The bake sales offer to sell cookies at different prices depending on the customer's race and sex, imitating the racial and sexual preference practices of affirmative action. One idea of such bake sale is to demonstrate analogies between price discrimination and affirmative action. A typical pricing structure would be along the lines of $1.00 for White and Asian males, $.75 for White and Asian females, and $.50 for Latino, Black, and Native American males and $.25 for females of the same races. The bake sales are not supportive of this kind of preferential treatment; rather, they argue this preferential pricing is analogous to preferential treatment created by affirmative action policies.
These bake sales have been organized at many schools across the U.S., sometimes annually, including UC Berkeley, UCLA, Columbia University, Rutgers University, Cornell College, New York University, University of Texas at Austin, Texas A&M University, Northwestern University, DePaul University, the University of Michigan, Indiana University, University of North Carolina at Charlotte, University of Washington, University of Arizona, Arizona State University, Trinity University, Ohio University, and others. Affirmative action bake sales have also taken place at the University of Pretoria in South Africa, the latest (in 2008) having been forcibly broken up by campus security.
Responding to an affirmative action bake sale being attacked at the University of Washington, the school's Board of Regents President Jerry Grinstein presented the opinion of many opponents of these events when he described "the statements [...] in putting on a bake sale about affirmative action were tasteless, divisive and hurtful to many members of the university community." The student leader of a bake sale at UCLA addressed this issue of divisiveness, saying "we wanted to show how affirmative action is racial division, not racial reconciliation.
Other criticisms of the concept claim that these bake sales do not take into account ingrained social factors that favor whites and Asians. An opinion column in the Houston Chronicle after a similar sale took place at Texas A&M University held that "Actions like these reinforce the common misconception that affirmative action policies give academically unqualified minority students a get-into-college-free card, and they ignore historical discrimination that denied nonwhites opportunities to be successful at any price, no matter their talents or intelligence." The editorial also praised school officials for not shutting down the sale.
At the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, the Graduate and Professional Students of Color student organization responded to a bake sale held by the Students for Individual Liberty by holding a White Privilege popcorn giveaway where white males received a full bag of popcorn, while women and non-whites received 1/3 of a bag.
Dr. Williams, a libertarian economist, has responded to critics of these bake sales, writing:
These organized events increased in frequency after a June 2003 ruling of the U.S. Supreme Court that universities could use race as a factor in admissions (see Grutter v. Bollinger and Gratz v. Bollinger). These bake sales are supportive of legislation that would bar public universities from collecting or storing racial information, including from applicants for admission.
Other groups have sometimes engaged in similar forms of price discrimination by race or sex to make its own points. For instance, a 1968 feminist tract entitled Notes from the First Year stated its cover price as "$.50 to women, $1.00 to men".