Politics & Policy

Come On People

The civil-rights fight continues.

Believe it or not, we have come a long way regarding race in America. Though blacks have gone from being discriminated against in the law to being victimized by laws intended to help them, there have been positive changes. Ward Connerly, head of the American Civil Rights Institute, hopes to make more changes next November — by breaking black Americans free from the chains of dependency.

Racial preferences are “the last thing that connects black people to the era when blacks were dependent on the government,” Connerly told me earlier this month. With an eye toward nailing the coffin shut on black victimization by the government, he is calling his Election Day 2008 campaign, “Super Tuesday for Equal Rights.” On that day, he is hoping for a victory over racial preferences in referendums in Nebraska, Arizona, Colorado, Missouri, and Oklahoma.

According to Connerly, victories on these ballots could mark “the end of an era.”

Connerly is in a good position to make such grand claims and have such high hopes. Whereas Election Day 2006 was a widespread wipeout for Republicans, he was a rare winner that day. His Michigan Civil Rights Initiative received an affirmative from 58 percent of voters to amend the state constitution to prohibit state and local government “from discriminating against or granting preferential treatment to any individual or group based on race, sex, color, ethnicity or national origin in the areas of public employment, public contracting and public education.”

He won despite a barrage of ridiculous and desperate attacks. A radio ad from One United Michigan asked, “If you could have prevented 9-11 from ever happening … would you have?” It continued, “If you could have prevented Katrina … what would you have done?” Then, “On Nov. 7, there’s a national disaster headed for Michigan … the elimination of affirmative action.” The ad argued that a “yes” on the referendum would issue a “no” to equal opportunity for women and minorities.

In truth, Connerly’s effort is all about equal opportunity. It is about ending discrimination against white males, and ending the stigmatization of blacks as victims. As we head into 2008, Connerly sees a convergence of factors pointing toward a time of real transition for America. Barack Obama, whose interracial parents could not have gotten married in some states a few decades ago, is a serious Democratic contender for president. Blacks and whites alike see the power of Oprah Winfrey. Bill Cosby, in his book with Alvin F. Poussaint, Come On People: On the Path from Victims to Victors, encourages individual responsibility and “no more excuses.” Cosby and Poussaint point out that in 2002, there were 1.2 million black-owned businesses in the United States, which marked a 45 percent increase in five years. More than ever, this is a land of opportunity.

Fifty years ago this fall, we needed the 101st Airborne to get black children into their Little Rock, Ark., high school. America has “come so far,” Connerly tells me. “And now the rollback against government victimization of blacks may soon be complete.” That would be quite the Super Tuesday.

© 2007, Newspaper Enterprise Assn.

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