Ward Connerly’s Newest Whine

Affirmative action’s most irritating critic gripes that shelving his book with others on African American topics will hurt sales. We can only hope.


Ward Connerly, America’s most effective anti-affirmative action huckster, has a new campaign. This one, like his last, is framed as being about “equality,” and, like his last, is actually about his own narcissism and self-interest. Fortunately for the public, Connerly’s latest jihad — a screed against the “segregation” of his new book into the African American Interest section of bookstores — is far less consequential than its predecessor.

Connerly, who is black and a member of the University of California Board of Regents, is best known as the moving force behind the 1996 decision to end all affirmative action programs in state university admissions, and as the pitch man for a subsequent California ballot initiative which ended state-level affirmative action programs in employment and government contracting.

Last year, mightily pleased by his success in slamming the doors of opportunity in the faces of millions of people of color in the nation’s most populous state, Connerly took his Jim Crow show on the road. Away from home, however, Connerly ran into a lot of cold shoulders. Republican leaders, including the Bush brothers, refused to support his proposals to place anti-affirmative action measures on state ballots. His legislation was called divisive, and Connerly himself derided as an ignorant carpetbagger and shameless self-promoter.

Stung by the public snubs of prominent Republicans, Connerly decided to take his message directly to their constituents. In the service of this malodorous goal he has written a new book, the promotion of which has led Connerly to his next great battle for “equality.” “Creating Equal: My Fight Against Race Preferences,” is being shelved by bookstores in sections topically devoted to racial issues. In an early May op-ed in Monday’s New York Times, Connerly recounts how he stopped by a “prominent” Washington bookstore to spontaneously autograph his book. But his tome wasn’t on the “New Arrivals” table, nor in the politics section, nor with other autobiographies. Panic-stricken, Connerly summoned the store manager, who informed the anxious author that his book was — imagine! — on the African American Interest shelf.

For Connerly, this unsurprising placement of his book was not merely a sensible effort by the store to group its holdings by topic. The shelving of his book about race with other books about race, he insists, is on a par with forcing him to attend a segregated school or ride at the back of the bus — evidence of invidious racial “discrimination,” consigning him to a “redlined literary ghetto” through “racial profiling.” In one particularly sickening passage, he borrows from King’s “I Have a Dream” speech, complaining that the color of his skin is not a guide to “judging the content of his book.” All of which, he complains, is depriving him of “significant sales opportunities” in the form of “unplanned discovery” and “serendipitous” purchase of his book by white browsers.

In reality, no one would buy this book even if stores set up huge floor-to-ceiling displays featuring a buck-naked Pamela Anderson holding copies of it. That’s because it stinks. The only “significant sales opportunity” Connerly might have would be to hawk this crud on folding tables at gun shows in Kentucky. But it is fascinating what Connerly’s complaints reveal about his own racial politics. Without a shred of irony, he eagerly dons the victim mantle even as he ridicules other blacks for it. According to Connerly, if no one buys, reads, or reviews his book, it must be because of “discrimination” and not because of the book’s glaring lack of merit.

The book has been largely ignored by reviewers, and with good reason. It is 272 pages of turgid, over-written, pandering dreck, in which Connerly whines incessantly about the persecutions he has suffered for his heroic decision to “let the genie of race preferences out of the bottle previously kept hidden away in the UC chamber of horrors.” He displays the same light touch throughout the book, equating UC’s affirmative action programs with Nazism and the “reign of terror.” He also uses the book as a vehicle to vent his obsessive hatred of Jesse Jackson.

Writing talent is not the only thing missing: The book also suffers from a marked lack of knowledge and perspective. For example, Connerly correctly asserts that the need for affirmative action stems, at least in part, from severe racial inequities in primary and secondary education. But his solution is either completely moronic or truly evil: Eliminate affirmative action in university admissions in the hope that white Californians will suddenly miss all those black and brown faces on campus, and then vote themselves higher taxes to pay for good public schools in minority neighborhoods. Connerly likewise understands nothing of constitutional law, but that doesn’t stop him from prattling on about it at length, offering up his own cockamamie interpretations of equal protection law and attributing them, outrageously, to Justice Thurgood Marshall. His cynical manipulation of dead icons of the civil rights movement, including King and Marshall, is the most stomach-churning part of the book.

Then again, perhaps Connerly is onto something with his rant against discriminatory shelving. It’s not only a problem in privately owned bookstores; the government is also implicated. After all, the entire purpose of the Library of Congress numbering system is to “segregate” books by topic. The obvious problem is that this ghettoization of library books completely ignores their relative literary merits, and allows books of lesser merit in one category to be placed more prominently than those of greater merit in another.

Connerly should take a page out of his own book and campaign for the total reorganization of public bookshelves. As with university admissions, he should see to it that the sole legitimate criteria for public library organization would be merit. Thus, books deemed the best, regardless of topic — fiction, history, computer science, poetry, whatever — should be placed prominently on shelves, at eye level, near the front of the stacks. Less meritorious books would be placed in less desirable locations, and really rotten books would be placed in random heaps in the basement and piled up around the trash cans in the alley.

On second thought, Connerly probably won’t like where his book ends up under a merit-based system either.