Michelle Obama, Victim of Affirmative Action

"Black first and a student second"?

The blogsphere has been discussing Mrs. Obama's senior thesis from Princeton university.  The article "Michelle Obama thesis was on racial divide" has links to the full text, and quotes her:

"My experiences at Princeton have made me far more aware of my 'blackness' than ever before," the future Mrs. Obama wrote in her thesis introduction. "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 under which I interact with whites at Princeton, it often seems as if, to them, I will always be black first and a student second." [emphasis added]

Black First, Student Second

This is the sad, sad legacy of affirmative action.  As we've pointed out, there are two plausible responses to racial prejudice, either perceived or real.

One response is to follow the advice of Dr. George Washington Carver, who urged black people to become skilled at whatever they did and earn respect.  He pointed out that if a black made the best bricks in town, people would buy his bricks.

The other response, as urged by black leaders such as Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton, is to claim that blacks are so held down by white racism that the only way for them to progress is for whites to grant them special privileges by giving them jobs or college admissions to which they would otherwise not be entitled.  Although the approach of demanding affirmative action appears to lead to black progress, nobody is really fooled as Mrs. Obama found out.

As Dr. Thomas Sowell has pointed out, black Americans made economic progress faster before affirmative action was put in place than afterward.  He doesn't say explicitly that whoever supports affirmative action is trying to hurt black people, but the fact that most people who are supposed to benefit are actually harmed is so clear that it's easy to think that people who support affirmative action are deliberately trying to harm blacks.

The Legacy of Affirmative Action

Here's how it worked for me.  I grew up in an area where there were no black people.  I entered an elite college as affirmative action programs which explicitly encouraged black people to go to higher-end universities were getting underway; and, in my sophomore and junior year, I met a few black students.  All of them needed special tutoring.  All of them came close to flunking out.  Some of my white friends also had trouble cutting it, but it was hard to escape the conclusion that there was something wrong with the black students I knew.

I later found out that the affirmative action program had resulted in a group of black students whose SAT scores were on the average 200 points lower than the SAT average for white students, and that the Asian students had SAT scores significantly higher than the white students.  A 200 point SAT difference is evident in casual conversation.  I was right to conclude that the black students at my school were inferior to the white students because, in fact, they weren't as smart as the white students were.

What was I taught as an impressionable college student?  That black students weren't as smart as whites and that Asians are smarter than whites.

Dr. Sowell points out eloquently that affirmative action devalues capable black people.  Affirmative action is common enough that many people assume that a black person got his or her job or college admission through affirmative action and is not really qualified.  Assuming that the Princeton admissions office does what my college did and admits blacks who have lower scores than white students, white Princetonians will be taught that blacks aren't as smart as whites are.

Many blacks are perfectly well qualified to enter Princeton, but not as many as are admitted.  We can assume that the Obamas were qualified to enter their respective elite colleges on their own merits; one need only hear Mr. Obama a time or two to realize that although he's picked up some goofy ideas, he's one very bright guy.  Given that he's happy with his wife, it's a pretty good assumption that she's got something between her ears besides the cotton candy we find inside the noggins of so many young people these days.

Black Outsiders, White Insiders

Why was the future Mrs. Obama treated as an outsider at Princeton?  Why did she mourn, "it often seems as if, to them, I will always be black first and a student second."

The answer is so simple and so obvious that it's hard to support affirmative action once you realize it.

Any grandmother will tell you that the best way to get your children to hate each other is to give some of them privileges which are denied to others; ancient Jewish literature points this out in the story of Joseph.  Joseph's dad put him in charge of his older brothers and gave him better clothes than they had; they appreciated their father favoring Joseph so much that they conspired to murder him and ended up selling him into slavery.  When a power structure such as a college administration grants special favors to a group, the rest of the students swallow their jealousy because they have to, but it comes out in ways which the future Mrs. Obama felt keenly.

White Princetonians won't admit it because it's not politically correct, but they all know black students who didn't deserve to be at Princeton.  The California university system found that when racial preferences were abolished, many black students were replaced by Asians but the blacks who were admitted were respected.

Since few of the blacks at Princeton would have been admitted or hired based on a color-blind admissions system, it's sensible for whites to assume that Mrs. Obama didn't deserve to be there.  If she wasn't qualified, if she was admitted because she was black, she was in fact "black first and a student second."  If she really was qualified, however, and the evidence suggests that she was, treating her as "black first and a student second" is a sad, but natural mistake.

That is the tragedy of affirmative action -- blacks who are in fact qualified to be at Princeton remain outsiders despite their qualifications.  Did Mrs. Obama benefit from affirmative action, or was she another victim?

What Now?

In his legendary "I have a dream" speech, Dr. Martin Luther King said,

I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.

Dr. King had a vision of Americans working together in unity regardless of race, creed, color or national origin:

I have a dream that one day on the red hills of Georgia the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners will be able to sit down together at the table of brotherhood.

