An Evening With Ward Connerly
edited: Friday, October 19, 2001
By Kimberley J. Wilson
Posted: Friday, October 19, 2001
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A Review of Ward Connerly's Book
An Evening With Ward Connerly
Kimberley Lindsay Wilson
Several weeks ago I, along with my husband attended a book signing for Ward Connerly and his new book Creating Equal. For those, who don’t know Ward Connerly is the black University of California Regent who agitated for the abolishment of affirmative action in the university’s enrollment policies. After winning that fight he went on the become the chairman of the infamous Proposition 209 committee. Proposition 209 struck down affirmative action for the entire state. He then took his show on the road landing in Washington State and now in Florida. Needless to say, Connerly has made a lot of enemies. He’s been publicly denounced as an Uncle Tom, and Oreo and basically everything but a child of God.
I’ve said and written some harsh things about Connerly so when one of the several women’s organizations I belong to announced that they were sponsoring a book signing for him at their DC headquarters I was extremely curious to see the man in person to hear what he’d say. My husband and I arrived 20 minutes early for the 7 o’clock event and right away we noticed two peculiar things.
First, the room was hot, steaming actually. I watched, fascinated as huge sweat beads formed and rolled down the bald head of an elderly man sitting in front of me. When I asked about lowering the temperature I was told by the nervous looking hostesses that the air conditioning was so loud it would drown out Connerly’s voice and that they could not open the windows. I realize now that they were probably afraid that the voices of chanting protestors would be heard with open windows but as it turned out they needn’t have worried.
The second strange thing of the evening was the total absence of any black people. Except for the black receptionist and the Hispanic janitor we met downstairs my husband and I were the only people of color in the building. The folks in the meeting room were all white and mostly middle aged to elderly. If we were any where else I wouldn’t have noticed but this was downtown DC! Washington or Chocolate City as it is also known, is home to some of the most educated, well-to-do and conservative blacks in the nation. Of course, it’s a democrat stronghold but it’s not all that shocking to come across a black republican here. Didn’t Connerly, have any black friends who wanted to come out and see him? Later, when I sat down and read his book I realized that the answer is probably no. Connerly’s relationships with DC’s two most famous black republicans, Colin Powell and J.C. Watts is prickly—in Powell’s case, extremely strained-- at best. Both men dared to challenge Connerly’s optimistic belief that white America is ready to be completely color blind and he hasn’t forgiven either one.
After filling my plate with hors d’oeuves I shamelessly eavesdropped on the conversations going around me. A tall, regal looking woman with a frosted helmet of red hair and a St. John suit leaned over me to air kiss a wizened old man sitting behind me. “Ward is a dear friend of mine,” she told him, “I wouldn’t have missed this for anything!” A youngish woman in a Chanel suit and fierce Prada shoes cooed, “I just love Ward. He speaks for us!” I glanced at my husband who raised his eyebrow. The question we were both thinking was “Us?” Being polite guests we said nothing. While filling my water glass I listened to a reporter from the Washington Times ask a red faced man in a Versace tie why he was there. “Ward’s an old buddy of mine from way back!,” was the proud answer. It was obvious that this was going to be a lovefest.
Finally, Connerly entered the room and made his way up the aisle to the podium. He stopped to hug and be kissed by quite a few folks and glanced nervously at us. I wondered if he thought we were going to jump up and yell traitor at him. In his speech he almost immediately mentioned once again that his wife Ilene is white. Since half the brothers in the NBA, NFL, MLB and even the NAACP have white wives I wondered why it was necsacary to bring this up. Later, Connerly answered my unspoken question. He said frankly that he rejects the concept of race. I think he actually just rejects the concept that pride in one’s own blackness is a good thing. He states proudly on page 19 Creating Equal that “Left to their own devices, I believe, Americans will melt and merge into each other” and “Since they first set foot on the shores of the New World blacks and whites haven’t been able to kept their hands off each other.”
Like many other blacks who aren’t satisfied with the skin they’re in Connerly felt the need to remind his audience in both his speech and in great length in the book that he is simply an American with brown skin. On page 24 he says that “I’m black the way the way that Tiger Woods and so many other Americans are black- by the “one drop rule.” In other words he’s black only by means of a man made technicality. He then launches into a tedious description of his family tree. Connerly proudly claims his Cajun, Irish and Choctaw Indian ancestors. He pointedly states that his great grandmother was an Irish woman and that his grandmother looked more Indian than black.
In the speech and in the book he praises only one black man: His Uncle James. As the only black man who had any kind of positive influence on young Wardell, (Connerly dropped the “ell” when he went away to college), it’s obvious that James must have been something really special. Wardell went from his uncle’s home to his grandmother’s when he was eleven. I suspect now, that removing him from the home of a bold and proud black man was a mistake.
