Sacramento businessman and university of California regent Ward Connerly professes amazement at the attacks and public scrutiny he has received for successfully campaigning -- first at the University of California and then statewide with last year's passage of Proposition 209 -- to eliminate racial preferences. He's been called a "houseboy" and a "paid assassin." And at a rally this summer protesting the implementation of 209, Jesse Jackson accused him of promoting "ethnic cleansing."
"I must really have hit a nerve to get such attention," Connerly says. "I guess I'm having some influence."
This is false modesty. Connerly knows that among those who support minority preferences in hiring and admissions, he is feared and despised. Not only have affirmative action supporters labeled him a racist, but he has even received a mortifying public psychoanalysis in the New York Times.
Implicitly asking what trauma could be hidden in the childhood and psychological makeup of this black man that would lead him to challenge the policies intended to help black people, reporter Barry Bearak dug deep into Connerly's past (going so far as to locate Connerly's estranged father, who was believed dead) to find that the grandmother who raised him may have had questionable views about race. Bearak found it "intriguing" that other relatives remember Connerly's grandmother, who was part-Irish and part-Choctaw, as an "out-and-out bigot" and "openly scornful of black people." One relative told Bearak, "Maybe that's why Ward decided to be as much of a white boy as he could."
"The implication of the article is that if I was raised by a racist, then I might be an out-and-out bigot myself," Connerly says. "I found this excavation of my past odd and totally unnecessary. No one does this sort of searching article on the people who disagree with me."
Connerly believes people should spend more time examining his arguments against affirmative action and less time focusing on his personal motivations. These arguments are not insubstantial. Even a cursory look at the University of California's admissions record will tell you what every college-bound high school senior in the past decade has known: Race has played a disturbingly large role in a candidate's chances at college acceptance. While UC Berkeley, for example, turned away nearly 6,000 straight-A students this year, it also accepted many underrepresented minority applicants with grade point averages of 3.0 or lower.
The first admissions statistics under the new colorblind policies gave evidence to Connerly's contention that the university was not, as administrators often claimed, using race as one small factor among many others. Even though the likes of Jesse Jackson have used the 81 percent drop in the number of admission offers to African Americans from Berkeley's Boalt Hall law school as proof of the evil nature of Connerly's work, this same statistic might be taken as evidence that the university was weighing race far more heavily than the U.S. Supreme Court's University of California v. Bakke decision ever intended to allow.