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‘Racist’ Berkeley bake sale protests legislature

A BAKE SALE at the University of California, Berkeley sponsored by the Berkeley College Republicans has drawn international attention recently after the club announced that it would price its goods based on the race of the customer. Baked goods were sold at $2 for Caucasians, $1.50 for Asians, $1 for Latin Americans, $0.75 for African-Americans, and $0.25 for Native Americans. A $0.25 discount was granted to women of any race.

The event drew immediate attention from the public in the United States and around the world for its brazen racism—much to the delight of the organizers, who were hoping to evoke such a reaction.

When put into context, the event is not a wantonly racist move but a brilliant and biting piece of satire on the part of the campus Republicans. The bake sale was planned in protest of SB 185, a bill being considered by California Governor Jerry Brown. The bill would allow public universities to consider race, gender, and ethnicity in the admissions process. The campus Republicans think  it is racist to discriminate based on these factors and tried to draw a comparison—if you found the bake sale racist, then you should find the bill racist, too.

The Berkeley College Republicans were not wrong in their assessment of the bill. To permit universities to take race, gender, and country of origin into account during admissions will undoubtedly allow for bias in the admissions process. It is important to recognize that the bill does not require such a system; the bill allows ethnicity, gender, and national original to be taken into account—it does not mandate it.

This sort of selection based on diversity happens in businesses quite frequently, where hiring committees take into account minorities before Caucasian applicants. The bill is not the introduction of something new, but the institutionalization of a process already convention in universities—especially professional programs like medicine or law—and businesses.

The reactions to the bake sale, as well as those to the bill, have been widely overblown, but what the attention to the public is highlight is how sensitive issues of race and equality are in America and across the Western world.

If a study came out showing that the 2012–13 admitted class at the University of Ottawa was 99 per cent white, what would be the first word on everyone’s lips? Even if there were a reasonable explanation, everyone would be thinking: Racism.

It is a fundamental responsibility—a cornerstone—of any democratic government to protect its minority populations. This is especially true in the United States, where their soldiers fought its bloodiest war on home soil over minority race rights only 78 years after it won its independence. SB 185 does exactly what democratic governments are supposed to do: It protects California’s minorities and helps to ensure their opportunities

The word “racism” evokes a powerful reaction. Racism occurs when traditional norms and values aren’t questioned—so maybe it’s a good thing that bill SB 185 is being debated. But it’s also important that, if we see a social norm being ingrained in institutions such as businesses and universities, that legislation is put into place to regulate it. Let’s face it: Universities already offer scholarships and bursaries exclusively for minority students. It’s not that much of a stretch to officially state race is a factor in admission decisions.

—Ryan Mallough