Two decades ago, Sacramento’s Wardell “Ward” Connerly had a vision, and while some would still argue that he’s blind to the realities of race in America, he’s once again dusting off his anti-affirmative discourse.
With the chance to repeal the state’s 24-year ban on affirmative action — Connerly’s crowning achievement — on the November 3 ballot, he has come out of retirement to help topple the effort. This week, the Sacramento OBSERVER shares the second part of Senior Staff Writer Genoa Barrow’s discussion with the 81-year-old political activist, businessman and former University of California regent on his No On 16 campaign, the state of race post-Prop. 209, the University California’s first Black president, how he’s perceived, and the recent resurgence of Black republicans.
Q: Former Sacramento resident Dr. Michael Drake is the new UC president. Does it matter that he’s African American?
A: Not to me it doesn’t. I like Michael. When I was a regent, we had a couple of strong conversations about the issue (affirmative action.) He is a very bright man. He’s going to be a good president. We will differ on this issue, because his institution is at the center of it with regards to the use of race.
I’m not a one-issue person, although it may seem to be so. I support Michael Drake. He came up at a time when the nation was making a transition, when people his skin color, and mine, were denied the chance to go to universities in America, witnessed George Wallace standing in a schoolhouse door, James Meredith coming in because of changing attitudes … Michael Drake has earned this on his own merit. He did not get it because they were in search of a Black president at UC. He earned it because he had been a chancellor at one of our campus, he had gone on to a distinguished university elsewhere in the nation, but if you put blindfolds on the regents and you said, ‘Let’s elect a new president,’ Michael Drake would be right at the top of that pool; forget his skin color, he’d be at the top of it. He should not be shackled by any perception that he’s there because of his skin color. He’s there because he’s a damn good administrator and he will do an excellent job on the basis of his own experience, talents and resume. I think that’s where we need to end up. People who are Black and women should not be in a position that we’ve earned because ‘someone of sufficient generosity’ placed us there.
Q: Prop. 16 supporters say they want people of color to succeed. Are you saying the same thing, ultimately? How do the two sides find themselves as such polar opposites?
A: If it’s their goal to reach a point where everyone should be identified based on a certain group, of which we have four major demographic groups, and we should measure people on the basis of these groups and they should be representing those groups, then no, but if they are saying, ‘Connerly, we want to reach the same place you do, which is one where everybody has an equal opportunity as an individual and we’re not trying to structure the outcome, we’re not trying to get the referee to pick and choose so that we have a regulated outcome,’ if they say ‘that’s not what we’re trying to do,’ then they may have a new recruit here. But if they’re saying ‘we want the outcome to be this way and we want it to be so many of these and so many of those,’ then hell no.
Q: You mentioned not being a “one-issue person.” Do you think that you’re misunderstood by the Black community?
A: Yeah, I do. I hesitated on that because when you say ‘Black community,’ I don’t know what that means anymore. We don’t go to church the way that we used to, so coalitions are not formed as readily, because of that reality. Bill Lee (late OBSERVER publisher) and I met at Macedonia Baptist Church. Sunday morning 11 o’clock services; it was a place where Black people would congregate. We’d meet at the church. That is largely gone and as a result what we once had, which was a sense of community, based on skin color, is gone. There are still churches to be sure, but they don’t serve the role that they once did and I don’t know where Black folks congregate now as a community. I don’t see where that ‘Black community’ is. But with younger Black people — Candace Owens, Terrance Williams, the Hodge Brothers, Deneen Borelli — there’s a rebranding going on.
Q: Of Black Republicans, you mean?
A: Of Black people in general. There’s a reawakening of a lot of things and there are many who are tired of being branded as poor, underprivileged, knee-jerk people who will follow blindly what liberals, liberal Whites, want them to do. That’s my sense of it as I survey the landscape.
Q: You mentioned Candace Owens. She opens her mouth these days and is almost immediately called out for the things she says about race in America. Is she and other Black Republicans getting a bad or unfair rap?
A: I’m not sure they’re getting that rap. Those of you in the media are an elite group, and no disrespect to you, but I don’t think you’re accurately portraying what’s going on throughout that segment of America that we call ‘Black America.’ A lot of profound changes are occurring and the direction of Black America is no longer one that is being led by so-called civil rights activists like Jesse Jackson, Al Sharpton and that group. They’re a dying breed. So when you talk about the leadership of Black America, I’m not sure who’s doing that right now. Tim Scott, Republican senator, Black. You can’t put him into the same category as you would the Sharptons and the Jacksons. We have a former president who is probably the leading Black man who is not a product of the ‘one rule’ generation, but he’s an enigma on this kind of issue.