Connerly mentioned his enduring friendship with former California governor Pete Wilson in the speech and devotes a lot of time to it in the book. Not once did he mention any black friends. The one childhood pal who gets a mention in the book is a little white girl with freckles and red hair. The black kids in his neighborhood are described as backwards and tribalistic. Apparently not one black teacher or adult outside his family made an impact on him.
He talks warmly about his white teachers, the elderly Jew who gave him his first job and the kindly white bus driver who drove a little slower each evening so young Wardell didn’t have to run to catch his bus on the way to work. His family moved to California from Louisiana when he was just a young boy and apparently except for elderly or lower class whites no-one appears to have mentioned his race to him at all!
The Civil Rights movement was just something that was happening down South. He seems to have never listened to a Motown album or picked up a copy of Ebony magazine. The few times he does bring up blacks adults who weren’t family members the tone is dismissive. His mother’s funeral and going to his grandmother’s church on Sunday are described like primitive rituals straight out of National Geographic. Somehow I don’t think he’s ever had Hoppin’ John on New Years Eve or been to a Guardsmen, or Boule party or attended a Step show. I suspect a plate of chitlins would send him screaming into the night!
Connerly’s adult life began when he said goodbye to his grandmother and went off to college. There he met his future bride and despite her parents initial opposition they were married in 1962. He met Pete Wilson and got into politics. This relationship with Wilson was a boon to his construction business, although Connerly denies it, and led to his appointment as a University of California Regent. This is how he met Jerry and Ellen Cook. The Cooks were college professors who wrote the Cook Report which claimed that black students were being admitted to UC with lower SAT scores than whites.
They were hardly objective scholars however. They started looking into black grades because they were angry that their son, James hadn’t been accepted to any of the California medical schools he had applied to. Young James was accepted into Johns Hopkins, the best medical school in America. The problem was that Johns Hopkins is all the way in Baltimore and poor young James wanted to attend school in California near his folks. Instead of telling the Cooks that it was time to cut the apron strings to let their little boy grow up Connerly was outraged. Black kids took James’ place? How terrible! The movement that led to Prop. 209 was born.
When Connerly told this story in his speech I noticed heads in the audience bobbing in approval. When the speech and the question and answer session were over he received a thunderous applause. I bought the book, since that is what book signings are for and took it up to his table to be signed. Having seen that my husband and I weren’t dangerous he smiled warmly at me and wrote a nice little note on the book’s front page.
Later, as my husband and I stepped into the blessedly cool night we both agreed that we understood why Connerly was such a lightning rod.. He is a revolutionary. His way of thinking is quite unlike anything we’d ever heard from a black man. We both wished that we hadn’t been the only blacks in the room that night. Why? Because Ward Connerly should not be ignored. His voice is powerful and he is both a comfort and touchstone to whites who would turn back the clock on Black America.
He does not understand black people or sympathize with us in the least and he seems to be banking on the day when we will all simply slip into whiteness as he has done. At the end of the book he talks about the birth of his granddaughter and exults because her tiny little fist next to his brown skin was as “white as snow”. I almost put the book down for good but decided to press on anyway.
On the final page of Creating Equal Ward Connerly asks bookstore owners and librarians not to put his book in the African American section. Considering how he feels about black people that makes perfect sense. In the end the book left me feeling more sad than angry. I wondered what the hell happened to young Wardell Connerly. How on earth did he loose the unparalleled joy of loving black people and living life as a black person? Strange fruit is what Jesse Jackson called him. Strange fruit indeed.
Kimberley Lindsay Wilson is a freelance writer living in Alexandria. She is the author of Work It! The Black Woman’s Guide to Success at Work and Eleven Things Mama Should Have Told You About Men..
Web Site: Kimberley Lindsay Wilson
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|Reviewed by J Michael Kearney
|The part of affirmative action that has resulted in race/gender preferences is, what Walter E Williams and Thomas Sowell have called it, "An abomination." All preferences, from Alumni preferences to geographic should've been abolished long ago, as they make a mockery of academic merit. In Civil Service positions they make even less sense. About a dozen years ago, there was a NYC Police Department exam that had a 70% passing grade for whites and asians, a 65% passing grade for hispanics and a 60% passing grade for blacks. Those are the kinds of things that reinforce old stereotypes that certain groups just can't compete. /// I've heard Ward Connerly speak a few times and his views on preferences are ones I've heard all my life and agree with. He may be an opportunistic fellow (there's nothing innately wrong with taking advantage of opportunity), but I didn't read his book, so I can't comment on your charges of self-loathing. /// Fine writing.|