Tag Archives: Ward Connerly

Affirmative Action is Still Relevant and Needed

           

 

By Elwood Watson

       A few weeks ago, the anti-affirmative action ballot measure in Arizona that was supported by Republican presidential candidate John McCain and Black conservative opportunist and hypocrite Ward Connerly failed to garner enough support to be placed on the ballot. Earlier this year, a similar referendum in Oklahoma faced a similar fate. I must admit that I was surprised, yet, gratified to see voters of the traditionally conservative states reject these disingenuous initiatives that were put forth by Connerly and his merry little band of dishonest distorters. 

         After all, there have been more than a few individuals in the Republican Party who have opposition to affirmative action, an unwritten plank of the GOP platform. What is often interesting is the fact many Republicans and others who oppose affirmative action argue is that what they want is a color-blind society. My response to this is that many of us across racial lines would like to see our nation and the world at large evolve into such a force; however, the sad reality is that we do not live in a society that resembles such a racial utopia by any standard of the imagination. While it is true that affirmative action has been instrumental in integrating many previous segregated institutions, White people have very little to be alarmed about in regards to such a policy.

In fact, many businesses and corporations have avidly adopted such inclusionary measures, realizing such a practice that makes good business sense. This was evident when many of these institutions banned together to rally in support for affirmative action which was partly upheld by the Supreme Court. Moreover, it should be well known by now that the biggest beneficiaries of affirmative action are White professional women.

        Because Blacks, non-European Latinos and many women, for the most part, have not achieved relative parity with White males, the rationale for such a program still exists. In addition, affirmative action should not be seen as an entity that rewards subpar and incompetent minorities. The vast majority of Blacks who have benefitted from affirmative action are qualified individuals who are fully competent to hold the positions they hold. This is not to say that there have not been some bad apples that were not quite ripe enough; however, they were certainly outnumbered by the juicy ones bursting with flavor. Think of all the White males who were are, in some cases, incompetent in their positions but nonetheless routinely received jobs (and in some cases promotions) due to the fact that they were part of the “good ol’boy” network and had the correct plumbing. Veteran status, children of legacies, geographical location are all forms of affirmative action as well.  

As a historian, I can attest to the fact that Whites have had ample opportunities due to affirmative action. The GI Bill is a classic case in point. This bill signed into law by the U.S. Congress after World War II made it possible for millions of White American men (and a number of Black men including my father ) of modest backgrounds to attend college and become part of the American mainstream.  This program produced an entire new generation of middle- and upper-class families. Men who grew up on farms or economically depressed urban areas in Wisconsin, Iowa, Indiana, Delaware and so on were afforded the opportunity to attend colleges and universities that many would probably not have been able to attend and earned their Ph.D.’s, JD’s. MBA’s and MD’s. This was the most glaring example of affirmative action in this nation’s history. Ira Katznelson’s book When Affirmative Action Was White provides a fascinating, much understudied history of this topic.  

         White men comprise about 40 percent of the American population, yet they represent 85 percent of tenured college faculty positions, 86 percent of partners in law firms, 90 percent of mainstream news media personalities and 96 percent of CEO’s. Such percentages have not happened without accident. Such a situation reminds me of the response that the late former first lady Claudia (Lady Bird) Johnson gave to reporters when a number of them inquired as to why her husband President Lyndon Johnson had a disproportionate number of non-Ivy League graduates in his cabinet and White House who held influential posts as opposed to the traditional Ivy-League graduates who often occupied and dominated such positions. To paraphrase Ms. Johnson, she said ‘because Lyndon and I refuse to believe that God gave out brains that unevenly.’ They were both correct. The same analogy applies to White men.

There are a sizable number of people (including some Black people) who argue that we need to refocus affirmative action in terms of class as opposed to race. While this idea is one that should be included to expand the policy, the fact is that the majority of discrimination that takes place in American society is racially based. Without affirmative action many institutions would not have desegregated and without consistent pressure would very well – no matter how politely or in no uncertain terms—close their doors to minorities and, in some cases, women.

The fact is that while we may be on the verge of electing our first Black president, the more pressing reality is that while America is a colorful society, it is far from being a color-blind society. As long as people continue to deny an individual access to something due to his or her race, gender or, in some cases, religion, then affirmative action will be a necessity. 

                       

 

Elwood Watson, Ph.D. is a full professor of History and African American Studies at East Tennessee State University. He is the author of several award-winning academic articles, several anthologies and is the author of the book Outsiders Within: Black Women in the Legal Academy After Brown v. Board  (Rowman and Littlefield Publishers Spring 2008)

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A Post-Racial America?

