Henry Lewis Gates: Ward Connerly’s Latest Supporter?

Henry Lewis Gates, renowned Harvard professor of African-American Studies – which is to say, someone about as deep as can be gotten in the belly of the diversity-obsessed academic beast – said something quite remarkable the other day. Invited to address the graduates of Kentucky’s Berea College, founded in 1855 as the first integrated college in the South, from the speakers platform Gates trod very familiar territory. He lauded the benefits of affirmative action, and instructed the grads that it isn’t enough to “pay lip service” to diversity. But in an interview he gave an enterprising reporter for the Lexington Herald-Leader, things got interesting. Gates allowed that while he, the son of a janitor, had needed affirmative action to get ahead, his own privileged children did not; nor should they benefit from it. But poor white children should. “We need to get more black people into the middle class,” he concluded. “We need to get more white people into the middle class.”

One cannot help but wonder whether the learned professor realizes that such a position -support for economic affirmative action, but opposition to the kind based merely on skin color – is identical to that held by the nation’s leading crusader against racial preferences (and a man much detested by campus liberals and leftists), Ward Connerly. Indeed, in his successful fights on behalf of state initiatives to end race-based college admissions and government hiring in California, Washington and Michigan, Connerly has been bitterly denounced as a race traitor and worse for saying the very same thing; demanding, for instance, how affirmative action supporters can fail to see the elemental unfairness of a college admissions officer giving preference to the child of a black surgeon over the child of a white coal miner who would be the first in his family to go to college.


The truth is, as evidenced by the overwhelming votes against affirmative action in every state where it has to date been put on the ballot, regular people have a far greater commitment to justice in practice than do most of those on college faculties who endlessly spout off about it. I’ll never forget the afternoon my daughter, a junior at an academically demanding (and very progressive) New York private school, returned home bristling. She and several of her friends had been having a back-and-forth in the cafeteria over where they hoped to go to college, and one of the kids, the not-very-studious daughter of a prominent and wealthy black lawyer, just shrugged. “I can go anywhere I want,” she said, “I’m black.” “This just isn’t right,” my daughter kept saying.

It’s nice to see that Henry Louis Gates has finally arrived at the same conclusion.

Let’s now see if he has the guts to join Connerly in his ‘Super Tuesday’ crusade, aimed at eliminating race-based preferences in five states in one fell swoop in November, 2008.

Harry Stein

Harry Stein is a contributing editor to City Journal.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.