The PJ Tatler

Michelle Obama angry that she's perceived as 'angry black woman': Remember her Princeton thesis?

Today’s beltway gossip centers around more revelations from Jodi Kantor’s new book The Obamas, in particular behind-the-scenes fights between Michelle Obama and various other members of the administration. In an attempt to defuse the accusations, Michelle herself today gave an interview to CBS’s Gayle King in which she said she’s tired of people portraying her as “some kind of angry black woman.”

I can only imagine that she’s creating a kerfuffle about this new book so that everyone forgets about her senior thesis at Princeton University. Because to whatever extent the average American perceives Michelle Obama as “some kind of angry black woman,” it is entirely due to her own writings, and not a gossipy new bestseller.

For those of you who have forgotten: During the 2008 presidential campaign, the Obamas originally tried to suppress the thesis until after the election, eventually relenting and allowing it to be leaked to Politico, which published it as four separate pdfs. Later, other sites published the whole thing as a single pdf, which for convenience’s sake I’ll link directly to here:

Michelle Obama’s 1985 senior thesis: “Princeton-Educated Blacks and the Black Community” (pdf, 12.4mb)

As soon as the thesis was released, it immediately became apparent why the Obamas were trying to keep it under wraps: The entire introduction revolves around the separateness Michelle Obama (then using her maiden name Michelle Robinson) felt from white people, white values and the white community. A few excerpts:

“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.”

“These experiences have made it apparent to me that the path I have chosen to follow by attending Princeton will likely lead to my further intergration 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. This realization has presently, made my goals to actively utilize my resources to benefit the Black community more desirable.”

“Predominately white universities like Princeton are socially and academically designed to cater to the needs of the white students comprising the bulk of their enrollments.”

“…It is conceivable that my four years of exposure to a predominantly White, Ivy League university has instilled within me certain conservative values. For example, as I enter my final year at Princeton, I find myself striving for many of the same goals as my White classmates — acceptance to a prestigious graduate school or a high-paying position in a successful corporation.”

“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.”

The rest of the thesis is a survey of other black students, asking them if they feel as alienated, offended, ungrateful and, well, as angry as she does. Along the way, she cites former Black Panther and racial separatist Stokely Carmichael as one of the writers whose thinking “guided” her.

Want to know why America sees you as “some kind of angry black woman”? Look in the mirror, Michelle.

UPDATE:

In the final pages of the thesis, Michelle bemoans the integration of successful African-Americans into “White culture,” and sympathizes with the separatist position — that blacks and whites should maintain separate group identities:

These excerpts are from the final 14 pages of Michelle Obama’s thesis:

“However, with the increasing integration of Blacks into the mainstream society, many ‘integrated Blacks’ have lost touch with the Black culture in their attempts to become adjusted and comfortable in their new culture–the White culture. Some of these Blacks are no longer able to enjoy the qualities which make Black culture so unique or are unable to openly share their culture with other Blacks because they have become so far removed from these experiences and, in some instances, ashamed of them as a result of their integration.”

“My speculation for this finding is based on the possibility that a separationist is more likely to have a realistic impression of the plight of the Black lower class because of the likelihood that a separationist is more closely associated with the Black lower class than are integrationist. By actually working with the Black lower class or within their communities as a result of their ideologies, a separationist may better understand the desparation of their situation and feel more hopeless about a resolution as opposed to an integrationist who is ignorant to their plight.”

“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.”