Photo by Petr Kratochvil
When an event begins with something like, “Yes, it’s meant to be racist and discriminatory,” you can probably guess that some people are going to be upset.
The Campus Republicans at the University of California, Berkeley launched their pay-by-the-race a bake sale scheme Tuesday despite the controversy that surrounded the event's announcement on Facebook. An example of the pricing was $2.00 per baked good for white men, $1.50 for Asians, $1.00 for Latinos, 75 cents for blacks and 25 cents for Native Americans. Women of all races received a 25 cent price break.
The event has received strong reactions from students and adults alike. Hundreds of Berkeley students participated in protests across campus. Among the coverage in media outlets, the SFGate calls it mean-spirited.
Ironically, the racism of the bake sale is something both the event organizers and its opponents can agree on, though, through very different lenses. "We agree that the event is inherently racist, but that is the point," Berkeley Campus Republican (BCR) President Shawn Lewis wrote in a response to the bake sale backlash. "It is no more racist than giving an individual an advantage in college admissions based solely on their race (or) gender."
Aside from not being well-thought out from a sensitivity standpoint, the bake sale also bothered me because it also wasn’t well-thought out in terms of logic. Here’s the thing: regardless of your race or national origin, tuition costs remain the same. The legislation that BCR opposes deals with including race or national origin as a factor in admission -- it doesn’t change how much each race would pay for tuition. It’s not a “sole” deciding factor. If you want to attend a certain college, you better be able to pony up the dough and be academically qualified, no matter what your color.
But lest you think that minority students have an edge in financial aid, think again. This article breaks down aid awards by race and says that “Over all, white students were nearly twice as likely as minority students with SAT scores of at least 1400 (on a 1600 scale) to receive institutional merit-based scholarships.” Minority students do receive a larger proportion of need-based grants, but that is because minorities are more likely to be low-income.
So in order for BCR’s bake sale reasoning to work, they should have only let X number of whites buy cookies, X numbers of Asians, blacks, so on and so forth. It’s a small point to quibble, but if you’re going to be racist and offend loads of people, the least you can do is get your analogies right.
One writer cheekily suggested a "contextualized" bake sale instead based on America's actual racial history. Some highlights:
“If the campus Republicans choose to sell brownies from 9 AM to 5 PM, a historically and sociologically relevant bake sale would begin with kidnapping African-American students from their dorms and forcing them to bake the brownies without any compensation . . . until an emancipation proclamation set them free around 1:30 PM. Still blacks would be forbidden from buying the brownies they made even after being freed.”
But what surprises me the most is BCR's surprise that the bake sale concept would have anything but a disastrous outcome. It’s hard to believe that students of a highly-ranked learning institution could be so ignorant of national history and so narrow in their thinking.
This article reports Lewis as saying the bake sale was unanimously agreed upon by the club, whose leadership includes Asian and Hispanic students and whose membership is comprised of a wide variety of ethnic backgrounds. "More than half of the voices were female," he added.
Sorry, you’re going to have to try a lot harder to convince me that this was a good idea just because people of different colors and women agreed to it. Stupidity is not exclusive of race, sex or national origin. Or education level, for that matter.
I think it’s safe to say that, in the world of higher education, affirmative action is a far from being a perfect process. It was not designed to help everyone. As we’ve discussed on Hyphen before, having a diverse student body is a hard balance to strike. There are worries about schools being too white, too Asian, et cetera. But just because you are helped through affirmative action does not mean that you were undeserving of an admissions spot. It is frankly insulting to suggest that anyone aided through affirmative action is only qualified by the color of their skin, not their academic acumen.
So the members of BCR can pat themselves on the back for what they see as a novel pro-diversity stand against unfair legislation, but a racist act is a racist act is a racist act. There’s no pride in that. There’s no defending that. In the end, they’ve only accomplished one thing: to reinforce the unflattering stereotype of Republicans unable to empathize with ethnic and minority Americans, women, and the economically disadvantaged.
Ultimately, this little bake sale doesn’t tell me anything new about the race issues in America. But it does reaffirm that this conversation is one that will be ongoing for many years to come. And it certainly makes it hard to defend the conservative rhetoric that liberals are the ones who are ‘elitist’ and ‘out of touch.’