MIAMI -- As if Florida didn't already have problems, here comes Ward Connerly to pick a fight over affirmative action.
The thing that makes you sit up and take notice, of course, is that Mr. Connerly is black. Who isn't fascinated at the sight of a hen campaigning for the foxes?
This particular hen is pretty good at what he does. The Sacramento businessman has spearheaded ballot measures that overturned affirmative action in Washington state and his native California.
Last week, he announced a petition drive aimed at doing the same thing in Florida. God must hate the Sunshine State.
Don't get me wrong. I think there's good reason to question affirmative action, if not to oppose it outright.
It seems fair to ask if, by setting aside contracts and classroom seats for minorities and women, government does not inadvertently reinforce in them a victim's mentality -- an insidious sense that they lack the stuff to earn those things on their own merits.
De facto privilege
That observation, however, must be balanced by the observation that white men have long enjoyed a kind of de facto affirmative action.
After all, for generations, the nation used every legal and extralegal means to deny women and racial minorities -- blacks in particular -- access to education and entrepreneurship.
It retarded the progress of those groups while offering white men set-asides and preferences that allowed them to move ahead by prodigious leaps.
It's not too much to ask the country to make right what it made wrong. Especially considering that the hostility toward blacks and women has hardly ended, but become more subtle. If we don't redress the inequity through affirmative action, fine.
But how do we do it? Because it's crucial that we do.
It would be good if Mr. Connerly showed any grasp of this.
Instead, his stated reason for opposing affirmative action is that it's racially divisive.
Which is such an asinine assessment that you hardly know where to begin responding to it.
Perhaps it's enough to simply ask which campaign to open closed doors was ever anything but divisive. The Civil Rights Movement? That was divisive.
Feminism? Yep, divisive, too. The United Farm Workers boycott? Pretty darn divisive. The Civil War? Golly gosh, that was about as divisive as it gets.
Hell, division is predictable. Those who enjoy privileges seldom surrender them easily or willingly.
But it's not simply the abject stupidity of Mr. Connerly's reasoning that offends.
Rather, it's the way that reasoning offers aid and comfort to the new breed of bigotry. The one which tells us that white people are the true victims of racism .
You know the rhetoric . . . victimized by preferences, victimized by employers, victimized by political correctness that accepts a Miss Black America pageant or an Ebony magazine but, darn it, would have hissy fits over Miss White America or a magazine called "Ivory."
Fighting for equality
The most virulent of modern white bigots will tell you with a straight face and evident sincerity that he is only fighting for equality. And never mind that by virtually every relevant measure, white men enjoy advantages that go well beyond simple parity.
Most people -- black, white and otherwise -- understand this and recognize cries of white victimization for what they are: only the latest effort to turn the language of the civil rights movement to the cause of intolerance. Only the most creative attempt to dress racism up as reason.
There are valid reasons for disliking affirmative action. That it's divisive is not one of them.
And while it's troubling that some white guys won't understand this, disconcerting that they would embrace an image of themselves as powerless and put-upon, it's downright galling to see that ignorance validated by a black man.
No Uncle Tom
Some would call Ward Connerly an Uncle Tom. It is, to my mind, an unfortunate term that's been too often used to discourage black intellectual independence. I won't call Mr. Connerly that.
I will, however, suggest that he is a confused Negro who should know better than to allow his skin color to be used as moral cover by those whose truest goals have little to do with liberty and justice for all.
If this hen has any sense, he might wonder at the motive of the foxes at his back.
Leonard Pitts Jr. is a columnist for the Miami Herald.
Pub Date: 3/21/99