Breaking the Glass Ceiling Takes Grace

Disillusioned with the woman candidate, I found my heroine in a children's book.


Albert Einstein famously remarked, “If you want your children to be brilliant, read them fairy tales. If you want them to be geniuses, read them more fairy tales.” But as anyone who has sat down with the Brothers Grimm knows, fairy tales are as instructive to grown-ups as they are to children. They remind us of moral codes that are older and deeper than the evening news and front-page dramas. Fairy tales force us out of our narcissistic present and into the realm of the future. They remind us to dwell in possibility and to do so with as much courage and class as we can muster. I read Grace for President again and again, ostensibly for the benefit of my baby girl. But I know that I also read it for myself.

It’s no accident, I think, that the character in this children’s book is named Grace. In Greek mythology, “the Graces” are powerful young women, the preternaturally beautiful daughters of Zeus and Euronyme; Zeus being the king of the gods and Euronyme being the great mother. The Graces themselves were said to represent splendor, festivity and rejoicing.

Splendor, festivity and rejoicing—is exactly how I feel every time I open this wonderful book. Splendor, festivity and rejoicing—is what I feel knowing that Barack Obama is not the best man for the job, nor is he the best black for the job, he is simply the best person for the job. Grace for President is a book about a little black girl who runs for president, but it is also a parable about our current Democratic nominee because the man is grace epitomized.

And, of course, grace is exactly what Hillary Clinton lacked throughout this campaign. In this context, I mean grace as in “dignified, polite and decent behavior.” The truth is, I was a fan of old girl for a long time, believed in her health policy, believed that with Bill in office, we were getting two for the price of one, and that as a modern nation, we needed to redefine the role of first lady to match the skills and intelligence of the women who held the post. But throughout the race, as she cried sexism, as she feigned allegiance to poor whites, when she made the monstrous reference to RFK’s assassination to underscore the possibility of her eeking out a nomination in June, she steadily worked my last nerve and lost every inkling of respect I kept trying to maintain for the woman she is.

I wonder if Hillary has read Grace for President. If she hasn’t, she should. As she angles for the vice-presidential spot on the ticket, she should pick up a dictionary, look up the word “grace” and learn to behave accordingly.

Melissa Harris-Lacewell is an associate professor of politics and African-American studies at Princeton University.