The Color of the Future
Clegg, Roger, The American Spectator
Creating Equal: My Fight Against Race Preferences Ward Connerly
Encounter Books l 285 pages l $24.95 The Debt:
What America Owes to Blacks Randall Robinson
Dutton l 262 pages / $23.95
Roger Clegg oth Ward Connerly and Randall Robinson are Southern-born African Americans who rose from modest circumstances to positions of fame and influence and are now writing about how to deal with early 21st-century race relations in America. But the conclusions they come to could not be more different.
Connerly's Creating Equal is his autobiography. Born in Leesville, Louisiana, Connerly writes that he is "black in the same way that Tiger Woods and so many other Americans are black," which is to say only under a one-drop rule. His lineage "has more or less equal elements of French Canadian, Choctaw, African, and Irish American." His ne'er-do-well father abandoned his mother when Connerly was very young, and she died when he was four. So Connerly was sent by his grandmother to the West Coast to be raised by an aunt and uncle.
Uncle James was "the hardest working" man Connerly ever knew, and in many respects "the best," instilling a spirit of self reliance and toughness in his nephew. Later, when Connerly was living with his grandmother again, they briefly accepted public assistance. So humiliated was the 14-- year-old boy that he soon told the social worker to stop sending the checks and took an after-school job instead. Connerly finished high school in Sacramento, entered a nearby junior college, and graduated from Sacramento State. He married a white woman he met at college-"no easy decision in 1962"-but overcame the predictable resistance from his wife's family and his own with stubborn dignity. (Later, in an unsurprising twist, one of his leftwing opponents said Connerly married a white woman because he "wants to be white" and "doesn't like being black.")
Connerly worked first as a bureaucrat in a redevelopment agency, a typical safe government job for an aspiring middleclass African American, but then broke the mold and started a consulting business of his own. He was soon drawn into politics, his path repeatedly crossing that of an up-and-coming California pol named Pete Wilson, who eventually was elected governor. In 1973 Wilson appointed a reluctant Connerly to the University of California Board of Regents.
The rest is history, still unfolding. Connerly discovered what was then a dirty little secret-still dirty but no longer secret-that the more selective universities have a system of racial and ethnic quotas enforced through a set of double standards, admitting black and Hispanic students with dramatically lower qualifications than white and Asian students who are rejected. He stubbornly refused to let the issue go. "This is wrong," he decided. "I would pursue the matter, and this simple decision changed my life."
Not only his life, but perhaps his country. At Connerly's initiative, the board banned this discrimination, and then in 1996 Connerly chaired a statewide constitutional referendum, Proposition aog, that outlawed the use of government preferences based on race, ethnicity, and sex in contracting, employment, and education. This meant suffering scurrilous and racist personal attacks, crossing swords with demagogues like Jesse Jackson (who called Connerly a "strange fruit") and Maxine Waters ("personally one of the most obnox ious politicians in the country"), and, perhaps worst of all, having to deal with moderate Republicans.
It's a compelling story, well told, and it's not finished. Connerly has taken his crusade to other states. He succeeded in Washington state and is now trying to get an antipreference measure on the ballot in Florida. Affir-- mative action is a national issue, and Connerly's part in making it so was driven home in a meeting with President Clinton in 1997. Criticized for including no conservative voices in his so-called national dialogue on race, Clinton had invited Connerly and some other affirmative-action critics to the White House. …