"IT OFTEN SEEMS AS IF, TO THEM, I WILL ALWAYS BE BLACK FIRST and a student second." So reads Michelle Obama's senior thesis, written when she was a student at Princeton. You can read the whole thing, which I'm not going to do, but I did read the first few pages, and nothing I read troubles me. I should add that I attended her speech at Madison — the one where she said "for the first time in my adult lifetime, I'm really proud of my country, and not just because Barack has done well, but because I think people are hungry for change" — and that line didn't jump out at me. But she's the wife of a presidential candidate, so her words will necessarily be raw material for attacks, especially what she's saying now. But what she wrote as a college student in 1985? She had much more reason to feel alienated than the average college student — and anyway, feeling alienated is a classic part of the young American experience. Amba has read much more of the thesis than I have, and she has some excellent observations:
What was being weighed here... was whether it was better to participate in the common life or to build up a separate community with its own resources and institutions, as "a necessary stage for the development of the Black community before this group integrates into the 'open society'." Before, not instead of. Ideas are always psychobiography, and you may feel here the young Michelle's sense that she needed to gain confidence in a context of people who were familiar and supportive before venturing forth into a more ambiguous, less embracing world that was harder to read and harder to trust.