With the latest explosion over Affirmative Action bake sales, I can’t help but smile like a proud father. Last year, while chair of the UCLA Bruin Republicans, I launched the initial – and, until the recent events at Southern Methodist University – the best known Affirmative Action bake sale in the country.
I confess the bake sale was not a concept wholly of my invention; the bake sale’s predecessors extend at least as far back as 1999’s sale by the University of New Mexico College Republicans. However, none of the previous sales had been built around any “hook,” and none ever got traction outside the university’s conservative community.
The idea of framing UCLA’s sale around the then-undecided Michigan Affirmative Action case was mine. I had always thought the idea a hilarious one, and in 2001 had idly proposed it to the Bruin Republicans at one slow meeting. Everyone of course loved the idea, but given that UCLA (as with every UC in the system) was not practicing Affirmative Action in so many words due to Proposition 209, the idea was shelved.
When the Supreme Court decided to hear the Michigan case and could have ended Affirmative Action on all college campuses, we finally had a reason to protest. We added one wrinkle that would ultimately be the factor that broke the story: we had staffers play satirical roles: “The Man,” “Uncle Tom,” “The White Oppressor,” and “The Self-Hating Hispanic Race Traitor.” We completed this with a special “Admissions Officer” (played by me) in charge of “determining each customer’s race, gender, and general level of oppression.”
In the spirit of Affirmative Action (and the UC system’s own undercover brand of reverse discrimination, known as “comprehensive review”), we also decided to force students applying for the special rate to answer degrading questions like, “Do you now feel or have you ever felt that ‘The Man’ is keeping you down?” and “True or False: The darker my skin color, the more Affirmative Action I deserve.” Then we set up our banner and goods on Bruin Walk, the UCLA campus’ main street, and waited for the uproar.
The day passed in a dizzying blur. A few confused African exchange students were just happy to get discounted cookies. Bewildered leftists wondered whether we supported or opposed Affirmative Action. Angry leftists screamed personal insults from the balcony overlooking our table. Angry RINOs (Republicans In Name Only) scolded us for dirtying the good name of the Republican Party with our event.
The most memorable figures, however, were the campus administrators who told us that the sale had to end because not only were we selling commercially baked goods (versus campus code mandating homemade food for bake sales only), but that we had not filed an application to even have such a sale on campus.
The last point, I think, is a good place to pause and emphasize the point at which UCLA and a school like SMU, take separate paths. At UCLA, I walked up into the student groups office, quickly filled out the necessary paperwork, and returned to our sale. At SMU and UC Irvine, a student affairs officer ordered the sales shuttered.
In our course, the bake sale continued unimpeded, as the sale went entirely unnoticed by the media for at least 10 days. This is a little understood aspect of our sale. The Daily Bruin made the decision not to cover the sale, and my own Letter to the Editor failed to attract much attention.
What ended up saving the event and turning it into a media event was a combination of small things. First was that in a deliberate provocation, I had emailed my satirical press release about the sale to every multicultural group on the UCLA campus. At least one of these groups, as it turned out, forwarded this on to an email listserv of an activist group, and suddenly, I received an email from a self-described “raging, out of the closet black conservative” advising me that the Assembly Black Staff Association had picked up the story and was blasting it around the state capital of Sacramento as an illustration of “how bad things are on campus.”
The second pebble rolling down the hill was when I put up a short description and link to the story on the weblog “Campus Nonsense.”
Yet neither of these things by themselves would match the last break for the story, which was a veritable boulder by comparison. While sitting here at this very desk at the Center for the Study for Popular Culture, I received a call from the Daily Bruin. No less an august personality than California Democratic Party Chairman Art Torres had decided to put out a hysterical press release about the bake sale, accusing our group of “race-baiting.” The reporter read me the relevant portions, and I eventually recovered enough to provide the Bruin with a pithy response (I believe it was “Art Torres can kiss my ass”), along with some, more dignified, other comments.
The date was Valentine’s Day, 11 days after our original sale. Art Torres, by deciding to score negligible points against national Republicans by casting our sale as part of a larger, “race-baiting” trend, had handed us a golden opportunity. This time the Bruin felt comfortable in writing an article about our sale and Torres’ press release. And this began a frenzy of media exposure.
And indeed, the next two weeks were a dizzying whirlwind. First, we were approached by local radio, then the newspapers: LA Times, Wall Street Journal, Washington Times, The Chronicle of Higher Education, The San Francisco Chronicle and The Stanford Review. But the coup de grace was on February 18th, when for the last few minutes of his daily show, Rush Limbaugh highlighted our event and lauded it as “good comedy, good satire.” He finished by pronouncing it a “humongous” event.
And with SMU in the news, we know that our little campus bake sale has indeed had a “humongous” impact on campus discourse. I am proud to see the effect SMU, UCLA and other campuses around the country have had in opening students’ eyes to the nature of Affirmative Action. If those students change the current policy of discrimination on campus, I will more gratified yet, knowing that we helped true equality to reign in higher education. And I hope if you will forgive me for doting, like a proud father, at the accomplishment.