Connerly Touts Initiative as Way to Minimize the Role of Race in Society





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UC Regent Ward Connerly touted his controversial Racial Privacy Initiative last night at a banquet sponsored by the Berkeley College Republicans.

Speaking at the Faculty Club, the leader of the 1996 campaign to ban affirmative action in California said the measure is an important next step in de-emphasizing the role of race in society.

"The thing that sustained black people was the belief that some day, skin color would be irrelevant," Connerly said, alluding to his upbringing in the pre-Civil Rights Deep South. "In a nation that prides itself on freedom, it is not an enlightened position to classify people in groups."

The initiative would prevent state agencies and universities from collecting data about race, ethnicity or national origin except in special circumstances.

But the measure's opponents charge that the initiative will ultimately prove a bane to minorities by fostering, not fighting, racism.

"It would further gut the gains made by the civil rights movement," said BAMN member Hoku Jeffrey. "It would allow institutional racism to grow unchecked."

Some UC Berkeley supporters of Connerly said they have noticed a large, if quiet, reservoir of campus student support in favor of the initiative.

"Oftentimes, the support is not visible," said Robb McFadden, a member of the Berkeley College Republicans. "You can find it in quiet conversations. A lot of people agree with (the initiative), but they won't all demonstrate for it."

California Patriot publisher Kelso Barnett agreed, noting that the current generation of students is one of the first to have been raised in an environment free of the marked racial conflict of the 1950s, 60s, and 70s.

"We've grown up without the struggles of race," Barnett said. "We've grown up without race being an issue. We know that we don't gather knowledge on eye color or hair color, and we shouldn't be gathering information on skin color, either."

A field poll released Wednesday showed potential voters supporting the initiative by a 3-to-2 ratio. Connerly submitted a petition of approximately 1 million signatures to qualify the initiative for the November ballot just last month, although names must be verified before it will be placed on the ballot.

Tom De Simone, president of the Cal Democrats, said the issue is simply too fresh for many to have a fully formed opinion on it.

"I'm sure that once it is publicized more, there will be a lot of discussion about the Racial Privacy Initiative on campus," De Simone said. "People aren't aware of it yet."

Connerly said he expects both the UC Board of Regents and the individual campuses to oppose the initiative.

"It's difficult for a lot of regents to think out of the box, and the chancellors will probably oppose it," Connerly said. "I respect them, but they're flat out wrong."

Fellow Regent Velma Montoya said she was against the initiative in a presentation earlier in the evening to the Graduate Assembly.

"I am very concerned about it," Montoya said. "I can understand where Ward is coming from-he wants a colorblind society. But I don't think you can legislate that. It's not my style."

Following his remarks on the initiative, Connerly shifted gears to warn the audience of another controversial, racial issue on the political horizon: slavery reparations.

"I thought that this would never have any legitimacy, but it's becoming mainstream," Connerly said, noting that Gov. Gray Davis has legitimized the debate recently, such as when Davis called a study on reparations "a groundbreaking national issue" last week. "This thing is going to be big," Connerly said.

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