Affirmative action 'bake sale' at Berkeley smells of racism

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Say it ain’t so! We always hear that our young people are so progressive, open, and accepting of diversity, particularly on college campus in the 21st Century.

Yet, at UC Berkeley one has to wonder, what would possess a group of young, white, vibrant, well-educated, college Republicans on such a racially diverse and heralded campus to host a controversial and inflammatory bake sale whereby the baked items were priced by race so that whites had to pay more than blacks, Latinos or others for the same cupcake, cookie or pie. Wasn’t there a better way to express their views?

Call me crazy, but it’s almost as if America has gone backwards with respect to racial civility and progress over the past few years. And that is not meant as a swipe at the president being a black man, as much as it is a swipe at America’s silent seething obsession with all things racial. Of course all you need to stir the proverbial pot is a bad U.S. economy, college students graduating with debt and no jobs to go to, a presidential election on the horizon, a GOP primary where audience members applaud the death penalty and boo gay soldiers and BAM! Race and talk of so-called “preferential treatment” predictably enters the picture.

Sadly for us as Americans, this episode among our nation’s best and brightest students shows that the ugly specter of race and old arguments over who is entitled to what has yet to leave our consciousness. And despite the gains and progress made from the civil rights and women’s movements a new generation of Americans has lost touch with the history that made such policies necessary, and makes them still necessary to this day.

I, like many upwardly mobile blacks have given up trying to explain to our white peers why affirmative action is historically legitimate, legal, and necessary. They see one successful black woman: Oprah, or President and Mrs. Obama or Will and Jada Pinkett Smith, Jay-Z and Beyoncé and they simply do not understand why black people in America are still in too many instances left out and left behind.

The real irony, however, is that if we are going to engage in real honest discussions about affirmative action, then we have to start with perceptions versus reality. It is a well documented fact that white women have been the biggest beneficiaries of affirmative action policies in college admissions, graduate and professional schools, medical schools, corporations, law firms, and industry. While white women still too often hit the glass ceiling, the nation’s present unemployment rate for black Americans is at 16.7 percent, with a racial wealth gap according to a 2011 US Census report that is growing beyond repair.

Yet, blacks are always the target of law suits and anti-affirmative action protests when we are admitted to school versus a white student who was denied admission. Folks this is not a new
argument: The US Supreme Court addressed this issue in the Bakke vs. UC Board of Regents case in 1977, and Justice Powell writing for the court said, “race should be used as a factor” in admissions.

Of course that case was re-examined in the Gratz v. Bollinger in 2003 which said that such admissions based on a point system on race violated the equal protections clause of the fourteenth amendment.

The bottom line is most of the inequities that we see in the workplace and in life stem from a lack of access to a quality education for black and brown people. Thus affirmative action educational policies which started in the 1970s helped to usher in at least two generations of the black middle class that we see now.

There would be no President Barack Obama or Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor without robust affirmative action policies. In short, the controversy that has erupted on UC Berkeley’s campus, and spread to a few others is a symptom of a problem that runs much deeper than college admissions.

It is a symptom of a nation that still wrestles with equality of opportunity for all Americans, when some Americans (in this case white college students at Berkley) refuse to acknowledge the benefits of having white skin (see Prof. Andrew Hacker’s New York Times best-selling book “Black, White, Separate and Unequal”) and believe that it is them who are entitled to legacy admissions, legacy access, and legacy success in America.