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Speaker advocates anti-affirmative action measure

Friday, March 28, 2008 | 6:28 p.m. CDT; updated 6:54 p.m. CDT, Sunday, July 20, 2008

This story has been corrected since it was originally posted to reflect the following: The Missouri Civil Rights Initiative is a citizen-initiated ballot item, not a bill. Also, Ward Connerly is a former University of California regent.

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.


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Comments

Kevin Gamble March 29, 2008 | 10:50 a.m.

"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"

I think this pretty well says it all.

(Report Comment)
Mike Zweifel March 29, 2008 | 10:22 p.m.

Kevin,

Please tell me what you think that portion of the paragraph means to you. Please spell it out for me and the readers. There is no need to be cryptic, is there?

I doubt I was not interviewed or hired for a job because of my race and/or sex, but I do not know for sure. I truly hope that I was not hired or interviewed for a position during these past months of unemployment and part-time work because of my lack of a certain ability/skill, or maybe I messed up in the interview.

But that doubt creeps back into my head every so often because of a couple past personal experiences while looking for a new job. And these personal experiences have involved public employment opportunities. But I always come back to that life is not fair, no matter my race or sex, and I just move on to the next employment opportunity.

If you had been at the event, Kevin, you would have heard Connerly give a brief history of affirmative action policies, which were implemented by the Kennedy administration, and what they originally meant. Since you were not there, from what I remember, and since the reporter did not mention it in the story, I will provide you and the readers the original affirmative action policies:

From Encarta.com - "The term affirmative action was first used by President John F. Kennedy in a 1961 executive order designed to encourage contractors on projects financed with federal funds to racially integrate their workforces. Kennedy's executive order declared that federal contractors should 'take affirmative action to ensure that applicants are employed, and employees are treated during their employment, without regard to race, creed, color or national origin.' (Employment discrimination on the basis of a person's sex was first prohibited by Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.) The original goal of the civil rights movement had been 'color-blind' laws."

Isn't our goal as a nation to have a color-blind society? How can we get there, then, when some policies are in place that do not lead to that? To me, even having the slightest potential appearance of discrimination in public employment laws and public money is wrong.

If someone from the Mizzou Diversity Office would like to speak to the Pachyderms, or anyone from a group opposed to this ballot initiative for that matter, you are welcome to contact me, and I will be happy to get you on the upcoming speakers schedule.

(Report Comment)

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