Opinion: A half-baked protest against affirmative action

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The anti-affirmative-action bake sale at UC Berkeley is tasteless, but is it also racist? The sale, in which pastries will be priced differently by race, is typical of a snot-nose conservatism that has been a staple of campus life for decades. But its underlying point -- that affirmative action programs value applicants differently on the basis of race -- is an adult argument embraced by no less than the chief justice of the United States.

I think the argument is wrong, and that both of the claims for affirmative action are compelling: that it promotes diversity and that, in the case of African Americans in particular, it remedies past discrimination. But the opposing argument is a principled if simplistic one: As Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. famously put it, ‘It is a sordid business, this divvying us up by race.’


Roberts is an exponent of the color-blind Constitution, which is one way to interpret the 14th Amendment’s guarantee of equal protection of the laws. The other is to regard it as a charter for the improvement in the lives and status of African Americans. (This argument doesn’t track so well with the ‘diversity’ rationale for affirmative action, but you can locate that in the 1st Amendment.)

Opposition to affirmative action isn’t racist; it’s just wrong. Which is why I think the Senate of the Associated Students of the University of California overreacted by approving a surreal resolution condemning ‘the use of discrimination whether it is in satire or in seriousness by any student group.’ (Discrimination against pastries?) But if they want to be taken seriously, Berkeley’s Young Republicans, who are sponsoring the bake sale, should get out of the kitchen.


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-- Michael McGough