Mrs. Obama correctly noticed that she was judged by the color of her skin rather than by the content of her character.  She was black first and a student second.  This is because the Princeton admissions office insisted on admitting students based on the color of their skin rather than on the content of their qualifications.

As long as our society insists on affirmative action programs which give blacks jobs and college positions beyond their qualifications, as long as society insists on treating people based on the color of their skins, it should be no surprise that people treat people based on the color of their skins.

We've pointed out that Mr. Obama's success in attracting white voters has shown that since institutional racism is over, affirmative action is no longer needed.  Mr. Obama has convinced enough white voters that he'd be President of all Americans rather than just a black president that he's close to winning the Democratic nomination.

It's time to end the harm done to students like the future Mrs. Obama and end racial preferences.  The way to end racism is to end racism, not to practice it at all levels of government, business, and society at large.

The purpose of ending affirmative action is not to take away a black person's bicycle, it's to take off the training wheels so that a black person can ride.  So long as we insist on judging people by the color of their skin, Dr. King's dream will never come.

How can people sit down together at Dr. King's "table of brotherhood" if places at the table are awarded on the basis of race?  Race-based seating makes Princeton a table of racial prejudice, the exact opposite of a table of brotherhood.

Although Republicans had griped about the obvious defects of our welfare system for years, it took a Democrat President to enact welfare reform.  Is affirmative action so entrenched that we'll need a black President to end it?

Will Offensicht is a staff writer for Scragged.com and an internationally published author by a different name.  Read other Scragged.com articles by Will Offensicht or other articles on Society.
Reader Comments
Never underestimate the influence of a wife who bitch-slaps her husband in public. Early in Obama's campaign, Michelle Obama could not restrain herself from belittling the senator. "I have some difficulty reconciling the two images I have of Barack Obama. There's Barack Obama the phenomenon. He's an amazing orator, Harvard Law Review, or whatever it was, law professor, best-selling author, Grammy winner. Pretty amazing, right? And then there's the Barack Obama that lives with me in my house, and that guy's a little less impressive," she told a fundraiser in February 2007.

"For some reason this guy still can't manage to put the butter up when he makes toast, secure the bread so that it doesn't get stale, and his five-year-old is still better at making the bed than he is." New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd reported at the time, "She added that the TV version of Barack Obama sounded really interesting and that she'd like to meet him sometime." Her handlers have convinced her to be more tactful since then.

"Frustration" and "disappointment" have dogged Michelle Obama these past 20 years, despite her US$300,000 a year salary and corporate board memberships. It is hard for the descendants of slaves not to resent America. They were not voluntary immigrants but kidnap victims, subjected to a century of second-class citizenship even after the Civil War ended slavery. Blackness is not the issue; General Colin Powell, whose parents chose to immigrate to America from the West Indies, saw America just as other immigrants do, as a land of opportunity. Obama's choice of wife is a failsafe indicator of his own sentiments. Spouses do not necessarily share their likes, but they must have their hatreds in common.
February 26, 2008 10:30 PM
Very well said, Spengler. I agree with what you're saying, but I do believe that at _some_ point they need to get past it. I also believe that whites are past it already. By that I mean that I do not believe that the majority of white look at blacks with the "second-class" view that blacks see themselves.
February 27, 2008 8:21 AM
There is a wonderful article written about an experiment that a man performed in an attempt to understand why poor people are poor. Not why you or I might be poor but why, generation after generation the same families tend to be poor.

He gave poor people an education, a liberal education that someone might get their freshman year at any major university. While many people dropped out of the program for a variety of reasons a few of the people admitted succeeded in completing the course. Those who did were all able to find full time jobs in short order and at least some of them were better people.

The name of the article for those interested is: On the uses of a liberal education: 2. As a weapon in the hands of the restless poor.

I would highly recommend anyone interested in actually fixing the problems of the inner-city and the middle class read it
March 5, 2008 9:13 PM
jonyfries is right, but giving poor people an actual education would require getting rid of our teacher's unions. See
http://www.scragged.com/articles/government-dont-know-jack-education.aspx
and
http://www.scragged.com/articles/tilting-at-diversity-tilting-at-teachers-unions.aspx
March 17, 2008 8:13 PM

This article is pure bs. And by the way, there are plenty of white students who don't deserve to be at Princeton or any other Ivy League. And nepotism (and white privelege) lives...

December 27, 2010 7:10 PM

If I recall her thesis, she conducted a survey of black almuni to see if they felt as she did. Her survey indicated that they did not!

She then ignored her own survey in favor of her own world view. How did she do this and not flunk?

Your thesis is based on interpreting the data you gather in your research. She denies her own data in favor of her own personal experience.

How is that a masters thesis?

May 22, 2012 9:13 AM

It's no more a masters' thesis than MLK's plagerism constituted a PhD thesis. She put it as well as anyone, she was "black first, a student second." MLK was black first, a "scholar" second. So it goes. Get used to it.

May 22, 2012 9:25 PM
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