February 23, 2008

Michelle Obama's senior thesis.

(Cross-posted on Instapundit.)

"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.


rhhardin said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Anonymous said...

When I read the first sentence I couldn't help but wonder if that feeling is an unintended consequence of affirmative action.

Did she get here because she is black, or because she is really smart?

Didn't Justice Clarence Thomas touch on this in a book or speech recently?

Don't flame folks, I'm just sharing the very first thought that came to mind when I read the sentence.

Ben (The Tiger in Exile) said...

Amba's point that it's probably not fair for the rest of us to criticize Michelle Obama for not being as well-balanced on the race/country issue as, say, a Condi Rice, is well-taken.

And she isn't the candidate, after all...

But it's a Kinsleyan gaffe, isn't it? For the first time in my living memory, I'm seeing crowds at Democratic rallies spontaneously chanting "USA, USA, USA!"

So as badly as it might come off to some, I think that what M.O. said does reflect the reality of a non-trivial group of people.

AntiBathos said...

It's a non-story. Narcissism is the highest virtue in modern American higher education. But a self-absorbed narrative is harder to construct for a young black woman in an ivy league school because (a) there are competing victimhood paradigms and (b) the scope of actual opportunity is so large and so obvious that it requires far more effort to do a proper downside emphasis. That this successful young woman is so successfully integrated into the white yuppie mental mode is a real tribute to the success of racial integration in America.

DavoGrande said...

She's plenty smart. Probably could have achieved something without any racial preference at all.

But she is NOT wise. Not then, not now.

Angry, clever, but not wise. Smart, but not a genuine intellectual.

That church of hers and its mission statements are a REAL problem.

rhhardin said...

Blacks are blocked politically from acquiring dignity.

Individually, it's no problem.

Individually, they get dignity by helping somebody else, just like everybody does.

But as a race, if you want dignity as a race, you have to help some other race.

Dignity is not given or withheld ; it is adopted.

Whites have been helping Blacks for years, and taking dignity from it.

If Blacks got together to take up a collection for poor whites, they'd do the same thing.

But the media narrative, the black leaders, the white leaders, all have a stake in this idea not coming up.

Instead Blacks, the story goes, must await a grant of dignity from Whites, which Whites always and eternally fail to give them.

There's a huge incentive to political obstacle here, because it pays off the way corruption pays off.

The reason you want dignity as a race is to knock these idiots and crooks off their poisonous message.

There's a new idea for Obama.

Hube said...

Universities themselves go out of their way to foster racial and ethnic separatism (in the guise of "seeking one's identity") so Mrs. Obama's thesis shouldn't come as a surprise at all.

The irony is that after fostering such feelings and attitudes, then universities (and other entities) wonder about this "confusion" (like that of Mrs. Obama's) and hence set up conferences, lectures and seminars on "how to deal" with it!

Talk about self-sustaining!

Doug said...

My first year at college was the year Michelle Obama wrote that. My circumstances were very different than her's, I am a white, somewhat conservative male who sure as hell didn't have the grades to go Ivy League ( I went to a Big Ten school).

But I saw first hand how some liberals did treat minorities. While race relations in the mid 80's were far more advanced than the early 60's, they certainly are different than today.

It seemed to me like some whites went out of their way to befriend black students, almost in an effort to promote "look how liberal I am, I have a black friend". I am not saying it was necessarily a well thought out, premeditated thing, but maybe something deeper in white person's conscience.

This pattern always struck me as condescending and I was pretty certain that quite a few of the black students saw through it as well. Michelle Obama's words seem to validate that.

I am at a disadvantage by being a 40 year old, out of touch person, who rarely goes on a college campus, but I get the perception that things have changed a bit since 85 and society is more integrated. So I hope that the current class of african-americans on college campuses feel less out of place than they did when I was a student.

George M. Spencer said...

