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Michelle Obama Felt 'the Shadow of Affirmative Action' as Princeton Undergrad

Her experience is a good example of why affirmative action policies are a bad idea.

Michael Donhauser/dpa/picture-alliance/NewscomMichael Donhauser/dpa/picture-alliance/Newscom

Michelle Obama felt "the shadow of affirmative action" as an undergraduate student at Princeton University, the former first lady writes in her new book, Becoming.

Obama, who graduated in 1985, says she sometimes wondered why she had been accepted into Princeton, a majority-white school, in the first place. "It was impossible to be a black kid at a mostly white school and not feel the shadow of affirmative action," Obama writes. "You could almost read the scrutiny in the gaze of certain students and even some professors, as if they wanted to say, 'I know why you're here.'" This was often "demoralizing," Obama says, while acknowledging she "was just imagining some of it."

"It planted a seed of doubt. Was I here merely as part of some social experiment?" she asks.

The former first lady says she gradually realized that affirmative action wasn't the only way the school filled quotas. "As minorities, we were the most visible, but it became clear that special dispensations were made to admit all kinds of students whose grades or accomplishments might not measure up to the acknowledged standard," she writes. Obama cites student-athletes, as well as the "legacy kids" who attended Princeton like their "fathers and grandfathers" before them, "or whose families had funded the building of a dorm or a library."

Princeton probably did use affirmative action to raise enrollment numbers for minority students, but the school apparently didn't do a great job. "There were so few of us minority kids at Princeton, I suppose, that our presence was always conspicuous," Obama writes. She adds that this drove her to "overperform" in order to "keep up with or even plow past the more privileged people around" her.

This is not the first time Obama has talked about her experience as a black student at Princeton. In May, she posted on Instagram about how "scary" it was to be a black "first generation college student" at a school consisting of "generally white and well-to-do" students.

She was also interested enough in race relations that she wrote her Princeton senior thesis on the topic. The thesis surveyed black Princeton alumni to see how they "felt about race and identity after being at Princeton," Obama writes in Becoming. In 2013, National Affairs provided more details on the thesis, which was titled "Princeton-Educated Blacks and the Black Community":

Black alumni were asked whether they felt "much more comfortable with Blacks," "much more comfortable with Whites," or "about equally comfortable with Blacks and Whites" in various contexts during three different periods in their lives—before attending Princeton, while students at Princeton, and after leaving Princeton.

Her senior thesis aside, Obama's experience at Princeton is a good example of why affirmative action policies aren't a good idea. Citing Jonathan Haidt, a social psychologist and professor at New York University, Reason's Robby Soave explained in 2016 that racial quotas can cause white students to look down on their black classmates. Soave wrote:

[W]hen administrators artificially sort people according to race in a manner ordained by race-based college admissions, they will inflame tensions by creating a false race-based achievement gap. In this way, efforts to increase diversity and combat racism are actually worsening the problem.

To be clear, Obama certainly deserved to get into Princeton. By all accounts, she was a brilliant student who went on to become an accomplished lawyer. But the fact that people looked down on her because of Princeton's affirmative action policies is unfortunate, just as it is for all deserving minority students who wonder whether they're just filling a quota.

Photo Credit: Michael Donhauser/dpa/picture-alliance/Newscom

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  • Bubba Jones||

    I am beginning to think that people often feel insecure.

  • Trifrozion||

    I had a friend in High School with the surname Lang (who was white) who wanted to go to Princeton and study Maths. The school was overjoyed to have him apply and everything, but when he went for his interview they acted as though he was deceptive by not saying that he was white (it was on his application).

  • Nardz||

    Just like Mrs. Costanza

  • Juice||

    Since when is Lang anything but an English name?

  • ||

    It's pronounced like "long."

  • Rev. Arthur L. Kirkland||

    I had a friend in High School with the surname Lang (who was white) who wanted to go to Princeton and study Maths.

