A HERO TO MANY, a "race traitor" to others, Ward Connerly is the black man crusading to end, not mend, affirmative action across America. He spearheaded the successful California Civil Rights Initiative in 1996, which made the race-based admissions and hiring policies at state universities and public offices in California illegal. A businessman appointed to the University of California board of regents by then-governor Pete Wilson, Connerly never sought the spotlight. He merely wanted to enjoy his family and work at his business, living his share of the American dream. Instead, he has become the modern face of the fight for equality in America. Creating Equal is his story.
Born into a poor black family in the heart of Dixie in 1939, Ward Connerly lost both his parents by age four. His father simply left; his mother died. Raised by relatives, Connerly found his male role model in his Uncle James. A simple and uneducated man, Uncle James believed in three things: Work hard, take responsibility for your actions, and be a man (which he pronounced as mane). Uncle James passed on these great American values to his nephew, who would fashion the way he leads his life after them. Though Connerly lived with his aunt and uncle first in Washington, and then with many relatives in California, some visits back home were enough to let him experience firsthand the very real racism embedded in the "magnetic field of bigotry that held the Deep South together at that time."
Ward Connerly knows a thing or two about being underprivileged, and he knows about the hardships that came, pre-civil rights, with being black in America. Marrying a white woman in 1962 wasn't always easy for him or his wife. Yet Connerly didn't believe that others should make his life easier—Uncle James had taught him better than that. "For him," Connerly explains, "work meant empowerment and independence, not subservience; he regarded it as an exercise of his freedom." A far cry from the prevailing attitude among many blacks today, Connerly laments, who see a lot of the work available to them as "slavin" for the man" for "chump change."
While deeply concerned about the plight that so many of today's blacks face, Ward Connerly has only contempt for the "civil-rights professionals" who have nothing in common with the true civil-rights advocates of the Sixties. Not really interested in finding solutions to blacks' problems, they are content (and gleeful) to lay the blame for every hardship that burdens blacks at the doorstep of an allegedly racist white America. "Whites who express such sentiments get to let themselves off the hook by tossing blacks a bone in the form of some entitlement—welfare, affirmative action, etc.—that blacks embrace not because it changes their lives for the better but because it symbolizes the righteousness of their suffering." After the entitlements are doled out, nothing has changed, Connerly explains in his never-pull-a-punch style: "Blacks are still subordinate, their success determined not by their own independence and autonomy, but by their ability to manipulate white guilt. And these guilty whites are still the keepers of the souls of black folk."
Connerly reluctantly took up racial equality as a cause in 1995, after meeting with Jerry and Ellen Cook, white parents who had assembled a report detailing how the University of California system discriminated against whites and Asians. As a UC regent, Connerly saw no choice but to fight for fairness and equality for the Californians to which he was accountable. It was an uphill battle just to get the university system to admit that it practiced race-based admission. Next came a long and winding road to bring the matter to a vote before the board of regents. He finally succeeded, and racial preferences were banned at all UC campuses.
It was during his next project, the campaign for Proposition 209, that Connerly began to feel just how hard—and dirty—the champions of racial spoils can fight. Meetings and speeches that Connerly attended were marked by uncivil and threatening protestors, often requiring heavy security measures. His opponents, black and white alike, called him an "Oreo" (black on the outside, white on the inside), an "Uncle Tom," and a "freak of nature" who didn't "think black." More ominously, they accused him of "race treason" and selling his fellow blacks "down the river." The most flabbergasting and despicable insult came from the man who portrays himself as the great racial healer of our time. Ward Connerly is a "strange fruit," said none other than Rev. Jesse Jackson—employing a term once used to describe lynched blacks' bodies hanging from trees.
Ward Connerly is clearly courageous, yet he never boasts. His manner of telling his story is matter-of-fact and straightforward, but also engaging. It is compelling enough to dispense with the frills. He gives detailed accounts of how every step of his involvement in fighting affirmative action came about, and presents a behind-the-scenes look at the political process in which he had to get involved—who the major players are, who has power and why, what it takes to get an initiative off the ground, how Republicans almost killed Prop. 209 because of opportunism and political stupidity. And he can give back as good as he gets: He doesn't hesitate to call the entrenched system of government entitlements "the liberal plantation"; he agrees with Clarence Thomas that the Supreme Court judge's confirmation hearings where a high-tech lynching, adding that "while the executioners were white, they had been given the rope by their black comrades" to criticize "liberal black enablers" for standing back while "liberal whites attack conservative blacks with racist gusto."
After CCRI, Connerly headed a similar, also successful, initiative in Washington state, I-200. After winning there, his comment to a reporter was, "Two down, 48 to go." He tried in Florida, but was stonewalled by Republican Governor Jeb Bush. But Connerly is optimistic: "Affirmative action has become an idea whose time has gone." He also believes in the basic goodness, the wonderful promise, of America—"a limited and incomplete utopia to be sure, and one still trying to live up to its own principles, but as close as we are likely to get to that ideal in this imperfect world."
Connerly stresses the need to help black children trapped in dangerous and dead-end schools, touting outreach programs that tutor students and mentor parents as well. He believes that "affirmative racism has been unmasked for what it is," and is hopeful that his grandchildren will not have to check those boxes on government forms trying to force them into a racial category. The only category that should exist, Connerly insists, is "equal."
Ward Connerly speaks not as a black man, but as an American, and he directs his very American ideas not at individual racial groups, but at Americans. His convictions are simple, they are powerful, they are great. They are what America is all about.
Not everyone is born with equal advantages. But, Connerly maintains, "it is not the life we're given, but the life we make of the life we're given that counts." He should know.
© 2000 FrontPagemag.com