Hello upper-case George:

I wrote my senior thesis on "Pudding and Pie: Others Come Out to Play—An Exploration of the Concept of 'Porgie' in the Playground Environment"

My analysis concerned the unique culture of lower-case georges in a world dominated by upper-case Georges. Some georges become assimilated into the dominant George culture and become ashamed of their unique cultural history. Some of these georges are no longer able to enjoy the qualities which make george culture so unique or are unable to openly share their culture with other georges because they have become so far removed from these experiences and , in some instances, ashamed of them as a result of their integration into kickball and dodgeball teams. The use of infectious cooties and being "It" is also explored in this thesis.

M. Simon said...


If BHO wins you will be deeply disappointed with the results.

For the same reason that the current Congress has disappointed. They kept their real plan for Iraq a secret Look back at the election of '06. When asked what the Dem plan for Iraq was, most of the electorate didn't know the plan. The Democrats ran essentially ran on a platform of unspecified change.

Because Obama is running a similar campaign the results will be similar. No mandate for any specific policy. The Republicans will roll him. Just as they are doing to the D Congress.

Balfegor said...

I feel a little queasy about going back to something the candidate's wife wrote when she was in college. I realise that with the emptiness of Obama's record, opponents are left scrambling for something, anything, that they can point to as an indication of his true character, rather than the slick actor, but this is just too far removed.

Unknown said...

DavoGrande said...
But she is NOT wise. Not then, not now.
Angry, clever, but not wise. Smart, but not a genuine intellectual.

She is not running for office. Her husband is. Her wisdom is irrelevant. She is not supposed to make any policy decisions or participate in policy making; Hillary was an unfortunate one time event. This is not a farcial Clinton redux- twofer. She has said nothing nor has he about her participation in his office.

The First Lady is not supposed to do anything except participate in ceremonial, good will, and social occasions and events. She is is the presidents wife, not a member of his cabinet.

Trooper York said...

Wait a minute. If Barak Obama wins it won't be FDR. It won't be JFK. It won't be RKF. It will be BO.
Something smells.

Chuck Pelto said...

TO: Althouse, et al.
RE: Thoughts on a Thesis

First off, I'm curious as to why mudd@princeton.edu offers us the document through Politico, instead of just opening access to the world.

Why the go-between?

Next, regarding the information provided by Politico....

[1] Based on what you've provided, it appears to be narcissism. It's all about her. Interesting topical matter for a thesis at such a [ahem] prestigious institution of higher learning.

[2] Furthermore, it seems that her attitude, then, was somewhat racially oriented. That is, the polite way of saying 'racist'.

[3] Based on what I've seen of her in this campaign, it seems that her 'attitude' [good/bad/otherwise] hasn't changed much, if the candidacy of her husband is the only thing she's REALLY proud of with this country. Once again, it's all about (1) her and (2) her racism.

This does not give me reason to be confident that her husband would be the best individual to be the chief executive in the Land.


[Character matters. As if we didn't learn that lesson from President Clinton.]

Anonymous said...

rhhardin said: But as a race, if you want dignity as a race, you have to help some other race.

I have always had difficulty relating to this type of thinking.

I don't consider my friends who happen to be black as part of a larger black community, or my friends who happen to be gay as part of a larger gay community. They are individuals I care about and enjoy hanging out with.

When it comes to the body politic, it is the ideas of individuals that matter. Identity politics is a poison in need of a cure.

Middle Class Guy,

MO may not be the candidate, but she is traveling the country delivering speeches on Obama's behalf. As a very active participant in the campaign, scrutinizing her words - written or spoken - is not out of bounds for either supporters or opponents.

So little is known about the Obamas that a great deal of scrutiny is in order given the office Obama is seeking.

Edgehopper said...

I'd add that as an added note, Princeton is a special case in self-segregation and minority alienation because of the campus's social structure, particularly for upperclassmen. When I was there (class of '05), students were typically grouped by:

1. Their eating club
2. Their activities
3. Their major

And would have little or no contact with anyone that didn't share one of those 3 charactestics, in decreasing importance. To paraphrase her thesis's opening statement, at Prineton I often felt like a Campus Club member first, a band member second, and a student third. But for black students, race often governed their eating club placement (and was probably much worse in 1985 than in 2005) and certainly dictated some activities, such as participation in the black-centered student groups.

