LOS ANGELES, Aug. 1 (UPI) -- The life of Ward Connerly, the University of California regent and prominent activist against racial preferences, kicked into overdrive this summer.
The Supreme Court's June 23 decision endorsing the University of Michigan Law School's use of race as a factor in choosing among applicants inspired Connerly to launch the Michigan Civil Rights Initiative, modeled on the successful referendum campaigns he led to ban reverse discrimination by the state governments of California and Washington.
Connerly's effort so outraged Democrat John Dingell, who has represented Michigan in Congress since 1955, that he sent the Californian a letter that sounded rather like a Jim Crow sheriff telling Northern civil rights demonstrators to stay out of Mississippi.
"The people of Michigan have a simple message to you: go home and stay there," Dingell wrote Connerly. "We do not need you stirring up trouble where none exists. Michiganders do not take kindly to your ignorant meddling in our affairs. We have no need for itinerant publicity seekers, non-resident troublemakers or self-aggrandizing out-of-state agitators."
One irony is that Dingell is white and Connerly part black. He's also part-white and part-American Indian. Connerly, his children, and their children don't fit well into the checkboxes that government agencies use to classify Americans by race and ethnicity. This gives him personal, as well as political and philosophical, reasons to oppose quotas and the racial data that undergird them.
Meanwhile, back in California, the signature drive toward a special election on whether to recall Gov. Gray Davis proved remarkably successful. A side effect was to move up the election date for Connerly's Racial Privacy Initiative (now Proposition 54) from 2004 to Oct. 7 of this year.
The RPI is a relatively simple proposal: The state of California shall stop (with certain listed exceptions) collecting data on the race and ethnicity of its residents. The effects, however, are likely to be profound in ways that are not immediately obvious.
No one yet knows what the impact will be of drastically accelerating the debate on such a far-reaching but subtle plan. Nor is it clear what effect the RPI will have on the recall election. Davis supporters are hoping that Hispanics and blacks, the main intended beneficiaries of racial classifying, will show up at the polls in large numbers to vote against the RPI, and, while they are there, against the Republican-led recall as well.
Connerly paused recently to answer a few questions from United Press International.
UPI: Keeping busy?
Connerly: Nah! Just twiddling my thumbs looking for something to do. Seriously, I have never been busier in my life, and I have always made maximum use of the time that the good Lord gives me.
Q: What did you think of Congressman Dingell calling you an "out-of-state agitator?"
A: It is disgraceful that one of my congressmen would have so little disregard for the rights of American citizens to participate in the affairs of their government. I say "my" congressmen because my tax dollars support him and others in that body and, thus, my civil rights do not end at the state line of Michigan. Moreover, I do not see the congressman applying the same arrogant and contemptuous attitude to Jesse Jackson, who has opened an office in one of the towns of Michigan -- and he is not a resident of that state either.
If Dingell thought that he could drive me out of town, he could not be more mistaken. He has only energized me, and our base as well. One constituent of Dingell's sent our campaign $5,000 the day after this controversy was aired with a note saying, "This is to help pay your airfare to our state."
Q: So what is the Michigan Civil Rights Initiative?
A: The MCRI is a proposed ballot initiative to prohibit all government agencies in the state of Michigan from granting preferential treatment on the basis of race, sex, color, ethnicity, or national origin in public education, public employment, and public contracting. It is intended to nullify the Supreme Court's U. of Michigan decision.
Q: Are you getting much support from the Republican establishment in Michigan?
A: Not from the Republican establishment, but over 20 Republican legislators and hundreds of registered Republicans have endorsed the initiative and publicly announced their support. Timidity on the part of the Republican establishment when it comes to race issues is something I have come to expect. In the overall context of our mission, however, it is not terribly important that we have their support. In fact, their lack of support helps us and potentially hurts them with their base, which is decidedly conservative. In addition, Michigan has a lot of white Democrats who vote Republican. I believe they will be less inclined to cross partisan lines if they perceive that the GOP is endorsing race preferences. So, by cowering at the prospect of losing support with black voters, who constitute about 12 percent of the population in Michigan, the Michigan GOP puts itself at risk of eroding its support among the 80-percent-plus white voters on an issue that morally could not be clearer. Go figure!
