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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?

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This reading of the law should pass legal muster, says William Tierney, director of the Center for Higher Education Policy Analysis at the University of Southern California, which is not part of the state university system.

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“Simply because the law says that race, gender, and nationality can be taken into account doesn’t suddenly mean that whites or Asian Americans are suddenly in danger of being discriminated against,” he says.

The Berkeley College Republicans disagree, so when the Berkeley's student association set up a phone bank to encourage students to call Governor Brown and lobby for SB 185, they took a page from the playbook of college Republicans nationwide. Indeed, the Berkeley College Republicans didn't invent the idea of a "diversity bake sale." The Wall Street Journal cites one at the University of California at Los Angeles as far back as 2003.

But combine the rise of social media with Berkeley's leftward tilt, and the result was a media explosion.

When the Bucknell University Conservatives Club initiated what they called an anti-Affirmative Action bake sale in 2009, the university shut it down.

“The students did not follow the rules that all student groups must to host events in campus spaces, and did not offer the option to customers to pay whatever
price they wanted,” says Bucknell spokeswoman Julia Ferrante. (The Berkeley Republicans offered the prices only as recommendations.)

“Instead, all prices were based on race, which violates laws against discrimination and the university's related policy against discrimination," says Ms. Ferrante. "We therefore ended the event.”

At Berkeley, Chancellor Robert Birgenau released a statement saying the strong reactions to the bake sale provided “a vivid lesson that issues of race, ethnicity and gender are far from resolved."

To some, the bake sale represented a backward view. The satire "is rooted in the historical and racial contract fabric of white supremacy and the decline of whiteness in a continuous browning society,” says Chad Dion Lassiter, president of Black Men at Penn at the University of Pennsylvania School of Social Policy & Practice.

To others, it directed a spotlight toward an issue that needs discussion.

“It was a great way to start a conversation – and for sociologists that is always good,” says Lori Brown, a sociologist at Meredith College in Raleigh, N.C.

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