Bake sale stirs up racism debate

Kevin Foote/Staff
Salih Muhammad, chair of the campus Black Student Union, spoke at the ASUC emergency senate meeting on Sunday night.

Student leaders from various organizations have publicly denounced the Berkeley College Republicans’ plans to hold an “Increase Diversity Bake Sale,” where the race of the consumer would determine the price of a baked good.

The bake sale, announced Thursday evening in a Facebook post, is intended to protest the affirmative action-like bill, SB 185 — currently awaiting Gov. Jerry Brown’s signature — in a satirical manner, according to Shawn Lewis, the organization’s president.

Almost immediately after the event’s announcement, student backlash exploded, with Facebook commenters calling the event “racist,” “pathetic,” and “offensive.”

“We’re not open to being reduced to a price at a bake sale,” said Salih Muhammad, chair of the campus Black Student Union, in an interview with The Daily Californian Senior Editorial Board Sunday. “There’s a certain point where satire becomes disrespectful.”

The event’s announcement stirred such enormous student outcry that an emergency meeting of the ASUC Senate was called for Sunday to discuss the controversy. At the meeting, the senate unanimously passed a bill promoting and defining respectful conduct for student organizations but did not specifically discuss defunding the organization.

ASUC External Affairs Vice President Joey Freeman condemned the bake sale in a statement following the emergency senate meeting.

“My disappointment is not in their policy stance, but rather in their tactics,” he said in the statement. “The bake sale planned for Tuesday is an offensive event that has deeply hurt and insulted members of our campus family.”

As an organization that receives funding from the ASUC — it received $3,791.11 this fiscal year, according to ASUC Executive Vice President Chris Alabastro — the Berkeley College Republicans is subject to having its sponsorship revoked.

According to the ASUC constitution, the senate “shall not fund any activity or group which discriminates against any student by race, color, religion, marital status, national origin, sex, age, sexual orientation, physical disability, or political activity, or belief in its method or recruitment and acceptance for membership.”

ASUC President Vishalli Loomba said in an email before the emergency senate meeting that punitive measures are “definitely a possibility.”

Lewis said that the event is specifically meant to protest the ASUC-sponsored phone bank in which students are encouraged to call in support of SB 185 to the governor.

He said the ASUC’s event makes it sound like “Berkeley students have one voice.”

“They never asked the other side,” he said.

Lewis added the Berkeley College Republicans is an extremely diverse organization whose board of directors — which decided to hold the bake sale — consists of members of all racial backgrounds.

“People just keep screaming that it’s a bunch of white kids,” he said.

Although he said the bake sale is meant to be a satire, many community leaders said they did not see the joke.

“When I was an undergraduate at Cal in the early 2000s the Berkeley College Republicans did this exact same stunt, and it was just as offensive then too,” said UC Student Regent Alfredo Mireles Jr. in a joint press release with Student Regent-designate Jonathan Stein. “It is disappointing that these politically engaged Berkeley students decided to deal with this issue in an immature and offensive way that will make some Berkeley students not feel welcomed on their own campus.”

UC Berkeley student Marco Amaral said that while he was dismayed by the announcement of the bake sale, he was impressed with student response.

“The initial reaction of the community was a beautiful thing,” he said. “The multicultural community on campus stands in unity against racism, sexism and any type of prejudice.”

The emergency town hall was just one of many student reactions to the bake sale. A counter protest, the “Conscious Cupcakes Giveaway,” is planned for the same day as the bake sale.