By Dr. Christopher J. Metzler

                 In a June 13, 2008 Op Ed in The Wall Street Journal, Ward Connerly proclaimed that “Obama is no ‘Post Racial’ Candidate. Connerly’s conclusion is based on the fact that Obama acknowledges the continuing significance of race in an ostensibly ‘post racial’ America. More importantly Obama does not support Connerly’s attempts to outlaw Affirmative Action. Thus, in Connerly’s mind; he is “one of the same tired voices who peddle arguments about institutional racism.” Connerly’s article exposes his own internalized racial inferiority as well as his fidelity to white privilege. He writes, “As millions of whites cast their votes for him in predominantly white states, I held out hope that, perhaps, he was a truly transformative leader.”

Connerly’s subtext is clear. Whites voted for Obama. In exchange for their votes, the expectation is that Obama must deny the continuing significance of race (at least in Connerly’s mind). Although not white, Connerly, it seems, has appointed himself to speak for millions of whites. Hence, he is arguing that since whites have voted for a black candidate, then race no longer matters. Since Obama is the presumptive Democratic Party nominee, racism has simply disappeared. Obama is victorious, thus racism has disappeared. 

Mr. Connerly’s argument fails for at least three reasons. First, Obama cannot be a post racial “candidate” since America is still a racialized society. Second, the undeniably historic nomination of Obama does not singularly eliminate racism in one fell swoop. Lastly, employing the post-racial moniker is nothing more than an attempt to sloganeer, rather than address the continuing significance of race.

                Connerly writes, “As many readers will know, I am intimately involved in the effort to enact race-neutral initiatives around the country.” Ever the racial apologist, Connerly is attempting to end Affirmative Action in states by voter referenda because he feels that whites are increasingly the victim of discrimination and must be protected. But, why would there need to be race neutral legislation in a ‘post-racial’ America? “Post” suggests “after,” doesn’t it? So, doesn’t the need for this legislation at all suggest that America is still a society that is marked by race?

Connerly’s logic fails. The question is not whether we live in a “postracial” America, but how race affects us all as Americans. Race is contested space and Connerly’s efforts further contest the contours of that space.  Under Connerly’s logic, Obama would be “postracial” only if he accepts the Connerly definition. Neutrality, according to Connerly, does not require one to resort to a detached, objective analysis of race (if such is even possible); rather, it requires submitting to Connerly’s definition, lest one be marked as “racial.”

                Connerly and others like him are advancing the argument that Obama’s election as the Democratic nominee for President of the United States is unequivocal evidence that racism in America has ended. Under this premise, whites in predominantly white states have voted for Obama and are thus cleansing themselves of centuries-old racial demons and achieving racial salvation. As important as Obama’s ascent is to the vexing question of race, it would be a mistake to assume it is the end of racism in America. Just as it was a mistake to assume that “major combat operations in Iraq had ended” when President Bush donned a flight suit and so declared.

Admittedly, Obama’s rise suggests progress on the issue of race; however, it does not suggest the end of racism in America. For those of us who experience racism in the academy, in retail stores, on trains, on planes and other public places, we cannot simply now respond to those perpetuators of racism with “Hey, we have a black Presidential nominee, didn’t you get the memo?”

                America is the land of spin over substance and ‘post racial’ is the latest slogan to find its way into popular culture and the cultural lexicon. While the term escapes precise definition, it suggests that racism has occurred in the past, and that enlightened whites have eschewed racism as “so yesterday.” It also suggests that blacks who raise the continuing significance of race in a ‘post-racial’ America risk being relegated to the political margins as modern day race-baiters. There is a difference between issuing declarative statements proclaiming America ‘post racial’ and the reality that racism still plays a part in American life. The ‘post racial moniker’ is designed to give comfort to those who have black friends, for whom race “does not matter” and those who believe that “merit” is the great equalizer. As seductive as post-racialism is, it cannot exist in a society where the color of one’s skin still matters. “Post-racial” is another in a series of politically correct terms in which Americans avoid acknowledging the difficult issues, but instead choose to ignore them. 

                Finally, Connerly for all his ruminations about the need for a ‘post-racial’ America is trapped by the racial thinking that he is supposedly attempting to eradicate.  Me thinks the gentleman protests too much.

 

 

Dr. Christopher J. Metzler is Associate Dean at Georgetown‘s School of Continuing Studies and the author of The Construction and Rearticulation of Race in a Post Racial America (Aberdeen University Press, 2008).