BCR Bake Sale Diverts Attention

BCR Bake Sale Diverts Attention

If nothing else, the recent Berkeley College Republicans’ “Increase Diversity Bake Sale” proves that nothing is sacred in the culture of the current sensationalism-based media. In case you were wondering, it is indeed possible to create a national news debacle over a cupcake. That’s right. Bake sales are no longer merely benevolent, mother-run fundraisers, but also strategic political ploys for attention.

On Sept. 27, the Berkeley College Republicans held their largely inflammatory, negligibly satirical bake sale in opposition to Senate Bill 185, a bill that attempts to reincorporate the consideration of race, gender, and other non-academic factors into the admissions process of UCs and CSUs.

In an attempt to mirror the perceived inequality of SB 185, the BCR used a tiered price ladder that subsidized the cost of the pastries based on race and gender. A white man had to pay $2.00 for a cupcake, whereas a Native American woman could eat for free.

Of course, as expected, the already diverse and famously liberal Berkeley student body erupted in outrage, staging counter-protests and picketing their stand. For every allegedly racist Republican, there was a fervent liberal screaming “kiss my (insert ethnicity) a**!” Newspapers and news stations from here to Bangladesh brought in teams to report on the fiasco and squeeze in an interview with the more than obliging President of the Berkeley College Republicans, Shawn Lewis.

The irony is that SB 185, a bill that could have been of enormous importance to California students, fell by the wayside. The debate became whether or not BCR was racist, not whether SB 185 was racist. Actually, the debate, if one could even call it that, focused nearly exclusively on affirmative action, which despite the overzealous rhetoric of the BCR, is not an accurate characterization of the bill.

From a purely political standpoint, the tactic of equating SB 185 with affirmative action is wise. The already hashed and rehashed topic of affirmative action tends to leave a bitter taste in the mouths of upper-middle-class white students at a school like Miramonte. The tendency is to believe that affirmative action is a form of reverse racism—stealing from the rich to give to the poor. And honestly, there is merit to the case against affirmative action, which is why the BCR was so eager to tie in the buzz topic.

However, while admittedly similar, SB 185 isn’t affirmative action. At the heart of affirmative action is a call to action. It explicitly calls for preferential treatment of different ethnicities, which is where it runs into trouble. Those whose race has been institutionally entrenched in poverty are given added weight in the admissions process to compensate for the inherent advantages of the wealthy and white. The intentions of affirmative action are 100 percent right, but the vigorous method of implementation has inadvertently created an unfortunate and undesired “us vs. them” mentality.

SB 185, on the other hand, doesn’t call for much of anything. All the bill really does is state the obvious. SB 185 supports the universal desire to increase diversity within the California higher educational system and close the gap between wealthier races and traditionally disadvantaged races. Literally the only change SB 185 makes to the admissions processes is that it allows the consideration of race. It doesn’t require the consideration; it merely permits with no decipherable method of enforcement. However, despite that, SB 185’s legality has been called into question because of Proposition 209, which prohibits preferential treatment based on race, gender, etc.

To its credit, SB 185 does regulate itself to remain inside the constraints of the 14th Amendment, which allows for the “narrowly tailored use of race in admissions decisions to further a compelling interest in obtaining the educational benefits that flow from a diverse student body.” Thus, SB 185 is in effect just a declaration of the sentiments expressed by proponents of affirmative action without any real far-reaching plan to implement those sentiments. Essentially, it’s a bunch of well-intentioned sweet nothings.

But Lewis, the outspoken ringleader of the bake sale, would never admit to any of that. He has no desire to discuss SB 185 respectfully and intelligently. The message means nothing to Lewis if his name isn’t publicly attached to it in flashing lights. In this case, the messenger became the message.

Lewis knows what all politicians know: rational discourse rarely makes for a big political debut. Thus, it’s no surprise that he opted for the tried and true method of the largely nonsensical shock factor. Let’s be honest. The bake sale has virtually no correlation to either SB 185 or affirmative action. At the core of affirmative action is the inherent scarcity of spaces at elite schools. The concern is whether a seemingly less qualified minority student will trump the standard overachieving white student. Raising the price on cupcakes for white students doesn’t affect the scarcity of cupcakes. The only way to effectively simulate affirmative action would be to limit the amount of cupcakes sold to white men in order to provide pastries for all of the other minorities. Alas, that’s not nearly as scandalous as implying that an African American can’t afford a cookie.

Thus, Governor Jerry Brown’s recent veto of SB 185 must have come to the relief of the BCR. They can tell themselves that their precious ideology remains intact and vindicated. However, the death of SB 185 does not come at the hands of the BCR. The only debate that the BCR won was the false one it contrived and publicized. Brown even admitted that he fundamentally agreed with the tenets of SB 185, but he didn’t want to risk decades of expensive lawsuits to prove it. Thus, the real kill shot to SB 185 came from rational thinking, the very thing Lewis lacks yet Brown wields.