Q: What impact does moving up the next statewide election in California have on your Racial Privacy Initiative?
A: Major, major effect. It means we must kick our campaign into high gear, instantly, without the funding necessary to wage the kind of campaign we would like. On the other hand, there is less time for our opponents to demonize me and to lie about the initiative, both of which will be key to their campaign strategy.
Q: What's your personal ethnic background?
A: It's the story of that American melting pot. My maternal grandmother was half Irish and half Choctaw Indian. My maternal grandfather was white of French descent. My paternal grandmother was part Irish and part American Indian and my paternal grandfather was of African descent. His mother was born a slave.
Q: What about your grandchildren?
A: My grandchildren are all of me and their Irish grandmother, and two of the four are all of that and are partly of Vietnamese descent as well.
Q. Is the Connerly family the wave of the future?
A: We mirror the present. Most Americans are blended. They simply refuse to confront the infamous "one-drop" rule for determining race. RPI will force them to do so. When more black Americans begin to acknowledge the reality of their mixed heritage, a quiet racial revolution will take place in American life. Then, race will become less important, the rate of "interracial marriages" and births will increase between blacks and others, more individuals will refuse to be herded into arbitrary government categories, the stranglehold that race advocates have on blacks will weaken, and more blacks will feel less vulnerable to the sucker punch of Democrats looking out for their civil rights.
Q: What's at stake in the Racial Privacy Initiative?
A: Our nation is confronted with a profound public policy choice, one that could not have been framed more clearly than it was by the Supreme Court decision; and that choice is to take one of two paths -- diversity or colorblind government.
One path leads to lumping us all into these often arbitrary groups that we identify as being racial, trying to achieve proportionality among these groups, and increasing the power of government to move us around on the keyboard of life. That is what we call diversity. The other path is one that the nation has embraced from its founding and that was underscored by the civil rights movement. We are a nation of individual persons, each of whom has an unalienable bundle of civil rights that attach to us as individuals. When interacting with us, the government is obliged to treat us equally with regard to those civil rights and to make no distinction on the basis of our skin color or the origin of our ancestors. If we are treated equally and allowed to compete as individuals, the outcome of that competition is irrelevant.
Q: What's the history behind it?
A: The civil rights movement was one of the greatest chapters in American history. It was morally just, constitutionally sound, and socially prudent. The purpose of that movement should have been to restore the founding concept that every individual should be judged as an individual. Thus, the government had no business herding individuals into racial groups, telling them whom they could or could not marry based on those racial characteristics, and treating them differently on those bases.
But, what happened is that the nation instantly embarked on a course to achieve racial equality of result, the effect of which was to perpetuate the system of racial categorization and to pursue a course of denying individuality and accentuating groupism. This has led to race preferences, diversity, and rejection of individual merit as the central theme of American life. Yet, all of this is occurring as our people marry and breed across these lines of racial categorization framed by our government and we experience such unbridled immigration as to render the whole system of categorization meaningless, because we can no longer visibly determine who fits into what category with any degree of accuracy.
RPI proposes to deregulate race. Get the government out of the race business. Treat race the way we treat religion. The effect of this initiative will be to start the process of dismantling the structure and the infrastructure of race. When race consciousness has to be sustained by the private and non-profit sectors without the sanction of government, the influence of race will subside and what many know as the "race industry" will start to crumble.
Q. Finally, why did you try (unsuccessfully) to get the UC Board of Regents to ban separate ethnic graduation ceremonies?
A: Because these events symbolize the ascension of the diversity concept in our culture. They truly fragment our society and they represent a double standard. No one at UC would countenance white graduation ceremonies, so why is it acceptable for UC to financially support Chicano graduation or African-American graduation or black freshman orientation or lavender graduation?
The fact that I lost the vote so decisively ought to reveal how far American universities have strayed from the course that the average American wants its government to follow. I am absolutely convinced that the majority of Americans do not support such practices. But, race consciousness breeds acceptance of such events. Thus, once again, the need for the RPI.