Our choice is clear
By Ward Connerly | January 13, 2010
Several days ago, I was invited to speak at Northwestern University. The release announcing my appearance read: “Ward Connerly is a successful California African-American businessman.”
I am aware that racial labels are a constant source of confusion to many Americans, especially when it comes to identifying those of us whose skin color and physical features – hair texture, size of lips and width of nose, for example – suggest that one of our ancestors might have origins in the continent of Africa.
Yet, in America, it is widely accepted that we don’t determine “race” or ethnicity on the basis of one’s appearance. Such a practice would be truly insane in a nation as diverse as America with so many ethnicities represented and such a high degree of “blending” as exists in nearly all parts of the country.
My own background is a classic example of America’s “melting pot.” On my father’s side, my great grandmother was born a slave of African descent. My father’s mother was Irish and American Indian. My mother’s mother was Choctaw and Irish, while her father, Eli Soniea, was French.
On my birth certificate, there is a “C,” which was a designation for “colored.” Years later, my classification changed to “negro.” With the advent of the “black power” movement came a change in classification to “black.” Then, Jesse Jackson coined the term “African-American.” Finally, the politically correct crowd has delivered the term “person of color” to our culture, which almost takes us back to “colored,” doesn’t it?
I don’t like race labels. Correction. I hate them! But, of all the labels mentioned, the one I like most is the politically incorrect “colored.” Labels are best used to generally describe, not to classify. That is why “colored” is preferable to Negro or African American. If we are going to describe one group by the generic term “white,” then those who aren’t can best be described by the generic term “colored.” I absolutely detest “African-American” to describe those of us who have little or no African heritage but whose physical features fit the attributes of “black.”
During the time of slavery, a practice best described as the “one drop rule” was created in America. This rule essentially stated that a person with as little as one drop of black blood in their heritage was to be considered black. The “one drop” was based on whether an individual was at least one-sixteenth black. That rule continues to this day, despite generations of blending on the part of Americans. Few American customs are more ridiculous than this one.
While I would like to abandon race labels altogether, I am aware that this desire is an unrealistic aspiration. Such labels are too deeply embedded into our culture. But, we can embark on a path to reduce our obsession with these labels by merely trying not to use them. For example, it would have been just as relevant, in fact more so, to refer to me as the California businessman who has led the effort to eliminate race preferences.
We can also consciously abandon the infamous one-drop rule, by trying to use generic descriptions instead of inaccurate classifications that presume one’s ancestry. To describe an individual as “colored” is considerably more accurate and useful than to describe the individual as an African-American.
Many of us believe that it is the American creed and our destiny to become “colorblind” in our public life. That is what is meant by “one nation, indivisible.” At our best, Americans are one people, not a nation subdivided into a band of warring tribes, with the tribes defined by presumed levels of ethnic blood quantum.
In recent decades, as the lines of “race” have become ever more blurred, the effort to maintain distinct race groups has, ironically, become more intense. This paradox results solely from the foolishness about “creating diversity” that is practiced most often in collegiate settings.
Our choice is clear: embrace “colorblindness” or attach ourselves to the wagon of “diversity.” If we select the former, then we must act to implement it in our personal, but especially public, lives. If we prefer the latter, then we continue with business as usual. For me, the choice is clear. It is the course charted by John F. Kennedy when he said, “Race has no place in American life or law.”