Over the past few years, the most popular way to protest affirmative action on college campuses hasn't been through demonstrations or rallies but with bake sales. In such sales, desserts are offered to racial groups for different prices--ones that supposedly reflect how easy it is for them to gain college admission. Just last Wednesday, the Texas Tech chapter of the Young Conservatives of Texas held such a bake sale. The group charged Asians and whites the most for baked goods and charged blacks, Latinos and Native Americans the least. Why? Because the "liberal elite" favors the latter groups, according to the Young Conservatives.
"Our kind of feeling about it is that the system of affirmative action, you're basically saying that, 'OK, we do this so that way some races or groups of people, ethnicities, gender aren't subject to being left out,'" group chairman Jeramy Kitchen remarked.
But affirmative action does not exist because the liberal elite favors blacks, Latinos and Native Americans, nor does it function to prevent groups from being left out. It exists to help counteract the racial discrimination certain minority groups historically faced and continue to face today. It seems that Kitchen has no idea that at one point in time people of color were barred outright from entering predominantly white academic institutions or working in predominantly white industries. While it is illegal for institutions to discriminate on the basis of race or sex today, minority groups and women continue to earn less money than white males in the workplace. Moreover, studies have shown that discrimination in housing and employment remains strong, with landlords and companies explicitly discriminating against applicants with "ethnic" names. One study found that while job applicants with "white-sounding" names needed to send an average of 10 resumes to get a callback, applicants of equal caliber with "black-sounding" names needed to send an average of 15 resumes, or 50 percent more than whites, to get a callback. Employers even discriminated against applicants based on the neighborhoods they lived in, with those in white, affluent neighborhoods most likely to be called in for an interview.
In short, even in the new millennium, the playing field remains unequal. Because it largely benefits whites, it's irresponsible for the Young Conservatives to behave as if whites are at a disadvantage in academia. The idea for the affirmative action bake sale isn't just flawed for operating as if blacks, Latinos and Native Americans somehow have it easier than whites. It's flawed for operating as if race is the sole factor admissions officers take into consideration about applicants. Black and Latino students must still earn good grades and perform well on standardized tests, not to mention partake in extracurricular activities, to gain admission to topnotch universities. Having dark skin alone doesn't guarantee any minority admission to college. When groups such as the Young Conservatives decide to sell cookies to black women for $0.25 and white men for $1via affirmative action bake sales, this myth is perpetuated, however.
Discrimination isn't the sole reason that some colleges and universities practice affirmative action. Such institutions have made diversity a priority not just to right historical wrongs but also because research has shown that students receive a better education in an environment in which they're exposed to a variety of people and viewpoints. Critical thinking and analytical skills are fostered when students interact with classmates from diverse backgrounds. Hence, affirmative action exists for the benefit of students from all racial backgrounds, not just the historically oppressed.
Unfortunately, many Americans have a long way to go in their thinking about affirmative action. Oklahoma Rep. Sally Kern is a case in point. While discussing a proposed constitutional amendment that aims to end affirmative action in the state, Kern suggested Wednesday that there are a disproportionate number of blacks in prison because African Americans don't want to study as hard in school.
"I've taught school, and I saw a lot of people of color who didn't study hard because they said the government would take care of them," she said. After public outcry, Kern retracted her remarks. Sadly, they reveal the same line of thinking behind affirmative action bake sales: Minorities are lazy cheats who work the system and use affirmative action to the detriment of whites. Did it ever occur to Kern and the Young Conservatives that the minorities who strive to get into college are among the hardest working individuals in their respective ethnic groups. People of color who are off committing crimes and working the system spend their time doing just that, not trying to get into college.