Did Berkeley's 'racist' bake sale go too far?
College Republicans at the University of California in Berkeley held a bake sale that priced baked goods at different prices for different ethnicities. Was it effective satire or over the top?
The bake sale was supposed to be a satire, bringing attention to what organizers feel is a discriminating and racist bill, now on the desk of California Gov. Jerry Brown, that would allow the state's university systems to consider race, ethnicity, and gender in admission decisions.Skip to next paragraph
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By the measure of media exposure, the Berkeley College Republicans' event was an unqualified success, making headlines across the country for the peculiar pricing system on its baked goods: $2 for whites, $1.50 for Asians, $1 for Latinos, and so on.
By the measure of satire, many thought a stunt that organizers acknowledged was "inherently racist" went too far, with the Berkeley student association condemning the methodology and school administrators endorsing that position.
By the measure of Berkeley itself, however, it was in many ways business as usual. As the home of the free-speech movement, Berkeley is nothing if not opinionated.
Two hours after the bake sale opened Tuesday, a counterprotest was already in full swing, with black-clad students lying down in the main campus quadrangle. Other groups distributed pink "conscious cupcakes" as a why-can't-we-all-just-hold-hands alternative.
Earlier this month, when Berkeley's "protest season" began, students angered by tuition hikes occupied a campus building, with several protesters throwing rocks, bottles, and chairs at police officers. In March, the same topic led six protesters to chain themselves together and stand on a fourth-story ledge.
“This has created the dialogue we wanted,” Shawn Lewis, president of the Berkeley College Republicans, told the Los Angeles Times. “Berkeley is the home of the free-speech movement. We want to be sure it doesn’t become the capital of political correctness.”
But some analysts say the message of the event may have been lost amid the confusion and anger that accompanied it.
“What events like this do more than anything is bring attention and media coverage, but as far as providing rational debate, they don’t work until things have calmed way down,” says David Johnson, CEO of Strategic Vision LLC, a public relations and political consulting agency. “It becomes more about anger than thinking when the event goes over the top and people get turned off.”
The bake sale was taking aim at Senate Bill 185, which would allow the universities in the California and California State systems to consider race, gender, ethnicity, and national origin in admissions, so long as those factors do not become a determining factor. SB 185 seeks to mitigate Proposition 209, which banned affirmative action in state institutions in 1996. Proponents of SB 185 say it does not run afoul of Prop. 209 because it says race can be considered only as one criteria among many.