Thursday, September 29, 2011

The Big Bad Berkeley Bake Sale

On Tuesday, students at UC Berkeley protested proposed legislation that would explicitly incorporate race and gender preferences into the university admissions process by holding a bake sale that explicitly incorporates race and gender preferences into the price charged for a cupcake.

The group organizing the bake sale said on their Facebook page “Just like the CA Senate Bills 185 and 387 the phone bank supports, we will be considering race, gender, ethnicity, national/geographic origin and other relevant factors to ensure the equitable distribution of baked goods to our diverse student body."

What is striking is how the coverage and reaction to this event is focused on the “racist” aspects of the bake sale prices and is completely oblivious to the underlying purpose of the event. A article notes that the Berkeley student body President Vishalli Loomba said many students who attended a community meeting Monday night expressed disgust that the bake sale would take place. She goes on to say, "as a woman of color, when I first saw the event, I was appalled someone would post something like this on the Internet -- not only a different pay structure, but also to rank the races," she said. "It trivializes the struggles that people have been through and their histories.”

They must not teach satire or irony at Berkeley.

Stating what should be the obvious, Shawn Lewis, the bake sale organizer, completely agrees with Ms. Loomba, "the event is inherently racist, but that is the point.”

To be clear, we’re not equating the historic struggle for racial and gender equality to the struggle of white dudes trying to get into Berkeley, but we are pointing out that CNN and others continue to focus on the headline grabbing aspects of a news event while completely ignoring the real substantive issues.

The CNN article successfully establishes that everyone, including the organizer, agrees that the pricing at the bake sale is “inherently racist.” Crack reporting. What’s missing is any discussion of the real, substantive issue – whether, and how, race, gender and/or ethnicity should factor into university admissions.

For example, if they spent more than 12 minutes on the story, we’re positive they could have found quotes such as these (all made up by us, by the way):

“UC schools, including Berkeley, should have the ability to compose a student body in the way that they see fit in order to provide the best educational experience for its customers (i.e. the students and their parents).”

“I’ve been part of incredibly homogenous groups as well as incredibly diverse groups, and I absolutely believe that diversity of people, cultures and thought is a huge net benefit to any organization, group or society.”

“Diversity is a ‘sum of the whole, is better than the sum of the parts’ argument, and it’s every bit as applicable to the composition of an incoming freshman class as it would be to the composition of a project team in business, or a sports team. Just look at the diverse set of role players on the Tampa Bay Rays ($41 million in payroll) who last night beat out the superstar-laden Boston Red Sox ($162 million in payroll) for the last American League playoff spot.”

“Blindly insisting on various racial and gender quotas and requirements is the wrong approach to diversity. Instead of forcing “preference” to specific races or genders, universities should have the freedom to look at multiple factors when selecting the 18 year olds that will make up their next incoming class – factors that may include race, gender and culture, but should also include GPA, SAT scores, writing ability, athletic ability, extracurricular activities, motivations, life experiences, etc.. Selecting students solely by their race or gender is bad, but it’s just as bad as selecting students solely by their GPAs and SAT scores.”

Quotes like these would add some much needed depth to the discussion and debate, moving it past the easy and predicable “racism” slant and more towards a nuanced and informative news article that addresses the substantive issues surrounding the debate. This is just one example of our media’s disturbing preference to focus on the headline grabbing aspects of a news story, even if it’s a secondary or even totally irrelevant aspect of that story.

Another high profile example of this behavior was when Gov. Rick Perry called Social Security a “Ponzi Scheme” during a recent debate. The media spend more time debating whether Social Security met the Webster's Dictionary definition of a “Ponzi Scheme” than it did discussing the fundamental substance of the comment – i.e. Social Security is broken and needs to be fixed.

It’s a disease that’s spreading quickly – the media and government continue to focus their limited attention spans on the sensational, yet relatively unimportant, issues of the day, while the important and substantive issues get ignored and continue to fester.


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