Many social and political issues in the United States create racial divisions. There are numerous instances where white citizens stand opposed to African-Americans and other so-called minorities. Ward Connerly, a man with African-American heritage, identifies himself as multiracial and believes America needs to be more colour blind. Learn more about Connerly in this piece.
America labels itself as a nation of freedom and equality for all, though racial equality has been tough to measure. Though there is no doubt that a tremendous amount of progress has been made in providing better educational, economic and social opportunities to people of colour, there is work that remains to be accomplished, at least in the minds of many people.
Ward Connerly occupies an interesting position in the discussion of race in America. There are those who want to see a post-racial society in the US, and those who believe it is better to seek out a truly multiracial society. Connerly, who identifies himself as multiracial, grew up in an African American community and has campaigned throughout his professional life to push America beyond racial views.
He has controversially fought against equal opportunity measures and believes the nation needs to look past racial preferences and provide better opportunities to all. How did Connerly get where he is today? What in his past has shaped the man he is?
Creole Born, California Raised
Connerly was born Wardell Anthony Connerly on 15 June 1939 in Leesville, Louisiana. His family heritage and his upbringing have had a direct impact on his views throughout his life. He identifies as one-quarter black and half white, while the rest of his ancestry consists of Choctaw (American Indian), French and Irish. In the Louisiana state census, the family was classified as “colored”, a category that covers the Louisiana Creole heritage as well.
Connerly would end up living with his extended family from the age of four: his father left the family when he was two, and his mother died when he was four. Connerly lived with his maternal aunt and uncle, Bertha and James Louis. The family moved to Washington state before settling in Sacramento, California. After living with his aunt and uncle for a number of years, he moved in with his maternal grandmother, Mary Smith Soneia, who was born into a family of Choctaw and white backgrounds, and was herself married to a Cajun man.
It is easy to see, given his diverse heritage, how Connerly would develop a vision for a multiracial world where no one is offered preferential treatment based upon skin colour.
Childhood and Schooling
Connerly experienced the dark side of America’s racial segregation and views as a child. Growing up in an African American community, Connerly and his siblings often faced discrimination from their classmates and neighbours because they had light skin. It was experiences like this that would shape his views and actions.
He received a bachelor’s degree in political science from Sacramento State College (now California State University, Sacramento) in 1962, graduating with honours. While in college, he served as student body president, participated in the Young Democrat group on campus, and joined Delta Phi Omega (a white fraternity). During his time at Sacramento State, he campaigned against housing discrimination.
Upon graduating, he went to work in the political realm for a variety of state agencies in California. In those early years, he continued his efforts from college by working on measures to promote housing, urban development and urban affairs. At this time, Connerly championed causes that were controversial to many Americans. He wanted to help create an environment in the US that benefited people of all colours, which then meant ensuring that African Americans received equal opportunities to those of white citizens.
Career Development and Multiracial Views
In 1973, Connerly left the government position he held to open his own consulting firm. Connerly & Associates Inc. was launched as a multidisciplinary group dedicated to association management, event planning and implementation, legislative/regulatory advocacy, and the development of training materials, programmes, and seminars. Over more than four decades, the firm has worked with non-profit trade associations, state and local agencies, and private businesses.
Against affirmative action
Connerly’s views began to truly shift in the 1990s when he was named to the Board of Regents at the University of California (UC). Following his appointment in 1993, he took a greater interest in affirmative action rules, more specifically those that affected college students. It wouldn’t take long for Connerly to view affirmative action policies, as practised by UC in particular and the federal government in general, as a different form of racial discrimination.
Affirmative action initiatives in the United States began during the 1960s when President John F. Kennedy signed Executive Order 10925 in 1961 that required government employers “not to discriminate against any employee or applicant because of race, creed, color, or national origin”. These original edicts were built upon later in the decade by President Lyndon B. Johnson who expanded the programme and added “sex” to the list to the benefit of women.
In those early days of government work, Connerly had stood by affirmative action concepts in promoting equal and fair policies in urban development and housing, among other categories. Now, however, as a regent with UC, he saw shocking flaws in this approach and began to push for a colour-blind US federal government.
Just one year after his appointment to the board, he began the push to eliminate the controversial racial profiling programme at the school. The case of Jerry and Ellan Cook was a watershed moment. The Cooks’ son had been denied admission to UC-San Francisco’s Medical School. Mr Cook, a statistician, was able to present data that showed the school had systematically denied white and ethnic Asian students admission despite better grades and test scores than students admitted under equal opportunity programmes.
The board at UC abolished the programme in January 1996, despite protests from national names like Jesse Jackson and affirmative action supporters. Connerly wouldn’t stop at changing the culture at the university, though. In 1995, he successfully helped to get Proposition 209 on the ballot in the state of California. This initiative sought to prevent state agencies from considering race, sex or ethnicity in public employment, contracting and education. The measure eventually passed with 54.6% of the vote.
Connerly continues his work with the help of his American Civil Rights Institute. He founded the non-profit organisation in 1996 to educate the American public on the harm caused by racial and gender preferences. Though the group focuses on initiatives in public education, policy research and constitutional amendments, the overall goal of the group remains the opposition of affirmative action, racial and gender preference in all federal, state and local government programmes.
Advocate of Individual rights not Civil rights
Over the years, Connerly has worked to advance other political and social initiatives that create a better multiracial society in the US. He advocated for greater benefits for domestic partnerships in California before the modern wave of support for same-sex marriage. He also passionately disagreed with California’s Proposition 8 on the November 2008 ballot, a measure that banned same-sex marriage.
Connerly’s vision for American society is one in which race, ethnicity and gender have no bearing on opportunities and services offered to any individual, in any circumstance. From public employment to education to housing, Connerly believes in a multiracial society where the federal government is limited and colour-blind. He doesn’t want to see a return to old systems where white citizens had all the opportunities, but also doesn’t want to see racial equality achieved through the promotion of people of colour, without consideration for the quality of the individual.
His views on multiracial societies and equality can best be summed up in his comments on California’s Proposition 54 (fighting segregation in state schools):
“I don’t care whether they are segregated or not. Kids need to be learning, and I place more value on these kids getting educated than I do on whether we have some racial balancing or not.”
For Connerly, the goal is to create a society that promotes individual rights over group rights. He continues to promote causes that view civil rights as individual rights, and fight against government policies that uphold any group’s rights over the rights of all individuals.