Free speech opens debate

By Editorial Board

Controversy erupted at the University of California, Berkeley, on Sept. 27 when the school’s College Republicans group held a bake sale selling cookies and cakes where prices were determined by race and gender. Whites were charged $2, Asians $1.50, Latinos $1, African-Americans $0.75 and Native-Americans $0.25. Women of any race got $0.25 off of the original price.

The bake sale was designed to protest a bill in the California legislature that would allow public universities to consider race and gender in the admissions process. UC Berkeley College Republicans President Shaun Lewis said the event was satirical, and buyers could choose to pay any price.

The university’s administration later sent a letter to faculty and students condemning the bake sale, saying it would hurt or demean members of the community.

UC Berkeley is the birthplace of the free speech movement of the 1960s, a place where students gained a voice, and freedom of expression created a dialogue that defined a generation. When people cannot speak candidly about a serious issue such as affirmative action, then the issue is essentially buried and shielded from debate in the name of “political correctness.”

Satire is often the best way to bring light to an issue. Harriet Beecher Stowe’s landmark novel “Uncle Tom’s Cabin” gave many who were apathetic about slavery a look into the true demons of the institution. The novel angered many Southerners, but many credit it for speeding up the end of slavery.

Some may have been offended by the bake sale, but people will always be offended by something said or done. That does not mean our First Amendment freedoms should be sacrificed; it’s there to protect everyone, even those with unpopular ideas. People tend to defend freedom of speech only when it applies to their beliefs, but that is not its purpose.

Affirmative action is a controversial topic, and a controversial protest is appropriate to start a dialogue. Many Latinos and African-Americans protested the event, but there are plenty of minority students who do not want preferential treatment and would rather compete on equal footing with other students, no matter their race.

Regardless of a person’s stance on affirmative action, one cannot deny that the bake sale was an effective image of reverse-racism. While the College Republicans probably didn’t implement the event as carefully as they could have on such a liberal campus, the message was clear. The bottom line: People need to lighten up. This nation has a slew of serious issues to deal with, and none will be solved if we cannot have an honest and open debate.