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COLORBLIND LIKE ME

12:00 AM, Apr 22, 1996 • By JESSICA GAVORA
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Days before the California primary, Bob Dole stopped at a pagoda-roofed mall in Orange County's Little Saigon to remind voters of his support for the California Civil Rights Initiative (CCRI), the fall ballot proposition that would end state affirmative action programs. The site was chosen deliberately: Some groups, including Asian-Americans, are necessarily among the unpreferred in racial-preference programs. But the "visual" for the event said something quite different. A banner hanging behind the candidate invited viewers, in both English and Vietnamese, to "Celebrate Diversity With Bob Dole and CCRI."


CCRI, of course, is not meant to promote "diversity" but to expose it as a fraud -- the latest justification for state-sponsored discrimination. For the first time since these programs began to germinate in bureaucracies and admissions offces 30 years ago, the California initiative will give citizens a chance to vote up or down on ending group preferences, regardless of their rationale. As such, it presents a choice that many Republican elected offcials are finding more difficult to make than their constituents. For restoring the principle of colorblindness means rejecting more than "quotas" and "discrimination." It calls for penetrating-and casting off the elaborate cloak of aliases and assumed identities under which affirmative action has learned to operate. Among other things, it means rejecting the seductive call to "celebrate diversity."


In Ending Affirmative Action: The Case for Colorblind Justice (Basic- Books, $ 23.00), Terry Eastland argues that it is time for citizens to decide the fate of affrmative action. And he has no doubt what their choice will be: Race and gender preferences must be rejected as unfair, unjust, and un- American. Eastland's new book continues an argument begun with much force in 1979 by Eastland and William J. Bennett in their post-Bakke treatment of affrmative action, Counting By Race. There, Eastland and Bennett discussed the concept of "moral equality," the notion that each individual is a moral agent, accountable to himself and others and therefore capable of self-government.


In Ending Affirmative Action, "moral equality" has become "colorblind principle," and the change is more than semantic. Where Counting by Race looked to the history of the republic and the philosophy of the founders to construct a principled case for moral equality, Ending Affirmative Action uses the stories of the people who have been victimized by racial preferences to make a populist case for colorblind justice. Their names are the stuff of federal court case law: Cheryl Hopwood, Danny O'Connor, Randy Pech, and Sharon Taxman. And by focusing on their stories, Eastland signals the coming of the final stage in the battle against race-conscious policy: the mobilization of the public.


Eastland sees populism as the force necessary to raze an edifice of affrmative action that was constructed by largely undemocratic means through executive order, bureaucratic activism, and judicial fiat. Beginning with the Johnson administration, he recounts how group preferences were pursued in government, private employment, and academe through "law enforcement that is better described as law transformation." The law transformed was the Civil Rights Act of 1964, Eastland's high-water mark for the principle of moral equality in American life.


The Civil Rights Act, he contends, was passed to codify the principle of nondiscrimination, not to mandate equal group outcomes. And yet, just as quickly as colorblindness was enshrined in the law, elites began to undermine it. In private employment, Title VII of the Civil Rights Act explicitly prohibits discrimination. But Eastland relates how bureaucrats hatched the " disparate impact" theory in order to mandate the correct "utilization" of minorities, and how the courts not only ratified that goal but made it the responsibility of business to achieve it. Similarly, the Civil Rights Act makes it a crime for most colleges and universities to discriminate. Eastland explains how the Supreme Court, by allowing race as "a" factor in admissions, opened the door for race to become "the" factor.