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Making the invisible visible: Campus Republicans’ bake sale

Rodolfo Mendoza-Denton, professor of psychology | September 26, 2011

As reported by CNN here, Berkeley’s campus Republicans are planning a bake sale with a sliding scale for payment, depending on the buyer’s gender and background. According to the organization’s president, “it’s really there to cause people to think more critically about what this kind of policy would do in university admissions.”

The organization is protesting legislation that will let universities in California consider a student’s background in university admissions. At the heart of this protest is the notion that admissions should be “colorblind” – just as we should sell cookies to people on a unitary scale, so should we admit people to universities without regard to their race, ethncity, or gender. This notion, in turn, rests squarely on the assumption that a person’s background doesn’t matter… after all, in our day and age, anyone who pulls themselves up by their own bootstraps can achieve anything they want.

Unfortunately, in our day and age, this assumption continues to be flat-out wrong.

The idea that “race doesn’t matter” — often a well-meaning call to emphasize our common humanity — can be easily corrupted to deny the reality that racism continues to pervade our society, and in so doing perpetuates educational and social inequalities. I have written (e.g., here and here) about the ways in which unconscious racism and discrimination play out in American society by allowing people to justify discriminatory behavior through alternative explanations. But unconscious discrimination is only one example of a pervasively invisible process: inequality built into our institutitions, our social policy, and our society that affects people of different backgrounds differentially from the day they are born.

As this controversy plays out– it’s already a featured headline on — a much less publicized movement has been afoot at Berkeley for some time. It’s called the American Cultures program, and it is a collection of courses that “focus on themes or issues in United States history, society, or culture; address theoretical or analytical issues relevant to understanding race, culture, and ethnicity in American society… and are integrative and comparative in that students study each group in the larger context of American society, history, or culture.” The American Cultures curriculum is a rich set of offerings that not only celebrates the strength of our diversity, but serves to educate us about worlds that may not be apparent to us. These courses make the invisible visible.

Rather than retribution and rage (the organizers are reporting threats to their safety, which is the last thing we need), consider another strategy: education.  Encourage our entire student body to sample widely from the American Cultures curriculum. These courses help clarify what Tim Wise, who was interviewed by CNN about this incident, meant with, “The point that I think needs to be made … is that by the time anyone steps on a college campus … there has already been 12- to 13-years of institutionalized affirmative action for white folks, that is to say, racially embedded inequality, which has benefited those of us who are white.” Some examples:

Education 40AC- Experiencing Education

Political Science 167AC – Racial and Ethnic Politics in the New American Century

Psychology 167AC- Stigma and Prejudice

Public Policty 117AC- Race, Ethnicity, and Public Policy

Sociology 130AC- Social Inequalities

Sociology 137AC- Environmental Justice

The issue of equality and admissions is complex– complex enough that it involves questions of institutionalized racism, unconscious bias, as well as the consideration of racism against whites. But an inflammatory campus bake sale is easily interpreted as a  mean-spirited way to start these discussions. If the organizers of this event want to bring attention to the topic, they might start by taking some of these courses, and by learning about some of the background, history, and psychological processes that they are glazing over with sugar and frosting.

Until then, this is one bake sale that’s not going to tempt me to break my diet.

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Copyright 2011 by Rodolfo Mendoza-Denton; all rights reserved; cross-posted from Psychology Today

Comments to “Making the invisible visible: Campus Republicans’ bake sale

  1. Leo Buc – since documented discrimination occurred
    for *at least* the first 150 years of our country would it be
    fair to say that affirmative action programs could be in place
    for another 100 years or so before we’re likely to go too far with reverse discrimination?

  2. Obama the economic failure and Arrgant idiot claimed pre-election to bring RACE as a national spotlight to discuss and solve — HE DID NOTHING THAT FAILURE! All he does is call people racists for his own failed policies, because he was affirmative action baby. His father was kicked out of HARVARD — get it?

  3. So you think the cookies should cost less for women and minorities?

    You cannot have it both ways. If you believe women and minorities face indistinct challenges not faced by white men, society should cut them a break, so to speak, in whatever tangible ways it can. Obvious examples are hiring, university admissions, and prices.

    Alternatively, if women and minorities do not face additional challenges, if you do not think it productive to attempt to compensate for one type of discrimination by instituting discrimination in the opposite direction, then an individual’s race or gender should not play a role in hiring, admissions, or prices.

    Set aside the mean spirited nature of this specific bake sale. If affirmative action should be instituted for women and minorities in admissions, is it not reasonable to charge members of those groups less in tuition and housing costs? Should the Student Store offer those groups an automatic discount on every purchase?

  4. I must say that to some extent Universities already consider a student’s background as it must be addressed in the admission package.
    However, “Considering a student’s background” is often, contrary to the thoughts of the above writer, a subtle , almost invisible technique, for admitting racially- preferred minorities who could not otherwise qualify.
    The evaluation of a “student’s background” is so subjective, that it is institutionalized racism in action in favor of minorities.
    The cupcake sale addresses the obvious and is an OK idea, but it should not be linked to Republicans if those folks want it to be successful.
    A problem, big problem , with affirmative action is that the beneficiaries are in complete denial that they got an AA benefit. Look at Michele Obama for example.

  5. The “theme” here is a spin off of a “bake sale” op-ed piece that John Stossel (Libertarian) did In NYC some months back with film of the reactions of various factions of the populace to the pricing of the cupcakes he was selling — all to make a point about how our society and systems within put different values on people simply because of the color of their skin.

    Allowing favoritism because of race or ethnicity is ALSO a form of racism and bigotry – so which is right? – that depends on your character and slant – we are all God’s children and He is color blind – until we realize this we will be “stuck on stupid” with regard to this issue because we cannot accept each other as equals – period —

  6. I admire the initiative of using a controversial bake sale to raise awareness of an issue. Haven’t there been studies that have shown affirmative action to be detrimental to minority progress? Follow my logic for a moment: If a minority person applies to a college, and has grades/credentials that are not normally up to par with what the school requires, but is accepted anyways under AA; that person may actually end up losing out by failing out of college, and losing the motivation and will to get back up on the horse and do it again. I’m currently working towards my Master’s of Education online, and as a future teacher, I wonder just how effective Affirmative Action really is, in boosting the inequality gap that most certainly deserves our attention.

  7. i applaud the BCR for dramatizing the problems behind any sort of race-based public policies. your article does little to address the real issue, and i’m afraid you’ve missed the point — well, mostly.

    the most accurate statement in your blurb is “the issue of equality and admissions is complex”. exactly! you say that reverse discrimination is needed as a counterbalance to racism and inequities in the system (my terminology, not yours) but you say nothing that would even come close to suggesting to what extent affirmative-action like legislation is needed. isn’t that convenient, for your side? if affirmative action is needed, to what extent should it be applied? by what institutions? for how many people? for how many years? at what cost to the society at large?

    unless you answer these questions, how will you ever know that you have reached the point where, in fact, reverse discrimination has gone too far?

    you answer none of these questions, which would be the very same questions you would ask your opposition supporting a different agenda. you see, there really is no answer except equality itself, a color-blind, gender-blind, class-blind approach that has zero tolerance for discrimination of any kind.

    that is the answer for the future of an unbiased society. there is no other answer, and no amount of manipulation will change that.

  8. just as we should sell cookies to people on a unitary scale, so should we admit people to universities without regard to their race, ethnicity, or gender.

    A better bake sale equivalent to the current system would be if customers could only buy baked goods that we weren’t allowed to see first.

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