November 8th, 2006 03:55 EST
Ward Connerly: A Weapon of Mass Distortion
After Proposition 209, the anti-affirmative action ballot initiative passed in California, the number of African-Americans enrolled in public universities dropped to about half of its previous levels. There was also a dramatic decline in the number of government contracts issued to people of color and women as a result of the ban on considering one's race, gender or ethnic origin along with other factors when evaluating qualified applicants.
Now, Ward Connerly, the chief architect of Prop 209, is leading another crusade in Michigan to replicate what he did in California and the state of Washington. And like those previous campaigns, he is proving again that he will go to any length to distort the definition and benefits of affirmative action.
Let's start with the definition of affirmative action. The U.S. Commission on Civil Rights defines it as a contemporary term that encompasses any measure, beyond simple termination of a discriminatory practice, which permits the consideration of race, national origin, sex and disability, along with other criteria, and which is adopted to provide opportunities to a class of qualified individuals who have either historically or actually been denied those opportunities, and to prevent the reoccurrence of discrimination in the future.
Admittedly, that's a long definition, but it is a clear one that strips the debate of inflammatory buzz words calculated to turn the public against affirmative action. That's why it was misleading for President Bush, in announcing his opposition to the two University of Michigan cases that found their way to the U.S. Supreme Court, to characterize them as 'quota' programs. In fact, Executive Order 11246 specifically forbids quotas. So, it should not even be part of the debate.
The point should not be lost that even though the Supreme Court struck down Michigan's numbers- oriented undergraduate admission, the Republican- dominated court upheld the concept of affirmative action and approved of the University of Michigan's Law School approach to affirmative action. But you'd never know that judging by the comments of President Bush, Ward Connerly or their Right-wing allies.
Not surprisingly, Connerly has linked up with Jennifer Gratz, the lead plaintiff in the Michigan undergraduate suit, as they campaign in support of Proposal 2, which will be on Tuesday's ballot. In railing against affirmative action, Connerly and Gratz have become weapons of mass distortion.
They consistently portray the Michigan undergraduate admissions process as being race- based. Of course, affirmative action has never been only for African-Americans. As the official definition makes clear, it seeks to benefit women, the disabled, immigrants and people of color. More important, unlike alumni preference programs, it seeks to benefit only those who are qualified for college enrollment, government contracts and employment.
Even the University of Michigan program struck down by the Supreme Court was not race based, though one might not know it from media's coverage of the issue. Nor has the cause been helped by news media's willing use of 'preferences' and other loaded language that obfuscates the real issue.
A guide used by the University of Michigan at the time presents a clearer view of the admissions process. Yes, African-Americans could get 20 points toward admissions. But that was only part of the story. Twenty points were also awarded to any disadvantaged student, regardless of his or her color. Thus, a disadvantaged White applicant could get the same number of points as the Black applicant. Scholarship athletes were automatically awarded 20 points under the plan. The provost could award a discretionary 20 points as well. Yet, the undergraduate admissions program was portrayed as being race-based when nothing could be further from the truth.
But Ward Connerly is not interested in the truth. He doesn't even like to admit that before he became an opponent of affirmative action, he personally benefited from a California set-aside program. In fact, in the 1970s, Connerly & Associates, a housing and community development consulting firm, which he owns with his wife, who is White, received more than $1 million in state business after he signed up as a minority contractor. Of course, he is not the only Black Republican to ride the affirmative action train, only to jump off after they've reached their desired destination. Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas and HUD Secretary Alphonso Jackson followed similar paths.
But affirmative action is not about Ward Connerly, Clarence Thomas or Al Jackson, though they clearly benefited from it. It's about opening up the doors of opportunity to all, not just a select group. If women and people of color were excluded simply because of their race, gender or national origin, it only stands to reason that those same factors should be considered, along with other qualifications, so that they can finally realize the American Dream.
George E. Curry is editor-in-chief of the NNPA News Service and BlackPressUSA.com. To contact Curry or to book him for a speaking engagement, go to his Web site, www.georgecurry.com.