UT students aren't buying their "bake sale"

Seth Uzman reports from Austin on the angry and spirited response when campus right-wingers tried to hold an anti-affirmative event at the University of Texas.

Students protest an anti-affirmative action group at the University of Texas at AustinStudents protest an anti-affirmative action group at the University of Texas at Austin

SEVERAL HUNDRED students protested a racist "affirmative action bake sale" organized by the campus chapter of the Young Conservatives of Texas on the West Mall of the University of Texas (UT) at Austin on October 26.

At the event, which organizers claim demonstrated the "disastrous policy that is affirmative action," baked goods were priced higher for men and those considered "Asian" and "White," and lower for those who are "African," "Hispanic" or "Native."

The handful of Young Conservatives--better known to protesters as the "Young Racists"--hoped to find a new audience for an old racist idea: that affirmative action programs which attempt to even the playing field for oppressed groups historically underrepresented in higher education amount to so-called "reverse racism."

But no one was buying it. It wasn't long before several hundred students surrounded the "bake sale" table, ripped up the sign and effectively ended the event.

Protesters chanted, "Education is a right! Not just for the rich and white!" "Hey racists, one and all, get the hell off West Mall!" "Racists! Go Home!" "Hey, hey! Ho, ho! This racist organization has got to go!"

At one point during the protest, representatives of student government turned up to try to move the protesters into the ballroom of a nearby building and turn the protest into a "dialogue" with the racists. There was a debate among students about what to do next, but many protesters decided to hold their ground. Not long afterward, the Young Conservatives left the scene, as protesters chanted, "Racists go home!"

A Black student demonstrator addressed the crowd afterward, saying, "I'm so proud of every single one of you, because I look out here and I don't see just Black faces. I see everybody...everybody unified as one."

When racists organize, they deserve to be protested. When they're robbed of their platform, they're also robbed of their confidence to spread their racist ideas. When the same group attempted to host an event titled "Catch an Illegal Immigrant" in 2013, students prepared massive anti-racist demonstrations in response. At the last minute, the Young Conservatives canceled the event.

Last week's protest also showed who is ready to confront racism when it rears its ugly head on campus. While the confrontation with the anti-affirmative action table was going on, the University Democrats had a table nearby and continued registering people to vote, ignoring the racist bake sale and the protest against it.

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

THE FACT that the Young Conservatives are bold enough to try to hold this event was fueled by a university environment that is often hostile to students of color. Chancellor William McRaven, a former head of the Pentagon's Joint Special Operations Command in Afghanistan, warned UT athletes against sitting out the national anthem and joining Colin Kaepernick's protest against racism.

The administration condones racism from student groups and fraternities, which in 2015 held a "border patrol"-themed party, and in 2007 prohibited "interracial dating," "Mexicans" and gay people in their pledge guide.

Black students have reported "bleach-bombs" being dropped on them in 2013, as well as beer bottles thrown from a four-story apartment building this spring--and yet the administration drags its feet in publicly responding to these racist incidents. To this day, the university has no hate crime policy on its books.

The administration continues to name buildings and dormitories after slave owners. Only after intense student struggle was the statue of Jefferson Davis, former president of the Confederacy, removed from the Main Mall. It didn't disappear from campus completely, however--it was moved to a nearby building for further commemoration.

Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee's statue and others remain. When activists spray-painted "Black Lives Matter" on some of these statues, the university administration ordered employees to remove it, without missing a beat. Yet when white supremacists spray-painted their Celtic cross on a pillar of UT's Blanton Museum, the administration has for eight months done nothing but arrest activists who have attempted to remove it.

In a society, and evidently a university, that breathes racism as easily as lungs do oxygen, affirmative action is an essential reform that must be defended as part of the struggle against racial oppression.

UT Austin's Black student population has dwindled to less than 4 percent of its student body with similar numbers reflected in its faculty. For the last three years, UT has been at the center of the debate over race-sensitive admissions policies, with the Supreme Court cases of Fisher vs. University of Texas.

As anti-racist organizing swept UT and campuses across the country in June of this year, the Supreme Court upheld the use of race-based affirmative action in the university's admissions process.

But the right wing hasn't stopped mobilizing, with the bigoted campaign of Donald Trump is adding more fuel to the fire. Activists should be prepared to take on these racists whenever they try to organize.