham, did many
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things in support of the civil- rights movement. both teachers, when the students when not in the streets to march, the birmingham school board wanted the teachers to turn over their names so i could keep them from graduating, and teachers falsified the names. our family also participated in the boycott of downtown birmingham stores and held food drives for families who are cut off by the public safety commission. but my father told my mother, at least, and i overheard him, he said, if somebody comes after me with a billy club, i will try to kill him. then my daughter will be an orphan. i simply cannot imagine my father meeting violence with nonviolence. it was not in his character. tavis: what did you take from that as a child? i ask against the backdrop of the fact there is a part in this book, fascinating for me, from
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you about how naturally -- about how retaliation, your word, comes to you naturally. >> that was unfortunately against my little friends when they would not play with me for a couple days. i gathered up all my dolls and sat on the front lawn. they came over and said they wanted to play, and i said, no, go home, these are my dolls and this is my house. my father said, retaliation came a little too easy for you. i think sometimes there is a sense you have to fight back. not every day. sometimes it is better to ignore slights and constantly respond to them, but sometimes you have to fight back and my parents taught me that. tavis: i know you to be, all of us know you to be a huge football fan.
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you made the point that you could've been a linebacker if you are a different sex, in your huge football fan. i am wondering why you and your father could never be fans of the washington redskins, given the amount of time that he spent in washington in your adult life. >> hard to believe, but the washington redskins were the last of the nfl teams to have black players. the redskins did not have black players, and my father never forgive them for those racist policies. we were fans of the cleveland browns and jim brown. every single sunday, they were the team. to this day, i'm still a cleveland browns fan. tavis: what the think of your team this season? >> well, they have only lost three games. they have only played four. it will get better. tavis: and that is why she was secretary of state. you could not ask for a more
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diplomatic response. her name, condoleezza rice, former national security adviser and secretary of state, out with the first of perhaps a few memoirs, called "extraordinary, ordinary people." dr. rice, always good to talk with you. thank you for your time. >> good to talk with you, tavis. take care. tavis: that is our show. i will see you next time here on pbs. until then, good night from l.a., thanks for watching, and as always, keep the faith. i>> for more information on today's show, visit tavis smiley at on his real-life role as a teacher in philadelphia. that is next time. we will see you then. >> all i know is his name is james, and he needs extra help with his reading. >> i'm james. >> yes. >> to everyone making a
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difference, you help us all live better. >> nationwide insurance supports tavis smiley. with every question and answer, nationwide insurance is proud to join tavis in working to improve financial literacy and remove obstacles to economic empowerment one conversation at a time. nationwide is on your side. >> and by contributions to your pbs station from viewers like you. thank you. [captioning made possible by kcet public television] captioned by the national captioning institute
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