    The wording and capitalization seem odd, as if produced by a discount Russian-to-English translator.

  • ||

    +100

    A Kirkland post that, while still positing a conspiracy theory, manages to hint at a sense of humor and does not conclude by denoting the inevitability of those that cling to continue doing so.

    A tip of the hat to you, sir!

  • Bill||

    I once knew someone named Smith and no one jumped to any conclusions at all about anything about them.

  • Echo Chamber||

    "Was I here merely as part of some social experiment?"

    You will never know. Best to stay out of the public eye now

  • SIV||

    To be clear, Obama certainly deserved to get into Princeton.

    Are we so sure she didn't steal that seat from a Chinaman?

  • Echo Chamber||

    deserves gotz nuthin to do with it

  • Riesen||

    The Chinaman is not the issue here, Dude. Also, Chinaman is not the preferred nomenclature. Asian-American.

  • CE||

    Yeah, but who says they're from Asia?
    Lots and lots of people say they're from China.

  • Ken Shultz||

    "You could almost read the scrutiny in the gaze of certain students and even some professors, as if they wanted to say, 'I know why you're here.'" This was often "demoralizing," Obama says, while acknowledging she "was just imagining some of it."

    Before she runs for the Democratic nomination, I think she should release any and all psychiatric records to the public.

  • Ken Shultz||

    Those are clear signs of social anxiety disorder. The question is whether her symptoms have ever escalated to full-blown paranoia.

    What's she's describing is certainly delusional behavior. That she's aware that it was just in her imagination suggests she sought professional help.

    She may be unfit for office. It's hard to tell unless she releases her psychiatric history.

  • Chipper Morning Baculum||

    Ken, you seem to have an inability to emphatize with what minorities, or women, have to deal with on an everyday basis.

  • ||

    I'm pretty sure I lack the ability to emphatize as well, should I be worried?

  • TuIpa||

    Probably not, CMB will just emphatize for all of us.

  • Nardz||

    Its easier for eunuchs

  • Ken Shultz||

    "Ken, you seem to have an inability . . . "

    Yeah, it's all about me. I'm both the cause of everyone's problems--and the solution.

    ESAD

  • JesseAz||

    Cmb is the type too scared to actually talk to a minority and discuss issues. I talk with them daily. Most of the ones I know laugh about affirmative action and thinks it is BS. But they are also engineers. So maybe they saw the way victimization was a means to keep them in control.

  • lafe.long||

    That she's aware that it was just in her imagination suggests she sought professional help.

    I disagree. The acknowledgment that it was in her imagination is rational - it should have just stayed there. This wouldn't have been a story.

    If only the SJWs would admit that most of the shit they bitch about is all in their heads, the world would be a much more pleasant place. Far fewer perceived "victims".

  • JesseAz||

    Who are you to deny them "their" truth. Reality? It's for suckers.

  • Lester224||

    This sounds sarcastic.

  • Ken Shultz||

    How could anybody be sarcastic in a serious place like this?!

  • Agammamon||

    Nah dude. Knowing that there's a deliberate policy of lowering standards to allow people like you access - and knowing that no one would ever admit if they lowered the standards for you or not - well, its perfectly normal to wonder from time to time if you're there because someone lowered the bar.

  • DiegoF||

    I will say this: Michelle Obama was no child of great privilege. But she was the daughter of a stable, loving two parent family with a stay-at-home mom. Her dad was the Democratic precinct captain and held a city job. She grew up in a safe, middle-class neighborhood and her family owned a summer home in Michigan. She attended Chicago's most prestigious magnet school; and by the time she applied to Princeton, racial affirmative action was by her own admission not the only favorable consideration she received from the committee. She was, in fact, a legacy--her older brother was an alum.

    Again, she was hardly a typical Princeton student, let alone a rich girl. And she was black, and female. But the educational atmosphere would not have been in any sense the cultural shock for her that many college students have to overcome.

  • Azathoth!!||

    THIS isn't 'great' privilege?

