Saturday, April 01, 2006

Condi Rice and the Beatles

So Condi Rice is a Beatles fan. Apparently she expressed puzzlement to her British counterpart Jack Straw about the curious line from "A Day in the Life" about "four thousand holes in Blackburn, Lancashire." (The two were touring Blackburn, which is Straw's home town.) Straw fobbed her off with some story about how John Lennon was inspired by a newspaper story about potholes in the local streets.

I suppose that's possible, although I still prefer the urban legend that circulated along with other Beatles mythology when I was a teenager--that the line was Lennon's rude way of referring to a large girls' school in Blackburn . . . you get the idea.

Obviously Straw wouldn't dare mention that to Condi.

Is it a little odd that a Black girl growing up in Birmingham, Alabama, during the 1960s would have been a Beatles fan? Maybe not. Judging from biographical pieces like this one, Rice didn't grow up the way you might assume based on geography and her color. Her family was solidly middle class. Her minister father avoided involvement in the civil rights movement. As for Condi, she was deliberately sheltered (as much as possible) from the realities of racial prejudice, and as a kid she devoted her energies to activities like classical music and figure skating.

This sounds like a much more privileged childhood than mine, for example--closer to the way kids are raised in an affluent suburb like Chappaqua than the way my friends and I grew up in Brooklyn. Maybe being a Beatles fan was part and parcel of the "mainstream" upbringing her parents wanted for her.

None of this is to say or imply that Rice is "not really Black" or any such nonsense--I don't believe in that stuff and wouldn't spout it even if I were qualified by my skin color to have an opinion about it. But it's probably no coincidence that the Black politicians most likely to make a serious bid for the White House--Rice and Barack Obama--both come from such out-of-the-ordinary social milieus. (Much more so than Colin Powell, who grew up in the Bronx.) Maybe the first Black President will need to be someone that white Americans feel--even unconsciously--isn't "too Black" for them to vote for . . . the kind of person who grew up listening to the Beatles rather than James Brown.

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