MAXWELL:  Forgetting how they got there

7/29/1995– Printed in the EDITORIAL section of the St Petersburg Times Newspaper


When now-Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas was reappointed to head the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, his right-wing pals threw him a party. Sen. Strom Thurmond, R-S.C., gave the toast, raising his glass and proclaiming Thomas one of the nation’s finest examples of how well affirmative action works.

A chagrined Thomas nearly choked. Even way back then, he was living a lie _ pretending that he had not benefited from affirmative action.

The truth, of course, is that he attended Yale Law School on a minority fellowship and that Republican Sen. John Danforth, then attorney general of Missouri, gave him his first job. Although he now occupies the black seat on the Supreme Court, Thomas never passes up a chance to vote with the court’s anti-affirmative action wing.

Remember also that, just prior to his confirmation hearings, he shamed his sister by saying that she spent her days waiting at the mailbox for a welfare check. Again, the truth: After her sorry old man deserted her, she went on welfare for about six months. But she was holding down two jobs to feed her children at the time that her big brother was portraying her as a welfare queen.

Thomas, who calls affirmative action “a narcotic of dependency,” is not alone in such hypocrisy. A long list of blacks opposed to affirmative action has emerged in recent years. To name a few: Thomas Sowell, Shelby Steele, Walter Williams. These three college professors, like most black college professors of their generation, got their first jobs through affirmative action. Now, however, these professors are prostitutes for the GOP.

We also have Rep. J. C. Watts of Oklahoma, who attended the University of Oklahoma on a football scholarship. A football scholarship to a Big Eight school is affirmative action in its purest form. Yet, Watts is in Washington cutting up around white folk, denouncing affirmative action as the bane of democracy as we know it.

And leave us not forget Ward Connerly, the University of California regent who wrote the proposal that killed all affirmative-action programs in the nine-campus university system. California Gov. Pete Wilson, who is using affirmative action as a wedge issue in his bid to unseat Bill Clinton, appointed Connerly to the Board of Regents, making him one of only two blacks on the powerful panel.

Connerly, a wealthy Sacramento housing developer, got his start and got ahead in the tough construction industry by accepting set-aside contracts. Now, however, after having fed from the trough of “preferential treatment,” he has become Wilson’s point man.

Any black person whose career has been propped up by affirmative action to any degree should support these programs or _ out of conscience _ shut up or recuse himself.

Bill Maxwell is a columnist and editorial writer for the Times.