Ward Connerly: guilty as charged – University of California Regent who criticized ethnic studies - Higher Education


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Ward Connerly: guilty as charged – University of California Regent who criticized ethnic studies

by Carl C. Jorgensen

University of California Regent Ward Connerly recently proposed
that the Board of Regents investigate ethnic studies courses for
possible political bias, lack of substance, and “feel good”
celebrationism. However, he made no proposal for investigation of
possible political bias, lack of substance, and “feel good”
celebrationism in courses studying Euro-American society and culture.

Connerly expressed concern that ethnic studies courses might be
“frivolous … putting [students of color] in touch with [their]
heritage.” But he did not question the utility of White students taking
courses in which they get in touch with their White heritages.

Connerly voiced dismay over an alleged observation that the
students in the African American and Chicano studies classes he had
visited were “all Black and Brown.” He expressed no dismay, however,
over the possible existence of European studies classes that were
predominantly White.

On June 20, I attended two graduation ceremonies. In the morning, I
attended commencement for one half of the graduating seniors of the
UC-Davis College of Letters and Science. It was a predominantly White
and Asian affair, steeped in Euro-American culture, with music
performed by the UC-Davis symphonic orchestra and songs sung — very
well, I might add — in operatic style.

In the evening, I attended a supplementary celebration of the
African American community. The predominantly Black affair was steeped
in African American culture, with several songs sung — very well, I
might add — by the UC-Davis gospel choir in a style particular to
African Americans. There were also student dance performances, poetry
readings, and speeches.

I was pleased with, and proud of, both celebrations. Although both
were racially integrated, both were also racially unbalanced,
culturally mono-ethnic affairs. However, Connerly believes that
traditional European-centered commencement ceremony is “unifying” and
the supplementary ceremonies for peoples of color is “divisive.”

Try as I might, I cannot find any label for Connerly’s racially
selective concerns other than racial prejudice. The fact that this
racial prejudice comes from the mouth of a Black man only proves again
that racial physiology does not determine cultural ideology. I am very
pleased that the UC Board of Regents is currently rejecting Connerly’s
prejudicial proposals.

The Republican Party of California has just named Ward Connerly as
its chief fundraiser. Could it be that Connerly’s recent statements
reflect the racial ideology that the California Republican Party plans
to promote in its attempt to secure campaign funds and win votes?

Connerly’s past and present statements presume that Black, Brown,
and Native American peoples have less to offer society than White and
Asian American Californians because of their ethnocentrism and their
refusal to fully engage, and trust, in the fairness of the free
enterprise system and the Republican Party’s politics. His statements
presume that White racism, past and present, had no influence on these
differentials m or at least none that cannot be compensated for by
color-blind, class-based programs.

If Black, Brown, and Native American people would only give up
trying to advance the interests of their communities and concentrate on
advancing their own individual development, as White people supposedly
do, then California’s racial conflicts would largely disappear — or so
Connerly and his supporters would have us believe.

In Connerly’s California, European-themed, predominantly White
organizations, events, and courses would be presumed to be unifying and
meritorious. Organizations, events, and courses with strong
representations of people of color and non-White cultural themes would
be investigated for ethnocentrism, divisiveness, and frivolity.

Conservatives often complain that every time they criticize the
actions of people of color, they are automatically accused of being
racist. I agree that conservatives are sometimes falsely accused. But
sometimes they are guilty.

Dr. Carl C. Jorgensen is an associate professor of sociology at the University of California-Davis.

COPYRIGHT 1998 Cox, Matthews & Associates



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