Ward Connerly, former University of California regent, a black man raised in the Jim Crow South, spoke to a crowd of white Republicans during a Columbia Pachyderm Club meeting Friday, March 21, 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.
During his speech, he made many statements supporting MoCRI, which the crowd appeared to enjoy. One statement supporting MoCRI was 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 when 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.
He said MOCRI would place the 20 in a college that would allow them to better compete on their level, and it would eliminate the stereotype about the other 80.
Although his viewpoint may seem controversial, he replied to a question from an audience member asking how he felt about being called an ‘Uncle Tom’ (a reference to Uncle Tom’s Cabin of a loyal slave to his master despite harsh and unfair treatment) by saying he was confident in who he is. After his speech Connerly agreed to speak with the Missourian and here is a little more insight into his argument.
(Since the questions were not written down before the interview, many have been recreated for the purpose of this blog.)
Q: What is your central message in support of MoCRI?
“The central message is that it is time to look beyond stereotypes,” Connerly said. “We can’t get rid of the stereotypes that people have about us without getting past the belief that I’m being treated differently.”
Q: You spoke about your experience at Truman State University, what was the general reaction of the audience?
At Truman there were 100 blacks who disagreed and spoke about institutional racism, which I don’t believe in. We need to get race out of the equation.
“They were saying we understand where your coming from, but your view is an ideal. We’re not there yet; there is still racism.”
The students were saying we should get of racism first and then change. (However, pubdef.net said his two hour speech was met by a mostly “hostile” crowd, and at one point he was quoted telling a woman to “please just shut up.”)
Q: Why do you think the current generation of college students hold these beliefs?
I think there was a shift in what is seen as needed to be marketable – a shift from working hard. There is no longer an emphasis placed on academic excellence. I talked to a teacher who wanted to know when the focus shifted from learning.
“Learning is not acting white, like Obama said.”
Q: Why do you think some in this generation view the issue differently?
This generation is divided on the question.
“Some don’t disagree about the idea, but disagree about the timing.”
Q: Do you think there is a disconnect between blacks today and those from previous generations?
“Black kids today expect to be discriminated against, so they don’t work as hard.”
They have a chip on their shoulder. Some students at Truman are there with a scholarship for being black and have a problem with discrimination.
Q: Do you think race relations have improved significanlty enough over the years?
Look at Obama. He shows that things have changed.
“We tend to look at the bad and not at the good.”
Q: Do you think delivering the type of message you have to a crowd like this reinforces resentment of afirmative action?
(Referred to the example given in the introduction). “What I’m trying to do is to start off with their frame of referance and change minds.”
Q: Will the initiative actually take away students scholarships?
It will effect those getting a scholarship soleley on the basis of race. Scholarships should be based on income or being a first generation college student. Private organizations would fill the gap. What we oppose is the use of government money used for programs based on race.
Q: For years white males have been privileged in this country, what is the difference in using affirmative action to level the playing field for mintorities?
“It isn’t governemnt policy that has contributed to white male privilege, but it is largely connections.” (Connections such as the Rotary Club, of which he is a member) “If that’s the way the system works, join the rotary club… It’s good social networking, but you join these clubs for business purposes.”
“People have to join the process in order to benefit from the systems that exist.”
Q: Do you think it is time to get rid of afirmative action, or should it be put off until other problems are fixed?
“How long do we play minorities need to catch up?”
Q: For years there have been qualified minorities who aren’t getting hired because of discrimination, do you think MoCRI will make hiring processes revert?
“Secure the process to make sure a number of women and blacks could enter the process to see the bid on their own.”
But, the process may be a set-up and no additoanl black people are hired. (Example: ABC-minority owned and JJ- white owned, but ABC is controlled by JJ’s.) ABC may be hired, but it is under JJ’s control. ABC can’t compete against JJ.
Q: Do you believe that eliminating afirmative action will eliminate negative stereotypes?
It’s the chicken and the egg.
“My view is that we need to be changing those perceptions… Those things go away if we change the perception.”
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