I have no beef with the student Republicans.
Oh, I disagree with them about affirmative action, and probably a dozen other things as well. But I am not troubled — amused, but not troubled — by the way they’ve expressed their view. Unfortunately, others have been less sanguine.
The story goes as follows: the GOP student group at the University of California at Berkeley wanted to illustrate its opposition to pending legislation that would allow state universities to consider race, gender, ethnicity and national origin as factors in admission. So it sponsored an “Increase Diversity Bake Sale,” in which the prices varied according to race. White men were asked to pay $2 for what Asian men could get for $1.50, Latino men for $1, African-American men for 75 cents and Native American men for a quarter. All women received a 25 cent discount off those prices.
If I were going to use baked goods as a metaphor for affirmative action, my price scale would go like this: Black and Native American men would pay $10, Asian and Latino men $7 for brownies white men were able to buy for a buck, and the blacks, the Native Americans, the Asians and the Latinos would have to walk a gauntlet of gunfire, physical assault, name calling and legal roadblocks in order to reach the counter. Women would not be allowed to buy any brownies, but would be required to remain in the kitchen baking them, preferably while barefoot and pregnant.
After 350 years, the black, Latino, Asian and Native American men would get a $5 discount off the original prices (do the math) but they’d have to listen to white men carp about the gross unfairness of it all. Women would also get a discount, but would have to sweep up the bakery after it closed.
That said, I’m troubled at the response the GOP students have faced. There has been outrage, which is fair, but they say they’ve also been harassed and threatened online, which is not.
One student protesting the sale told a reporter it was hurtful, “attacking underrepresented communities by reducing their communities to a cheaply priced good.”
But even granting the vulnerability felt by such students, would we do them any favors, do we prepare them for the world, by treating them as delicate flowers who must be shielded from all that is hurtful? We might do better teaching them to cope with the hurtful things that will inevitably come.
The contretemps sparked a resolution from the student senate reportedly and ominously noting the power of a separate student Judiciary Council to defund any group that discriminates and condemning “the use of discrimination whether it is in satire or in seriousness by any student group.”
The resolution thus combined politically correct censorship, and short-sighted overreach, laying out a rubric which, writ large, would outlaw the likes of Chris Rock, Mark Twain, Richard Pryor, Norman Lear, Stephen Colbert, and other satirists who have used discrimination to make trenchant political points.
Thankfully, the “racist bake sale” and a counter protest went on last week as planned. There was no violence, just vigorous debate and a visceral reminder of what a messy, dangerous, and powerful tool the founders entrusted to us when they said we had the right to speak our minds.
Let freedom ring.
ABOUT THE WRITER
Leonard Pitts Jr., winner of the 2004 Pulitzer Prize for commentary, is a columnist for the Miami Herald, 1 Herald Plaza, Miami, Fla. 33132. Readers may write to him via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org. He chats with readers every Wednesday from 1 p.m. to 2 p.m. EDT at Ask Leonard.