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Say what you will about the people of California, they have, with occasional success and frequent failure, struggled mightily to restore some semblance of rationality to rampant irrationality within the state.

Five years ago, Californians voted for an amendment to their constitution (Proposition 209) that read, “The state shall not discriminate against, or grant preferential treatment to, any individual or group on the basis of race, sex, color, ethnicity, or national origin in the operation of public employment, public education, or public contracting.”

This language of Prop. 209 reads remarkably like the language contained in the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which says, “No person in the United States shall, on the grounds of race, color, or national origin, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subject to discrimination under any program or activity receiving federal financial assistance.”

Even obsessive-compulsive, nitpicking lawyers, who could carve a legal gnat into a thousand pieces and have leftovers, would have trouble finding meaningful differences between these two pieces of legislation.

The 1964 legislation was enthusiastically endorsed by the black community and civil rights activists, including the American Civil Liberties Union.

The 1996 legislation, however, has been deemed racist by black leaders and civil rights groups. The ACLU declared it not only discriminatory but unconstitutional. The late, grating President Clinton called it “devastating.”

The passage of Prop. 209 resulted in a wave of angry protests throughout the state. Opponents saw the end of state-sponsored inequality as a bigoted attack on racial parity, equal outcomes, sexual equality, open immigration, multiculturalism and ethnic diversity.

They predicted the end of civilization as we know it and forecast the reinstitution of slavery and a return of women to second-class citizenship. Many college students, minds fogged by liberal professors teaching counter-culture dogma, demonstrated in the streets and engaged in sit-ins, shut-outs and shout-downs.

Within days after its passage, a restraining order was promptly issued by Chief U.S. District Judge Thelton Henderson, a former civil rights lawyer who was appointed to the bench by President Carter. Demonstrating a degree of lawyerly illiteracy that startled even those of us who are inured to judicial obscurantism, Judge Henderson said, in effect, that the elimination of quotas, preferential treatment and contract set-asides is probably unconstitutional.

But Prop. 209 survived court challenges and is now the law in California. Gradually, the obstacles to its implementation are being overcome. Slowly and grudgingly, many of those who savagely opposed the end of remedial discrimination are coming to understand they were wrong.

The end of California’s legal discrimination against its own citizens based on their skin color resulted in large part from the leadership of Ward Connerly. Now, fresh from this remarkable victory, Connerly is taking the next logical step to bring us closer to a truly color blind society. He is gathering signatures to put a Racial Privacy Initiative on the California state ballot in March 2002. It is designed to “end racial classifications and, with limited exceptions, prohibit questions probing one’s racial or ethnic identity on state and local government forms.”

Connerly argues that it is no longer necessary for the state to collect such information “especially since our state constitution no longer allows discrimination or preferences based on an arbitrary social construct such as ‘race.’”

Connerly points out that in the past 30 years, the number of race classifications has ballooned from five to 63 — 126 if you include ethnicity. By obsessing on race and ethnicity, he believes that we have made things worse, not better. He makes the case that “we must unite our hearts and minds pursuing common goals. As long as we keep counting by skin color, we can never become ‘one nation, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.’”

His arguments are hard to refute. If we truly want to be a color-blind society, we will have to stop bringing up race all the time. It is not rational to assume that the way to achieve social justice in America is to allow ourselves to be carved up into groups while social engineers, politicians, bureaucrats and race hustlers make decisions about what groups get what rights.

In anticipation that the Racial Privacy Initiative will become the law, I will not mention Ward Connerly’s race, ethnicity or national origin. It is irrelevant. I will simply assert that he is a visionary on the issue of race relations, once again showing us the right way to go. He has set up a website to promote his Racial Privacy Initiative.

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