Connerly’s visit sparks race debate

What could be called the most fruitful portion of Ward Connerly’s lecture Tuesday evening at Florida State University occurred after his speech ended.

Sitting in a small circle in FSU’s State Ballroom, a FAMU student, two FSU students, all of whom are black, and a white Navy veteran in his 50s shared their experiences about race, racism and affirmative action in America.

“I got more out of that than the actual speech,” said Chris Washington, a FSU senior political science student from Lakeland.

His sentiments were echoed by several students attending the 90-minute lecture with Connerly, a black Californian known nationally for helping to successfully end racial preferences in California’s university admission policies in 1996.

Connerly started by telling several hundred audience members that government identifying race in America “is the root of all evil.”

He said the only way America can get past its racial problems is to end “race-consciousness.” This will happen by ending racial preferences in public education and employment, he said.

“If you want to be beyond race, you don’t practice race-consciousness, you practice getting beyond race,” he said. “It’s worked for me and it’s been the most liberating experiences of my life.”

However, several students disagreed with Connerly’s stance on ending racial preferences in public universities, employment and other governmental programs.

Affirmative action, introduced in 1965 by President Lyndon B. Johnson, requires governments to take specific measures to ensure equality in employment for minorities. Racial preferences in colleges usually refer to points given to an applicant based on ethnicity or race. Connerly said he was not against all parts of affirmative action but did not give specifics about what parts he agreed with.

A line of students formed immediately after Connerly’s lecture to ask questions.

“If we don’t stop and look at our interests, when will our interests be looked out for?” asked Larry Green, a junior biochemistry student and political action chair for FSU’s Progressive Black Men Inc.

Connerly responded with, “Your interests should be of every white in this room and every white in this room should have (your interests).”

Another student, Juan Chisholm, asked about Connerly’s suggestions for replacing affirmative action initiatives.

“What other feasible solution other than affirmative action is there to bring us on the same accord?” asked Chisholm, a FSU senior English literature and finance student. Chisholm asked how guarantees would be made to secure minorities spots in higher education and equal pay on jobs if affirmative action is discontinued.

Connerly answered by restating his theme message of the evening: end attention given to race.

Connerly said there are alternatives to affirmative action. He said he supported outreach programs to certain neighborhoods and removing obstacles on employment applications.

“I oppose treating people differently,” Connerly said.