As a Utica College undergrad living in Bell Hall, I frequently made use of the kitchen that they had on each floor of the dorm. It was my way to relieve stress and to stop myself from binging on creations from the cafeteria waffle maker. One Sunday morning, I was up making what Trinidadians call "Bake & Saltfish," a traditional breakfast dish of fried dumplings and seasoned salted codfish. While making her rounds, my floor's Resident Assistant (who happens to be White American) walks into the kitchen to see where the lovely aroma was coming from. After explaining to her what was in the pot, she says, "That smells great! Wow. You people are ALWAYS cooking." She leaves, and I have one of those delayed reactions. "Wait…who are YOU PEOPLE?" Then I thought about the demographic of people that really do cook in my dorm (myself, the african student upstairs, the other West Indian girl down the hall, and an African American guy who used to be a chef). I shrug my shoulders, and continue cooking.
Funny how food can lead to sharp discussions on race. We see this in the battle against the UC Berkeley Republican Student Group regarding their controversial "Increase Diversity Bake Sale" scheduled to be held tomorrow on campus. The goods sold would be priced according to race, gender, and ethnicity as a satirical way to show opposition to the SB 185 bill in the works that would allow the University of California and Cal State University to consider race, gender, and ethnicity in student admissions. So, that freshly dorm-baked cupcake you might want to buy will cost $2 if you're White, $1.50 for Asian/Asian Americans, $1 Latino/Hispanic, $0.75 for Black/African American, and $0.25 if you happen to be Native American. And, even better for me, all women get $0.25 OFF! The UC Berkeley student senators voted yesterday to condemn discriminatory behavior and they believe this falls into that category. I disagree. I don't believe that's the real cupcake issue.
My problem with the bake sale is not that prices were put to ethnicities and genders. If this bake sale was ACTUALLY about increasing diversity, I would have been all for it. This would have been a creative way to illustrate to the campus the way value is placed on people of different backgrounds in our society. However, this event was strategically placed "across from the Affirmative Action Phonebank" which supports the passing of the SB 185 bill. The bake sale wasn't meant to reduce the value of the ethnicities and genders represented, but to show how they believe Affirmative Action works to make it so terribly easy for things to be attainable for Native Americans, Black/ African Americans, and Latinos. This is just another round in the perpetual battle against Affirmative Action which many Whites, see as a form of reverse racism while some ethnic minorities view as a form of unwanted coddling. Even Francisco Loayza IV, the treasurer of the Republican group, stated "People are being judged by their skin color (in Affirmative Action policies). I don't want to be judged because I'm brown." Sorry to break the news to you, Francisco, but you will be judged because you are brown. That's the way America works.
Affirmative Action is NOT the act of bringing in unqualified applicants to take the space of "good ole American White Folk." When used the way it was created, Affirmative Action doesn't give preferential treatment to minorities. It understands that educational and economic biases and barriers still exist in the world we live in. It realizes that resources are NOT equally distributed throughout our country, and this puts some individuals at a severe disadvantage. As documented by the National Assessment of Educational Progress, we see there is an achievement gap between the races. Children of color tend to be concentrated in low-achieving, highly segregated schools, and this plays a role in the quality of education they receive. During my career, I have witnessed extremely bright students in the inner city public school system that, if given better access to higher standards and exposure to better surroundings would have excelled beyond even their own imaginations.
Affirmative Action also realizes that certain races and ethnicities HAVE been wronged throughout America's history and that there are some lasting effects on their growth as a people. Fighting against this is almost saying, "How dare they offer new opportunities to the descendants of Native Americans who were victims of genocide in order for us to have this lovely land we live in. They should be happy with the tax-free reservations we gave them that shrink in size every year." Also, due to the negative experiences and labels given to women and many races in the history of our country, what Claude Steele labels stereotype threats exist, where these groups are "at risk of confirming, as self-characteristic, a negative stereotype about their group" regardless of actual high-ability and talent. Women are still paid less than men for the same jobs, Latinos are viewed as illegal immigrants used for cheap labor, and African Americans are viewed as ebonics-speaking thugs. Without the proper support, it's easy for members of these groups to fall prey to self-fulfilling prophecies and stereotypes. Affirmative Action sees these exterior barriers to their success and tries to help balance the equation.
Diversity should not be such a dirty word. Promoting it doesn't mean lowering standards, nor does it mean the 33% of White undergraduate students enrolled at UC Berkeley will end up much closer to the 4% of African American/ Black or the 1% of American Indian/ Alaskan Native student percentage presently enrolled. In fact, it may actually help White males since there are 6% less men than women enrolled and 10% more Asian/Pacific Islanders in the UC Berkeley population than Whites. Diversity doesn't just mean more women or minorities; it means more EVERYBODY. It is not a hand out to undeserving individuals especially when studies show that "black students who attend the most selective schools in the country go on to do just as well in postgraduate programs and professional attainment as other students from those schools" and every year, we see a large increase in the undergraduate enrollment of women. The UC Berkeley Republican Club should seriously take note of their prices and understand the implications of how races are actually represented and viewed in the education system. Instead of discussing the Affirmative Action way for a "cupcake" of equal value to another to be attained easier, they need to question why the White "cupcake" is for many places valued at a higher cost.