Meanwhile, I certainly would refrain from criticizing a Princeton senior thesis on the merits. Most of them are terrible, because they're almost always a student's first major paper ever. Add that to the fact that she was a Sociology major (one of the most pseudo-scientific silly majors around), and of course you're not going to get anything major and insightful.

AmPowerBlog said...

I'm not planning on reading her thesis, but I was intrigued by the last two paragraphs in the Politico piece, where it noted that she did not find feelings of increased racial alienation at Princeton.

In other words, her hypothesis of was not confirmed. One might expect that research showing an acceptable level of integration among college students at prestigious university might be cause for celebration, despite the limited sample and marginal generalizability. But she's gone the other way.

Of course, Michelle Obama's a 44 year-old woman today, and one shouldn't make too much of the youthful racial/philosophical ideas of a 20-something college senior.

Through Obama's apparent radicalism (and gross negativity in campaigning style, compared to Barack), she's essentially rejected her own findings on acceptable levels of integration in adopting the left's stereotypical hardcore anti-American ideology. That is, Obama's moved more toward an oppositional ideological position as she's become even more successful in a system her own research showed to be reasonably tolerant.

American Power

a@b.com said...

DavoGrande: That church of hers and its mission statements are a REAL problem.

??. I don't believe MO is very religious. I read somewhere that Barack attends without her most Sundays.

Chip Ahoy said...

^^^ + What dogwood said.

Unknown said...

Trooper York said...
Wait a minute. If Barak Obama wins it won't be FDR. It won't be JFK. It won't be RKF. It will be BO.
Something smells.

Michelle Obama said the same thing; "he wakes up all smelly in the morning."

Could there be a Vast Body Odor Conspiracy at work here?

Anonymous said...

DD said: one shouldn't make too much of the youthful racial/philosophical ideas of a 20-something college senior.

That's not necesarily so. Many core elements of an individual's belif system are adopted early in life and never relinquished. They primarily define self-image and govern how we interact with the world. Adulthood doesn't change our core beliefs, it just changes how much we reveal and how (and to whom) we reveal it. That's certainly true of Mrs. Clinton, it's true of Obama, and it is true of Mrs. Obama.

A more valid approach would be to assume continuity of belief and insist on proof of change, rather than assume change without any basis for the assumption. Occam likely applies here also: she meant exactly what she said [re pride in country], and further elaboration or contextual obfuscation is just an attempt to bury the candor.

Trooper York said...

No one has it as bad as my buddy Vito Dofiniro. They won't touch his monogramed luggage at the airport. Bummer.

TmjUtah said...

After reading the extracts, I can only conclude that she wasn't very comfortable in her skin at the time she wrote the words.

In light of the fact that for the last few decades she and her husband both attended a racist/separatist church, I believe she's evolved past the "discomfort" part and just decided to be militant.

I would have stayed home if it had been Hillary! v. McCain. Obama v. McCain... probably not.

Moneyrunner said...

On the other hand, is Daffy Duck "Down for the struggle?"

Anonymous said...

Well I read the pdf download backwards Part 4, and Part 3 and if anyone makes anything of it...they are banking on the fact that no one got through it.

There is no "there" there. Much a do about nothing.

The only thing I was left wondering is why it was pulled from the Princeton library for that one week-or whatever.

Dry stuff.

Basically what I think she did was a psychological opinion lab, with a carefully worded survey.

Shorthand: Nothing came out the way she expected to, and she saw something interesting but didn't have enough to draw a conclusion because it was unexpected or unanticipated on her part.

Stephen said...

Echoing earlier comments, what we say, do, and write in college should stay in college. Too late….

