COLUMBIA — If a person walked onto the MU campus and saw 100 black people, the assumption would be that all of them are there because of race-based programs like affirmative action, said Ward Connerly, a former University of California regent.
The reality is that maybe only 20 of them are there due to such programs, and the rest have earned their place at the university, Connerly said.
Connerly, a black man raised in the Jim Crow South, spoke to a crowd of white Republicans during a Columbia Pachyderm Club meeting Friday in support of the Missouri Civil Rights Initiative, an anti-affirmative action initiative that will be on the November 2008 ballot if it gets enough support.
He told the crowd that times have changed since his childhood, and there is no longer a need for programs that give preferential treatment on the basis of race.
“I never thought in my lifetime there would be a black person seriously considered for president,” Connerly said, speaking of Barack Obama.
The Missouri Civil Rights Initiative states that the “state shall not discriminate against or grant preferential treatment to any individual or group on the basis or race, sex, color, ethnicity, or national origin in the operation of public employment, public education, or public contracting.”
Connerly led the movement to end race-based programs at the University of California system during the 1990s, helping get Proposition 209, an anti-affirmative action proposition similar to the initative, on the 1996 ballot in California.
Since Proposition 209 amended the California constitution, Connerly has helped move the initiative to several other states, including Washington and Michigan.
Since the initiative has been proposed in Missouri, many groups, including By Any Means Necessary, the American Civil Liberties Union and the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, have spoken out against Connerly.
“When you sell yourself out to the dollar, this is what you get,” said Redditt Hudson, racial justice manager for the ACLU of Eastern Missouri.
Hudson said it is shameful for someone who benefitted from affirmative action to speak out against it. He added that the initiative has nothing to do with civil rights, and it would undermine affirmative action if successful.
The language is misleading because it uses the language and spirit of the Civil Rights Movement to violate the spirit of civil rights, Hudson said.
He responded to Connerly’s assertion that people assume minorities can only become successful through race-based programs by saying the ACLU would rather focus on helping those who need it.
“We’re not worried about assumptions, we’re concerned with reality,” Hudson said.
Mike Zweifel, an MU staff member who is also a member of the Columbia Pachyderm Club, hopes the bill will be voted on so the matter can be settled for a while. He said it will be a good idea to get away from preferential treatment based on race or sex.
He gave the example that Connerly used, describing how it will be easier for Obama’s daughter to get into school than it would for the children of a poor white family.
“Poverty knows no color except green,” Zweifel said, adding he believes that what Martin Luther King Jr. said was true, that people should be judged by the content of their character and not the color of their skin.
Although Zweifel said he hasn’t specifically been discriminated against because of race or sex, he sometimes feels he is punished for being a white male, something he, like minorities, can’t help.
Connerly said he understands that some of the audiences he speaks to have notions similar to Zweifel and that some resent affirmative action because of it. He said he doesn’t think his viewpoint reinforces these views, but he uses this frame of reference as a reason why the initiative should be implemented to eliminate affirmative action and thus do away with these negative ideas.