Editorial: Controversial bake sale illustrated legitimate point

Esteban Diaz | Editorial Cartoonist
Esteban Diaz | Editorial Cartoonist

We’ve all heard the phrase that someone cannot have their cake and eat it too, but what about cupcakes?

Students in conservative groups at the University of California – Berkeley protested Affirmative Action policies by having a bake sale where they sold cupcakes at prices based on customers’ race and gender. If you happen to be a white male, you’d pay the most at $2. Native Americans pay just 25 cents. All women get 25 cents off of their purchase.

Califorinia Gov. Jerry Brown is faced with a proposed piece of legislation that the conservative groups are protesting. If he signs the legislation into law, it will promote the use of racial consideration in admissions decisions for public California schools.

Critics of the bake sale are arguing that the bake sale is, on its face, discriminatory and therefore bad. Critics seem to be missing one small detail: that’s the whole point.

In a Sept. 27 opinion piece for the San Francisco Chronicle columnist Chip Johnson argues, “There’s not only a distinct difference, but a distinguishable line whenever the issue is race relations: You never, ever, ever speak in generalizations about any ethnic group, because people of similar color and ethnic makeup aren’t all the same. …Everyone in America should understand that rule, but these students chose to ignore it.”

It is Johnson and other critics who are ignoring that rule. These students are drawing attention to it.

That’s the whole point of the bake sale. Why is it so difficult for people to understand? Even members within the same racial groups have not faced the same discriminatory factors that are used to justify affirmative action policies. There are white men who have experienced great difficulties in being able to go to college and African-American women who have been given a wide variety of advantages that are not available to everyone.

Neither experience is typical for everyone. Neither experience is representative of anyone other than the individual who experienced it. So why is it that affirmative action policies can say that certain races face discrimination in admissions decisions and others do not? They can’t.

It seems unfathomable that someone could make so little effort to try to understand the point that someone they disagree with is making. It’s one thing to make an argument that overall affirmative action policies help society — there are arguments to be made for that — but it’s another to take two very similar things and say that one is racist and the other is not. Critics like Johnson have to bury their face in the sand to come up with the arguments they’re making in response to this bake sale.

Affirmative action policies are, by definition, discriminatory. Whether they have merit is another debate that is certainly worth having, but there is no reasonable argument to be made that policies that discriminate based on race are not … well, discriminatory. If you take race into admissions decisions, you’re factoring race into admissions decisions. It’s that simple.

These conservatives are simply making that point. If you’re OK with purchasing cheaper cupcakes at a tiered pricing scale based on the color of your skin, then you can accept such policies. The problem is that critics of the bake sale are calling it racist and then still arguing in favor of affirmative action policies.

Talk about having your cupcake and eating it too. Very seldom is it so literal.