1)What Michelle wrote is pretty mainstream for Ivy League sociology. If anything, her tone and writing style are measured and subdued. A cliché, but at this point in her life what she says is less revealing than how she says it.
2)When I took sociology (I was a business administration/psych major) in a similar milieu the reading list included Frantz Fanon and Engels. It wasn’t hard to figure out what we needed to argue in order to do well in that course. Let’s say that Michelle wanted to drive to the conclusion that blacks should strive to be fully assimilated---now THAT would have required courage and made it much tougher to get an A.
3)I did all my papers on a 1940’s Remington, and white-out and correction tape were my companions. Michelle’s paper was perfectly typed and right-justified, evidencing some word-processing capability. No spell-check though: “accomplishes” and “atheist” were misspelled.
4)Lost art: I did appreciate that the hyphen break was always inserted in the right place, at the end of the syllable, between the vowel and the consonant, etc.
5) Any conclusions drawn from 89 responses to a sample size of 400 (in a universe of 1,200 black Princeton alumni) have to be pretty thin. She refrained from making conclusions that the data didn’t warrant. Her speculations were marked as such.

Count me as impressed with the young Michelle. Barack is a lucky man.

Anthony said...

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. Regardless of the circumstances underwhich I interact with whites at Princeton, it often seems as if, to them, I will always be black first and a student second.

That's not the complaint of the racial separatist, it's the complaint of a black person who took integration seriously, and was disappointed. She's saying that liberal white attitudes about race are hypocritical.

That may not be the general thrust of the rest of the thesis, but that statement is not one which favors racial separatism.

Peter Blogdanovich said...

When the right goes after B.O. It won't be using tools like this. They are tooling up to paint this guy as the Anti-Christ. They have a lot of ammo too. If Hollywood released an "omen" type film where the "demon seed" had Obama's background-Polygamist dad, Muslim upbringing, silver spoon adoptive parents he dis-acknowledges, crazy church, and more, critics would roll their eyes at the "over the top" script. You can't make stuff like this up.

Anonymous said...

Peter is correct. In terms of opposition research, BO is a target rich environment. McCain has baggage, but he has been vetted extensively in the past, so there will be little new stuff to shock or surprise the voters.

BO has not defined himself in the primaries, and he won't have time to do it before the conventions, so the GOP will do it for him.

I predict that BO will be destroyed weeks before the November election.

It is going to be very ugly.

William said...

The family of Wellington lived in Ireland since the 12th century. Wellington famously said that just because you are born in a barn, that doesn't make you a horse. Devalera, the first president of Ireland, was born in NYC of a Cuban father. He at one time proposed that Gaelic be the exclusive language of Ireland in order that the corrupting effects of English domination be removed from the Irish soul. I am of Irish descent. About the views of both these men, I say--to paraphase Wellington--you don't have to work in a barn to recognize the smell of horseshit. Michelle presents assimilation as a function of white tolerance--which it is--and not as a function of black adaptability--which it also is. I think there are less contradictions and contortions in being American rather than being Irish. I think Michelle should embrace the American part of her identity and shrug off the black nationalist part.

amba said...

Many core elements of an individual's belif system are adopted early in life and never relinquished.

That's a generalization that is contradicted quite a lot. Experience can change a person's belief system substantially, unless the person is successful in seeking out only experiences that are congruent with his/her early worldview. Life doesn't let too many of us get away with that.

. . .

Here's an example of a website that's already actively painting BO as the Antichrist -- no joke!!

Anonymous said...


You glossed over "many" and "core". Superficial beliefs frequently change. Core beliefs that are built into our self-image, not so much. A core belief intergal to Black self-image frequently is, "I am Black, and therefore...". After this, you can insert any of a list of victim-related addenda.

Blacks with this core belief element (Mrs Obama gives every indication of being one such.) get very emotional about Blacks who won't buy into the victim thing, because that refusal is perceived as an attack on their basic self-image, and thus themselves.

Assistant Village Idiot said...

Socially, people segregate by age a great deal. Schools segregate by age, and thus heighten the effect of other differences. Common activities, classes, and living space mitigate this somewhat, but self-segregation on a college campus is not very surprising. If those 20-year-olds were in a more age-diverse group, they would be drawn together more in spite of racial differences.

When I went to my son's sporting events, I didn't gravitate to the white people. I gravitated to the other parents, especially fathers, regardless of race.

Dust Bunny Queen said...

