Published: October 10, 2019
My Story of the Things Worth Fighting For
By Susan Rice
To hear conservatives tell it, the most important day of Susan Rice’s career occurred on Sept. 16, 2012, five days after Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens and three other American officials were killed in Benghazi, Libya. Rice became the public face of the Obama administration’s initial response to that tragedy, and for that, she became a bogeyman on the right. And so it is notable that Rice devotes only a single page in “Tough Love,” her 500-page memoir, to Sept. 11, the day of the attack. This might be read as her quiet rebellion against the outsize impact that day has had on her legacy as United Nations ambassador and President Barack Obama’s national security adviser. Rice’s wings were clipped after Benghazi. Her hopes of becoming Obama’s second-term secretary of state ended with that controversy.
In fact, Rice’s personal story begins far earlier — more than a century earlier. Her great-grandfather, the Rev. Walter Allen Simpson Rice, was born a slave in South Carolina and later founded the Bordentown School in New Jersey, which became known as the “Tuskegee of the North.” Her Jamaican immigrant grandparents remade their lives in Maine. All five of their children attended college, and this was done on the salary of a janitor and a seamstress. In Rice’s family history, there is a convergence of two different types of experiences for blacks in America. One began with slavery in America, the other with economic migration to the United States.
By the time she came to grow up in Washington, D.C., Rice was already the beneficiary of an enormous amount of privilege that gave her access to well-heeled private schooling, elite advanced degrees and membership in the even more elite Washington society. Her father, a World War II officer who endured segregation and discrimination and was later appointed to the Federal Reserve Board by President Jimmy Carter, always struggled with the burden of race. Her mother faced down the dual burden of being black and a woman as she became one of the few black women at Radcliffe College.
Both parents instilled in Rice a common lesson: “The only constraints we faced were our own ambition, effort and skill.” In this moment of reckoning with the structural realities that have bound black people in cycles of incarceration and poverty for decades, that advice falls flat as a general proposition. But it helps explain Rice’s unflagging work ethic and drive. source