Robinson, Michelle LaVaughn (1985): Princeton Educated Blacks and the Black Community [Restricted until November 5, 2008].
In her 1985 Princeton senior thesis, “Princeton-Educated Blacks and the Black Community,” Michelle LaVaughn Robinson lamented that white professors and classmates always saw her as “Black first and a student second.”
She had surveyed alumni to see whether they sacrificed their commitment to other blacks on the altar of success, and foresaw for herself an uneasy future: “further integration and/or assimilation into a White cultural and social structure that will only allow me to remain on the periphery of society; never becoming a full participant.”…
As Michelle Obama wrote in her thesis introduction, “My experiences at Princeton have made me far more aware of my ‘Blackness’ than ever before. I have found that at Princeton no matter how liberal and open-minded some of my White professors and classmates try to be toward me, I sometimes feel like a visitor on campus; as if I really don’t belong.”…
Michelle Obama was guided in her choice of thesis topic by a consuming concern that her success might compromise her black identity. As she wrote in her conclusion:
“I wondered whether or not my education at Princeton would affect my identification with the Black community. I hoped that these findings would help me conclude that despite the high degree of identification with Whites as a result of the educational and occupational path that Black Princeton alumni follow, the alumni would still maintain a certain level of identification with the black community. However, these findings do not support this possibility.”…
Michelle Obama’s fears of losing touch with her roots without ever being embraced into the mainstream led her to promise, in her thesis introduction, “to actively utilize my resources to benefit the Black community.”
Okay, it's schoolgirlish in style, especially compared to her husband's sonorous mature prose, but she was only 21 when she wrote it. The important thing, though, is that the artlessness of her writing allows the meaning to shine through more obviously than in Dreams From My Father -- but it's the same Story of Race and Inheritance.
That doesn't mean Mr. and Mrs. Obama still feel the way about race as they did in 1995, when Sen. Obama wrote his autobiography. Maybe they've changed their minds over the last 13 years? But shouldn't somebody ask them about it? I realize a lot of people think it would be an invasion of their privacy, but they are running for the White House.
Senator and Mrs. Obama, clearly, you both had big racial chips on your shoulders when you were younger. Are you still like that? You changed? When? Why? Would you advise other blacks to stop being so resentful?When I read Obama's autobiography a year ago and said that Obama is not who you think he is, a lot of people said I was crazy and evil. Well, it's slowly playing out along the lines I sketched out back then.
- By the way, if Barack serves eight years as President, that would give Michelle eight years to parachute into some random state to be Senator so that she could run for President herself in 2024 at the exact same age Hillary is now.
- My wife says that if Obama gets the nomination and McCain picks Secretary of State Rice as his running mate, either Condi or Michelle is going to have to get a new hair-do or it's going to be a very confusing fall for television news shows. My wife feels Michelle has the elegant bone structure to go with the old Diahann Carrol-look of just pulling her hair straight back tight. (I think Lena Horne did the same thing.) That also gets around all the race minefields about why she is relaxing her hair (which I imagine Michelle has thought a lot about.)
- Although Newsweek says Mrs. Obama didn't graduate at the top of her high school class, keep in mind that she did go to Whitney Young, a big public school that only admits students via entrance exam (like Stuyvesant in NYC). On the other hand, if her teachers told her she didn't have the grades and test scores to get into the Princeton, they'd know, because Whitney Young has sent lots of grads to the Ivy League. So, she probably needed the double whammy of both affirmative action and being the legacy sister of her much-liked two-year-older brother Craig Robinson, who was on Princeton's famously scrappy underdog basketball team and is now the head coach at Brown. Michelle always saw him as the smart one in the family, so she was already sensitive about her intelligence before she got to Princeton.
- Toss in the class difference -- Princeton has always been very upper crusty, while she comes from solid but very lower middle class family -- and the usual teenage self-consciousness, and it's hardly surprising that Michelle was perpetually peeved at Princeton. Unfortunately, it sounds like she blamed all her inevitable adolescent angst on whites, a common response aggravated by the side effects of affirmative action, as I pointed out way back in 1991.