    Michelle Obama was no child of great privilege. But she was the daughter of a stable, loving two parent family with a stay-at-home mom. Her dad was the Democratic precinct captain and held a city job. She grew up in a safe, middle-class neighborhood and her family owned a summer home in Michigan. She attended Chicago's most prestigious magnet school;

    In what kind of fucked up world do we look at this and think, 'yeah, she needs a hand up'?

  • MiloMinderbinder||

    she was a brilliant student who went on to become an accomplished lawyer.

    She graduated HLS in '88 and was on the Illinois bar inactive list by '93. Kind of setting the bar low for "Accomplished."

  • TuIpa||

    Wasting that much time on a spurious education is an accomplishment.

  • Rock Lobster||

    Hey! Her record of accomplishment as a lawyer rivals that of Hillary Clinton as Secretary of State.

  • ||

    That caught my eye too. I'd like some citations.

    I'm a little tired of the Obamas getting the benefit of the doubt. SHOW why they were accomplished.

    After all, Obama got a Nobel Peace prize for literally doing fuck all for peace.

  • Mickey Rat||

    The Obamas had a well established record of existence.

  • Fist of Etiquette||

    "Present."

  • Rebel Scum||

    I am still waiting for that to be revoked, given his warmongering ways.

  • RPGuy16||

    It was good enough to get her a $320,000 per year public relations job at University of Chicago Medical Center.

  • OpenBordersLiberal-tarian||

    Reason's Robby Soave explained in 2016 that racial quotas can cause white students to look down on their black classmates.

    So because white students are racist, we should punish black and brown students by eliminating the policies that help them get admitted? What twisted logic.

    The solution is obvious — continue practicing affirmative action, and increase the mandatory racial sensitivity training classes for all incoming students, but especially for the privileged white ones. Perhaps colleges and universities can increase their budgets for the diversity and inclusion departments.

    But whatever they do, getting rid of affirmative action is out of the question. I mean, that's exactly what the alt-right wants. And whether the topic is immigration or affirmative action, the alt-right is always 100% wrong.

    #LibertariansForAffirmativeAction
    #1100IsAnIvyLeagueSATScoreIfYoureBlackOrBrown

  • Ken Shultz||

    "Reason's Robby Soave explained in 2016 that racial quotas can cause white students to look down on their black classmates."

    If it weren't for Robby Soave, would any of us know anything?

  • Here for the outrage||

    White people seeking merit based systems are racist

  • Lester224||

    I think it's far to have some points given to applicants who are economically disadvantaged and can't afford the SAT tutors. Giving points to legacy admissions (Dad, Mom and Grandad went there) just helps to shut out all the Asian people.

  • Azathoth!!||

    Giving points to legacy admissions (Dad, Mom and Grandad went there) just helps to shut out all the Asian people.

    It's not 1918. Grandad went there too even if he's Asian.

    In fact, it's all the Asian granddads that have the ivies keeping Asians out now. They let them in as smart safe diversity when they first got on the PC train.

  • Nardz||

    Sounds like she has some privilege issues

  • OpenBordersLiberal-tarian||

    People of color, and especially women of color, cannot be "privileged" in a white supremacist country like the US.

  • esteve7||

    then why do white liberals keep trying to pretend they arn't white?

    see: Elizabeth Warren and Beto O'Rourke?

  • TuIpa||

    See, this is where you give the game away. A real liberal would understand that race is only one type of (fake) privilege.

  • The Last American Hero||

    You left out people that choose to identify as people of color.

  • JesseAz||

    Sinbad?

  • John C. Randolph||

    So, she was plagued by an inferiority complex, and that drove her to become a looter? Cry me a fucking river.

    -jcr

  • esteve7||

    I'm not going to feel bad for someone who made six figures as a BS diversity officer, and who never felt proud of her country until her husband was president

  • ||

    ...and then stopped being proud of her country when he wasn't.