That’s a long way of answering your question about Candace, whom I’ve never met, but I think that she’s inspiring a lot of people to rethink, as is Kanye West, and I don’t know where he’s going to end up this whole thing, but they’re causing people to rethink and the solidarity that once was the ‘Black community,’ I believe is rapidly eroding and I think that’s a good thing.
Q: You mentioned civil rights activists like Dr. King, the Revs. Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton. Some have called you a civil rights champion and as you know, there are others who’d say you don’t deserve that title. How do you see yourself?
A: I see myself as an American man who has lived through the era of Jim Crow. I was never a slave, but I had a great-grandfather who was born a slave and that reality is never lost on me. I am a man who firmly believes in the foundation of this country, because I think it can deliver people from where they began to a far better place in the end, as long as we give them the ability to compete.
I’m the same person I was up until about 10 years ago. Maybe as you reach the end of your journey in this world, you begin to look and hope for something else as you get to the next stage of your being. I’m a Republican, yes, but I don’t like the labels. I betrayed, if you will, my party as a regent when I supported equal rights for people who were domestic partners because I feel that they’re human beings … they have the right to enjoy the fruits of opportunity we provide in this country.
I don’t like labels. I don’t know where I fit into all of this politically. I know where I fit in ideologically. I don’t want to get on a soapbox, but I don’t like these categories of ‘Black,’ ‘Latino’ and ‘Asian.’ These are terms that we as a society create because we are lazy. We’re just lazy. We want to be able to say, ‘You’re a Black person.’ We don’t know whether your ancestors were part Asian-American, part Irish, part of African descent; we don’t know that, but we take one measurement of your identity — the color of your skin, the width of your nose or the size of your lips — and we say, ‘that’s a Black person.’ That’s awfully simplistic and in a state, especially California, where there is so much interracial marriage of Asian and White and Black and White, so many different flavors to this Baskin-Robbins store of race we have to rethink. We’ve never really fully thought this through as a society.
Q: Do you have any post-209 regrets?
A: I regret that we did not spend more time laying out an agenda, for contracting for example, laying out ways that we believe would be acceptable to sort of fudge … I know damn well the University of California is using race through the back door. I know it. I don’t know how. I don’t know specifically where, but if you look at the admission results starting at the very beginning of 209 implementation and you look at where we are right now, in order to have the number of Latinos being admitted to the system going up as dramatically as has happened, you have to conclude that something has changed to allow race to be factored in the back door.
When I was serving as a regent I did not want race to be used on the application because I believe that if you know what race is you will use it one way or the other … 209 really does not say that you can never be cognizant of race. It says you can’t discriminate and you can’t give preferential treatment. It does not say you can’t be cognizant and that was a deliberate decision on our part because we weren’t trying to close the doors of access to people and I was a champion of comprehensive review.
Q: Does history forget that?
A: I think so. If you were to go back and look at the records of UC meetings, you would see that I played a leading role in our outreach efforts at the beginning. It wasn’t saying, ‘Let’s turn back the number of Black kids who are admitted to Berkeley,’ for example. It was saying, ‘I want more, but I want Black people to be able to get to the point where they have earned it, earned the right to be there.’ They earned that right by going through K-12, not dropping out at the ninth grade; going through K-12, taking AP classes; if they don’t have them then schools need to offer them and then we need to earn the right by being as competitive as we need to be to succeed as we do in other aspects of American life.
We don’t dominate in the NBA because the NBA just wanted people who are Black. We dominated because we practiced, practiced, practiced and became excellent and succeeded on the basis of our excellence in that venue. If we can succeed in sports and entertainment why can we not succeed in the academic setting? Why can we not succeed in bidding for contracts? If there is something that inhibits our ability to succeed in contracting — I’ve heard the lack of capital — then let’s work on that and make sure that there’s access to capital, credit lines, etc. not say ‘give us a preference, and apply different standards to it.’
By Genoa Barrow | Senior Staff Writer
EDITOR’S NOTE: To read the first part of Senior Staff Writer Genoa Barrow’s interview with Ward Connerly, visit www.SacObserver.com.