She is not running for office. Her husband is. Her wisdom is irrelevant. She is not supposed to make any policy decisions or participate in policy making

Then why is she stumping around making speeches? Why doesn't she just STFU?

When you are putting yourself out there particiapting in a politicl campaign and stupid or controversial things come out of your mouth, you deserve to be held accountable for your own actions. If she doesn't like it.....shut up and get off of the stage.

Dust Bunny Queen said...

particiapting in a politicl

Wow...I can't' type on this laptop. Sheesh....proofreading!

Smilin' Jack said...

...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.

Yeah, that explains why she went to Princeton.

ET in Tulsa said...

I can see the average American's abject repudiation of Michelle's implications that all we have accomplished is nothing to be proud of - and agree that it is a slap to the face of all that have given blood, sweat and tears to make this country what it is today.

But you have to understand that her sentiments are in agreement with the much larger perspective of the Progressives where America is deemed all things evil. She is nothing but a by-product of a liberal elite progressive higher educational system that is programmed to produce skulls full of this particular flavor of mush.

All I have to ask is - what made this country great? What made a few hundred thousand people (initially) create such a grand and accomplished society that has achieved things never dreamed of before in the history of mankind? Was it negativity towards other mankind? Was it perpetual pessimism and a dependence upon the God of statism to deliver all necessities? No. It was the entrepreneurial spirit and hard work that made all things great. It was that mentality that produced an abundance of food, shelter, and energy.

This whole episode w/Michelle demonstrates the clear difference in mindset between modern progressives and conservatives. Her side feels an obligation to stand and complain about what is not equal in her eyes instead of rolling up the sleeves and working hard to make herself, under her own power and efforts, attain social status equal to or even above others.

My wise grandfather always said there were three kinds of people. The first were people who stood and complained. The second were people who actually made things worse (destroyed). The third (and most importantly) were the builders who worked hard to *build* great things. The builders didn't always get it right, but they worked tirelessly to build things - all things. The builders were the people who made this country the shining beacon of real hope that it is today.

Michelle needs to quit complaining and start building.

If she even knows what tools are...

Maybe that part wasn't covered in her grad school curriculum?

Unknown said...

If she doesn't like it.....shut up and get off of the stage.

Two words. Bill Clinton.
There is really someone who should STFU and disappear.

Ralph L said...

I took a student-led tour of Princeton with some other prospectives in 1977. At the end, the student actually told the black guy that he might not feel comfortable at Princeton, that some students looked down at black students. I was appalled that she would actively discourage him from applyihg (so much for the diversity movement). She may have been truthful about the student body, but probably more students looked down at geeks like me.

Brian Macker said...

MCG, did Hillary STFU during Bill's campaign? Perhaps he's just playing her role in reverse. I guess the plan being he'd be the one running the health care fiasco this time around

former law student said...

No one who grew up in Chicago at the time Michelle did could ignore the fact of racism. When blacks like her parents moved into the upscale South Shore, all but a few whites (mostly Irish and Jewish) moved out as if their neigborhood was being overrun by vermin, even abandoning a spectacular country club. Knowing that middle and upper class whites regarded people with your skin color with disgust and loathing would scar most people for life.

Whites who want blacks who lived through racism to pretend it never affected them seem like Marie Antoinette advising the poor to eat cake. As Romeo said about Mercutio's mocking his failed romance, "He jests at scars that never felt a wound."

submandave said...

"[T]hat line didn't jump out at me"

AA, may I suggest that this is likely more a factor of the political and social circles in which you travel having acclimitized you and normalized such expressions than the relative "outrageousness" of the sentiment.

Ms. Obama's statement, to my non-academic ears, was either blatant hyperbole, garbled prose or sadly telling. She claims the second, but there is no denying that that third seems to mirror a great amount of the punditry common to the left side of the political world.

Kay said...

How many of the people commenting have actually read her 98 page research paper? Apparently that doesn't stop people like 'Chuck' from all kinds of speculation about her motivation, etc. Although I attended college in the 60's and am white, I recognize the validity of much of the results of the data presented in Michelle Obama's paper.
Oh yes, and the BO jokes as soooo mature and issue oriented.

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