Lessons from My Uncle James
The content of a man
By Rachel Alexander
Ward Connerly, best known for taking on preferential treatment on the basis of race, gender, and ethnicity beginning in 1996 with California's Proposition 209, recently came out with a second book. Lessons from My Uncle James: Beyond Skin Color to the Content of Our Character is about the most influential person in his life, his Uncle James who raised him as his own son. It was Uncle James's parenting that planted the seeds in Ward which ultimately led to his crusade against affirmative action. Uncle James's no-nonsense, no-complaining allowed upbringing, combining love with hard work, instilled within Ward a highly disciplined work ethic that went counter to the affirmative action mentality of blaming someone else for your situation. The short book is beautifully written in the same elegant and powerful speaking style Ward is known for, pulling the reader in for a quick read that flows more like easy-to-read fiction than nonfiction. There are fascinating parallels to My Grandfather's Son, by Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, who was raised by his strict grandfather. Although both Ward and Justice Thomas were not raised by their paternal fathers, they were fortunate enough to have a relative step in to provide that important father role sadly missing in many black families today.
Deserted by his father at a young age, Ward lost his mother soon afterwards to a stroke. His Uncle James (the husband of his aunt Bert) took him in, and he spent the rest of his childhood living with Uncle James and Bert or his grandma. Uncle James never saw people in terms of color. Yet some of Ward's own family members spoke disparagingly of Uncle James behind his back because he was darker-skinned than they were. Observing this unjust cruelty taught Ward very early on that any kind of racial discrimination was wrong.
Uncle James had an uncompromising moral code and work ethic. Even though he worked in manual labor his entire life, due to a third grade education, he never felt the "stress" associated today with strenuous work. He thought that the coffee break was the worst invention since it allowed people employed in government bureaucracies paid by his hard-earned money to "sit on their fat a*** smoking cigarettes." When he'd see someone sitting on the side of a street with a sign, "will work for food," he'd mutter, "Well then, just put down the d*** sign and go get yourself a job."
Uncle James taught Ward that if you didn't neglect the small things in life, the big things would fall into place. He carried a gun to protect himself, because a "mane has got to defend himself and his family, else he ain't no mane at all!" (his pronunciation of man) Ward frequently jokes that due to his lack of education Uncle James wouldn't have known the difference between the Second Amendment and the Third Amendment, he had a grounded inner sense of what was right.
Uncle James was selfless. He never talked about himself and treated everyone as friends, not strangers. He spoke with contempt about acting like a "big shot."
Uncle James had no use for the term "African-American." When he heard the phrase, he'd say, "Sh**, I bet he's never been to Africa and ain't about to go. Those Africans don't want nothing to do with him." Uncle James resented affirmative action, calling it a handout. "If they got up off their butts and worked, they wouldn't need no affirmative action." He thought the Black Panthers were con men and gangsters.
Uncle James considered Afrocentrism the equivalent of witchcraft. "I'm a black man and that's all there is to it. I don't know a d*** thing about Africa and I don't want to know. All I know about Africa is it's where we would still be if our ancestors didn't get lucky back all those years ago and get brought to America."
Although Ward grew up very poor, his Uncle James never let him feel sorry for himself, and taught him how important it was to "be a mane" and work. The life of Ward Connerly is a true Horatio Alger story. As a boy growing up, he spent summers with Uncle James working at a sawmill. They would start the day beginning at 5:00 am preparing breakfast, in order to be at the job site by 6:45 am. Then little Ward would pick up strewn soda bottles all day long, return them to the grocery store for refunds, and bring back more sodas for the workers. He says it was this little chore that introduced him to the world of capitalism and private enterprise.
While living with his grandma, some days Ward would go without lunch, and there were weeks where all he would have for dinner was a slice of sweet potato and some collards from the garden. He would stuff cardboard in his shoes when the soles started wearing out. At one point his grandma was forced to go on welfare, and had Ward as a teenager apply for it since she wasn't quite old enough to qualify. That didn't suit Ward, who soon told the social worker that was enough, and he went out and "became a mane," getting a job as a stock boy and waxing floors while in school - making more money than he'd been receiving on welfare.
Church played a big role in Ward's life. Uncle James made sure Ward attended church every Sunday both morning and evening. Ward became very involved teaching Sunday School.
When Ward went to college, he was elected student body president, the first black student body president of Sacramento State. He writes that he didn't think of himself as a "trailblazer;" one of the reasons he wanted the job was it paid $35/mth and came with parking privileges. Uncle James agreed that it wasn't anything monumental, "You don't have to see your color all the time. If others do, that's their problem. Best thing is to just get along with life."
Ward still didn't have it easy in college, he had to work to put himself through. During the summers, he would work 8 pm – 3 am nights on an assembly line and half-days as a children's recreational supervisor.
Ward's beloved Uncle James passed away in 1996, the same year Ward's Prop. 209 initiative banning preferential action on the basis of race, gender and ethnicity passed in California. Ward reminisces that if Uncle James had lived long enough to hear someone tell him to "celebrate diversity," he would have shot them a withering look. Ward shudders to think what Uncle James would have thought of Obama's pastor Jeremiah Wright, who told his congregation "God damn America."
Having been raised by this impressive colorblind uncle, it is easy to understand why Ward became a champion of treating everyone as individuals, not as members of groups based on their skin color or gender. As Ward perceptively frames the issue in language for today's era, "It is often said America is 'a nation of immigrants,' but I believe this characterization causes us to misplace our focus. America is a nation of individuals."
Rachel Alexander and her brother Andrew are co-Editors of Intellectual Conservative. Rachel practices law in Phoenix, Arizona and blogs for GOPUSA.com. She has been published in the American Spectator, Townhall.com, Fox News, and other publications.
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