Racism and affirmative action
On Sept. 26, the University of California, Berkeley College Republicans created a nation-wide controversy by holding an intentionally racist and sexist bake sale; women and those of ethnic minorities were charged less per pastry than were their white male counterparts, with Native American women receiving their confections free of charge.
No one argues that the bake sale was not racist. It was intended to be so, and CNN quotes president Shawn Lewis as saying, “We agree that the event is inherently racist, but that is the point.” The bake sale was analogous to affirmative action, which will be permissible on a college level in California if Senate Bill 185 (SB 185) is made law. Though the analogy is imperfect, the idea is the same: minorities are, in general, economically disadvantaged, and because of conditions beyond their control, need extra help getting into college. The bake sale kept things on a purely economic level, with disadvantaged minorities and women having to pay less because of the aforementioned conditions. The discount for women is misguided, as it is harder for men than women to get into college, but the sexist implications of the bake sale were not the main issue.
Those who are offended by the racist nature of the bake sale are making its point: Affirmative action is a fundamentally racist concept, and its implementation goes against racial equality. One can argue for the merits of affirmative action until blue in the face, but the fact that all things being equal—and as a recent study from the Center for Equal Opportunity shows, even when they’re not—a black college applicant will be accepted over a white one is racist by definition. To be for affirmative action and against racism, as I think most proponents of the former would claim to be, is an Orwellian exercise in double-think. To be against racism in every case except affirmative action is simply hypocritical.
The argument for affirmative action comes in two forms. Either whites have oppressed minorities to the point that they are noticeably lower on the economic totem pole, a situation which must be corrected, or minorities are noticeably lower on the economic totem pole than are their white counterparts, a situation which still must be corrected. The former assumes that whites are complicit in the potential crimes of their ancestors, a clearly erroneous claim, while the latter has to do with undeniable structural and social issues.
The latter, therefore, has some weight to it, but one cannot in good conscience support a program that discriminates by race. This does not mean that the issue of the poor being locked into self-perpetuating cycles of poverty does not exist, or that it should not be dealt with, but that race should be removed entirely from the equation. I, along with many Washington University students, was fortunate enough to grow up in a relatively privileged home, in the safe, wealthy suburb of a major metropolitan area, and my high school is consistently ranked as one of the top 100 public schools in the nation. Point for point, my counterpart from the inner city could never compete, and no one in his situation could. I am glad that schools make allowances for such discrepancies. Affirmative action makes the assumption that minorities are disadvantaged—itself having dubious moral implications—but to really deal with the issue, it must be expanded to include everyone, regardless of ethnicity.
The UC-Berkeley College Republicans caused a firestorm in liberal America, but while much of their attention has been negative, they brought an important issue to light. Affirmative action, and race-based discrimination in general, is morally wrong. The Republicans were wildly successful in raising awareness for their cause, and I hope not only that they will be pleased with the fate of SB 185, but also that affirmative action throughout America will be replaced with a fairer, racially-blind, economically oriented alternative.