Colin Powell was a very impressive guy, a hero and role model for us all.
He was a man who radiated leadership and strong character. Four-star general. Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Secretary of State. He was someone many wanted to see run for president, except that he didn’t want to. (Which makes him preferable in my book than all those people who run for the job every four years when no one asked them. And I don’t hold it against him that he declined. He had given enough to his country, and gave more later.)
So I’m a bit bothered by the way his death was covered by many:
- Reuters — Colin Powell, the first Black U.S. secretary of state, a top military officer and a national security adviser, died on Monday at age 84 due to complications from COVID-19. He was fully vaccinated, his family said.
- CBS — Colin Powell, first Black secretary of state, dies at 84 from COVID-19 amid cancer battle
- CNN — Colin Powell, first Black US secretary of state, dies of Covid-19 complications amid cancer battle
- USAToday — Colin Powell, first Black secretary of state, dies from COVID-19 complications
- LATimes — Colin Powell, America’s first Black secretary of State, dies at 84
And here are some headlines that were on the right track, more or less:
- New York Times — Colin Powell, Who Shaped U.S. National Security, Dies at 84
- BBC: Colin Powell: Former US secretary of state dies of Covid complications
- The Washington Post — Colin L. Powell, former secretary of state and military leader, dies at 84
You can probably see where I’m going with this. Colin Powell wasn’t impressive “for a black guy.” He wasn’t great because he was black.
He was impressive for anyone. I suppose some people think there’s nothing special about earning the rank of four-star general. Such people are wrong. It’s a huge accomplishment, and worth a salute from everyone, especially us civilians. But then he went beyond that. And every job he did was a testament to standout characteristics that had nothing to do with the amount of melanin in his skin.
Was the fact that he was black and held these posts interesting, and even a testament not only to his abilities but to the country he served? You bet. As he said during confirmation as secretary of state:
“I think it shows to the world what is possible in this country. It shows to the world that: Follow our model, and over a period of time from our beginning, if you believe in the values that espouse, you can see things as miraculous as me sitting before you to receive your approval.”
Don’t leave it out. Include it in the history book. For that matter, include it in the obit. Celebrate it. (And don’t forget to mention that the man who did these things was a son of immigrants, yet another reason for all of us to take pride in his accomplishments.) But don’t make it the first thing you have to say about him, please.
Because he was much more impressive than that.