Back in 2004, the NYT reported:
“While about 8 percent, or about 530, of Harvard's undergraduates were black, Lani Guinier, a Harvard law professor, and Henry Louis Gates Jr., the chairman of Harvard's African and African-American studies department, pointed out that the majority of them — perhaps as many as two-thirds — were West Indian and African immigrants or their children, or to a lesser extent, children of biracial couples.
“They said that only about a third of the students were from families in which all four grandparents were born in this country, descendants of slaves. Many argue that it was students like these, disadvantaged by the legacy of Jim Crow laws, segregation and decades of racism, poverty and inferior schools, who were intended as principal beneficiaries of affirmative action in university admissions.”
By Gates's and Guinier's standards, Barack Obama should be the perfect example of the wrong kind of person to get affirmative action: his father was an elite immigrant (Obama Jr. was both a Harvard legacy as well as affirmative action admittee) and his mother was white. The Honolulu preppie's exposure to African-American culture came through watching Soul Train on TV.
My vague impression is that African immigrants tend to be descended from the slave-dealing classes of the days of yore. (I vaguely recall that Gates ran into some of this while filming his PBS series on Africa -- the educated Africans he mostly conversed with in Africa with tended to be the descendants of the people who caught and sold his ancestors to the white man).
I wrote in VDARE.com in 2004:
The personal motivation of Gates, who has risen to be (as he likes to joke) “the head Negro in charge” of African-American studies in this country, is straight-forward.
He’s one of the few members of the black academic elite whose background is typical for the average middle-aged African-American. Gates’ father was a millworker in West Virginia.
The background of Guinier, whose nomination to a high post in the Clinton Administration was famously killed by Clint Bolick's skewering her as a “quota queen,” is more complicated. She is exactly the kind of dubious affirmative action beneficiary she is protesting.
Guinier looks like she could be the late Gilda Radner’s half-sister because her mother was Jewish. Her Jamaican-born father Ewart Guinier was a prominent Communist Party USA labor leader. Much of her career has been an extrapolation of themes from his life. For example, she advocates the kind of complex multiple voting schemes that helped the CPUSA elect two New York City councilmen during her father’s heyday, before the CIO expelled his union for being a Stalinist front.
So, Guinier's old-fashioned Communist upbringing has helped make her more sensitive to class unfairness than is fashionable on the left today, where race trumps class.
Of course, Barack Obama has done pretty well for himself with all the affirmative action breaks he has received. In contrast, his wife Michelle, who is from exactly the kind of all-American working class black family that Gates and Guinier would prefer that preferences go to, has somewhat floundered about, wasting her admission to Guinier's Harvard Law School, quickly dropping out of the legal profession and devoting most of her career since to being a political insider getting paid for diversity make-work. So, maybe there's a good reason that Harvard has largely given up on traditional Michelle-style American blacks in favor of Barack-style exotic newcomers and blacks who were raised by whites.