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Affirmative Action Meets 21st Century White Supremacy at Berkeley
The University of California – Berkeley College Republicans staged an anti-affirmative action bake sale this week on UCB’s Sproul Plaza to protest Senate Bill 185, that would re-introduce affirmative action in the state of California. The bill recently passed in the legislature and awaits Governor Jerry Brown’s signature or veto. At the bake sale, white men had to pay the most – $2, people of color got various discounts, black men were to be charged 75 cents, and all women got 25 cents off. A demonstration was staged on Sproul Tuesday in response, with hundreds of students of color lying down throughout Sproul with signs that carried messages like “UC us now.” The campus Republicans have sparked a debate about race; whether their entitlement and kvetching will trump facts and reality, and the justified anger they produce in oppressed communities, remains to be seen. On Sproul today, the answer was clearly “no, it does not. ” However, in Jerry Brown’s office it remains an open question.
Several recent studies indicate that multiple indices of racial inequality are at Jim Crow levels. Concomitant polls indicate that most white people not only feel that enough has been done to address racial discrimination, but that white people are now an “oppressed race.” 44 percent of the general American population, surveyed by the Public Religion Research Institute thought that whites are discriminated against as much as blacks and other oppressed groups. Tea Partiers and Glenn Beck have gone so far as to call for a white civil rights movement. The whining of the privileged certainly adds insult to injury, which, to use one of their metaphors, is par for the course in America historically.
This sniveling sits within a context of intense levels of racialized economic inequality, and associated police harassment and violence nationally. At the UC the “white victim” bake sale sits alongside a generation of working class students and students of color being blocked from a UC education, or finding themselves riddled with tens of thousands of dollars in debt, for blacks, earning every bit of a bachelor’s degree that is worth less than 80% of the white classmates they graduate with.
The University of California, which was once free, has been largely privatized, with tuition increasing over 500 percent since 1980. Tuition has doubled in the last eight years and, under a proposed budget could almost double again in the next 5 years to about $22,000 per year. This has lead to declines in black and Latino enrollment, including a drop of almost 20% in under-represented transfer students in recent years. If the angry white man can’t find liberal enlightenment in Berkeley, maybe mealy-mouthed multiculturalism isn’t enough. When whites on average have 20 times the wealth of blacks and Latinos, half effective policy reforms like affirmative action, that help more middle class white women than people of color in the first place, are not nearly enough to address intergenerational inequality that is not only failing to disappear, but is growing.
Right wing activist and former UC Regent Ward Connerly, who helped write Affirmative Action out of the California Constitution in 1996, and attempted to bar any collection of social data pertaining to race in 2003, came by to be the sole black cookie-buyer and lend support to the Campus Republicans. All three of these efforts – to end affirmative action, to try and block data that shows racial inequality and now to block the re-enactment of affirmative action – are not so much attempts to ignore or downplay race as they are efforts to erase race. However, it goes beyond that.
In reality this transcends erasing or white-washing race, and makes strides towards normalizing the existing racial inequality and re-inscribing a white supremacy where white people believe the defense and extension of their privilege is some form of “reparations” for all the years that the white race was oppressed, whenever the hell that was. These recent right wing effort, grumbling like Archie Bunker that white people are an oppressed race out one side of their mouth, while claiming that it is racist to recognize race at all, is telling.
The President of the Berkeley College Republicans, Shawn Lewis, snidely admits his racism, again equating the historic suffering of people of color and women with that of conservative, rich white men, “We agree that the event is inherently racist, but that is the point. It is no more racist than giving an individual an advantage in college admissions based solely on their race (or) gender[i].”
A generation of attacking the severely limited government programs that half-attempted to address racial inequality (affirmative action, housing subsidies, welfare) while pursuing a racist war on drugs that has three times as many blacks and Latinos in prison than in college, simply drives home the point that this has nothing to with an even playing field. Power has always given some groups the ability to not only oppress, but to construct a historically malleable morality, not only justifying the oppression, but bestowing honor and virtue to the oppressor. This has nothing to do with fairness, neutrality, or justice. This has everything to do with white privilege and white supremacy.
Mike King is a PhD candidate in Sociology at UC – Santa Cruz. He is currently writing a dissertation on gang injunctions and working on a book about the Tea Party. He can be reached at mking at ucsc.edu