Berkeley Bakes Cupcakes But No Fresh Ideas

Oct 3, 2011

I wanted to have a word about that cupcake sale the Berkeley College Republicans hosted last week at their school, the University of California, Berkeley. You know, the one where they priced the cupcakes differently according to who was supposedly going to buy them. According to the pricing plan the Berkeley Republicans came up with: white kids were to pay the most ($2), Native Americans the least (25 cents), with Asians, Latinos and Blacks all paying different prices in between, and women got an additional 25 cents off.

The cupcake caper was, they say, a protest against legislation that would allow California Public Universities to consider race in student admissions. My colleague Jacki Lyden interviewed Shawn Lewis, president of the Berkeley College Republicans last week, and this is what he said:

"This pricing structure specifically got a lot of the outrage. And that was the main point of our message, was that treating people differently or discriminatorily, based on race or color of their skin, is inherently wrong. And so we really wanted to create emotional response and dialog because of that pricing structure. And I think we did accomplish that."

Mr. Lewis goes on to say that he became upset that other students were ... well, upset. Apparently harsh words were directed at the group.

Really, having intentionally created a provocation, he's upset that the targets of the stunt felt provoked? You're kidding me, right?

But all's well that ends well because the group made $800, and of course got some publicity, including from us.

Jacki also talked to the President of the student body, Vishalli Loomba, who said she was upset because the other students on campus were upset.

"Students were very uncomfortable at the event and felt extremely offended, and felt unwelcome and unwanted on campus. And it created a very divisive and uncomfortable environment."

Can I just tell you what makes me upset?

That students going to an incredible school like UC Berkeley can't come up with a more original way to make a point or have a more intellectually honest discussion about that point.

This is at least the third of these affirmative action whine fests involving baked goods put on by some group on some campus somewhere that's made it into the news. Cookies were the thing last time, but at least the Berkeley group was on trend with cupcakes.

But if you want to do that again, how about you tell the whole story about the role of race in apportioning social goods? We could start with that free land handed over to European immigrants that formerly belonged to guess who? Or the value of the free labor provided for centuries on that land by guess who else? Or we could bring in the data suggests that minorities even with the same income and credit profile as their white neighbors are often steered into more expensive and riskier mortgages and car loans. Or let's factor in the benefits to white students of alumni legacy admissions, the data showing the relationship between family assets and school performance. Hey, let's throw in the benefits of that private school tuition that your parents — or grandparents — paid for. Or that superior public school district that your parents got into with the benefit of the equity from the house that your grandparents owned in a neighborhood where black and brown people weren't allowed to live in back in the day. And let's not forget those SAT prep courses, and the music, art and tutoring that routinely get wiped out of inner city and rural schools. And then for good measure, let's talk about the school guidance counselor who probably went to school with or socializes with the admissions directors of the schools those College Republicans want to go to. You get the point.

But as for the other kids who say they felt unwelcome and uncomfortable because of a bake sale ... well, isn't it long past time for minority kids — some of whose parents are probably professors on, if not that campus, then another one somewhere — to allow themselves to have their chains jerked by some other kids just because they feel like it?

I bet you on a campus like Berkeley's, the College Republicans are almost as much of a minority as many ethnic minority kids are. And while I certainly understand that for a black or Latino kid who might be the first in his family to go to college and has a lot riding on that, having some chucklehead continually questioning his or her right to be there, is rough. But it's not as rough as picking cotton or beans in the hot sun.

So excuse me if I say, man up. Or better yet — get your cupcake with your discount. Pay the Native American female price: $0. Hey, pay what they think is the white male price. Where I live, a decent cupcake will set you back $3.25, you still come out ahead. And then take them across the street, resell them for what you think they are worth, and then use the proceeds to throw a slamming party and invite everybody who felt unwelcome and uncomfortable.

Diverse this, baby! That would be a real marketplace of ideas.

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