Michelle Obama's Chip On Her Shoulder
Print Friendly and PDF

Newsweek has a long article on the wonderfulness of Mrs. Obama, but she sounds like she's got a log-sized chip on her shoulder from lucking into Princeton due to affirmative action. For predictable reasons, being admitted into one of the Big Four super colleges and being given lots of financial aid didn't instill in her a feeling of gratitude toward the benevolence of white people. Instead, it just fed her adolescent self-consciousness and racial paranoia. The bad news is that she doesn't seem to have gotten over it yet. (She's 44).

She did well in school (she skipped second grade), but she was not at the top of her class. She didn't get the attention of the school's college counselors, who helped the brightest students find spots at prestigious universities. "Princeton, the Ivy Leagues swoop up kids" like [her brother] Craig, Michelle says. "A black kid from the South Side of Chicago that plays basketball and is smart. He was getting in everywhere. But I knew him, and I knew his study habits, and I was, like, 'I can do that too'." Some of her teachers told her she didn't have the grades or test scores to make it to the Ivies. But she applied to Princeton and was accepted.

Overwhelmingly white and privileged, Princeton was not an easy place for a young black woman from the inner city. There weren't formal racial barriers and black students weren't officially excluded. But many of the white students couldn't hide that they regarded their African- American classmates as affirmative-action recipients who didn't really deserve to be there.

Angela Acree, a close friend who attended Princeton with Michelle, says the university didn't help dispel that idea. Black and Hispanic students were invited to attend special classes a few weeks before the beginning of freshman semester, which the school said were intended to help kids who might need assistance adjusting to Princeton's campus. Acree couldn't see why. She had come from an East Coast prep school; Michelle had earned good grades in Chicago. "We weren't sure whether they thought we needed an extra start or they just said, 'Let's bring all the black kids together'."

Obviously, this program wasn't put together by the Princeton klavern of the Ku Klux Klan, it was planned by the Princeton diversity sensitivity outreach nook. One reason diversicrats want to bring all the black freshmen to campus before everybody else is so they'll bond to each other, not to random whites and Asians during the regular orientation week. During the first few days of a new phase of life, you are very emotionally open to bonding with the other people who are going through the experience with you. So, the diversicrats can build a constituency by holding special pre-orientations for blacks.
Acree, Michelle and another black student, Suzanne Alele, became inseparable companions.
Exactly as planned.
The three of them talked often about the racial divide on campus–especially how white students they knew from class would pass them on the green and pretend not to see them. "It was, like, here comes a black kid," says Acree. The black students tended to hang out together at the Third World Center, a social club on campus, while the white party scene revolved around Princeton's eating clubs.Michelle felt the tension acutely enough that she made it the subject of her senior sociology thesis, titled "Princeton-Educated Blacks and the Black Community." The paper is now under lock and key, but according to the Chicago Sun-Times, Michelle wrote that Princeton "made me far more aware of my 'blackness' than ever before." She wrote that she felt like a visitor on the supposedly open-minded campus. "Regardless of the circumstances under which I interact with Whites at Princeton," she wrote, "it often seems as if, to them, I will always be Black first and a student second." (Today, Michelle says, not quite convincingly, that she can't remember what was in her thesis.)

If she'd gone to, say, the University of Illinois or wherever she would have gotten in without affirmative action, she wouldn't have spent four years knowing that she was below the student body average in intelligence; she wouldn't have spent four years worrying that everybody else was noticing she wasn't as smart as the average; and she wouldn't have spend four years, plus the next 22, hating them for noticing it.

Print Friendly and PDF