  • JesseAz||

    Hey now. That position was created solely for a state senators wife and quickly removed as a job once he moved on. Don't say she didn't earn that shit.

  • The Firebrand||

    Sideshow Bob: You wanted to be Krusty's sidekick since you were five! What about the buffoon lessons, the four years at clown college?
    Cecil: I'll thank you not to refer to Princeton that way.

  • Uncle Jay||

    Princeton?
    That would explain her love affair with kale and other shit sane people refuse to eat.

  • DiegoF||

    She loves kale because she is black. It was a Southern/Southern migration thing long before it was a hipster thing.

  • Sidd Finch v2.01||

    To be clear, Obama certainly deserved to get into Princeton. By all accounts, she was a brilliant student who went on to become an accomplished lawyer.

    beyond parody

    deserving minority students who wonder whether they're just filling a quota.

    They should quite wondering and spend the 2 or 3 minutes necessary to figure it out.

  • The Last American Hero||

    He threw in a "to be sure" after quoting Robbie. Accidental troll job or brother from another mother?

  • Rebel Scum||

    "It planted a seed of doubt. Was I here merely as part of some social experiment?"

    Yes. Affirmative action is government mandated racism.

  • ||

    "There were so few of us minority kids at Princeton, I suppose, that our presence was always conspicuous," Obama writes. She adds that this drove her to "overperform" in order to "keep up with or even plow past the more privileged people around" her.

    "...In May, she posted on Instagram about how "scary" it was to be a black "first generation college student" at a school consisting of "generally white and well-to-do" students."

    And yet....here she is. MORE PRIVILEGED than 99% of the world's population. This from a person whose husband asked at some point 'you've made enough money' and further pontificated in his usual empty rhetorical style that at some point 'how much is enough?' How about a) none of your fucken business and b) this from a guy who then scored a $65 million book deal and signed a deal with Netlfix. Indeed how much is enough Barry? Nobody needs that much money since nobody needs that many deodorants to buy.

    Is she for real? And what kind of moron buys this dreck?

    Boo-hoo-fricken-hoo. She felt insecure around wypippo. Guess what? I felt the same way when I went to a private school dominated by WASPS and Jews. But I survived despite all the jokes about Italians. Hey, we're all 'white' right? So who cares!

    I swear. These people.

    Joe, remember. We're libertarian-classical liberal and in some cases conservatives. I doubt she'll get much sympathy around here.

    /kicks snow in orphan's eyes.

  • Alcibiades||

    "Is she for real? And what kind of moron buys this dreck?"

    You know I actually don't think there's that much of a market for this drivel and publishers, Netlix, etc. have just signed this pair up for the social cred (they imagine) it bestoys on them. They probably won't break even on the deals but hey look who we're associated with and does business with us.

    Still, I've seen excerpts from this tome introduced breathlessly as pearls of wisdom from on high for us all to sigh over and be blessed by the profound wisdom of it all...or something.

  • ||

    The book deal intrigues me. Will they make that money back? That's lot of books to sell. Assume a price of $25 per book the have to sell 2.6 million books (again, to the extent I understand how these things work) just to break even! If the price point rises to $30 that's still 2.1 million.

    There's that much of a demand for Obama? I hear he can't even fill up arenas wherever he goes to speak.

    How well did his previous books do?

  • Agammamon||

    Probably. She didn't write it - they paid some guy 10 grand to churn it out - its not like he's going to get any royalties. After that the largest expense will be the typesetting and printing costs.

  • Alcibiades||

    "Probably. She didn't write it - they paid some guy 10 grand to churn it out - its not like he's going to get any royalties. After that the largest expense will be the typesetting and printing costs."

    This is true, a lot of this species of publishing is ghostwritten. There was someone, can't recall who, whose book had gotten to within the top ten of the bestseller list and he got a call from his publishers to say "congratulations, yours is the only book in the top ten to be actually written by the name on the front cover".

    The Obama's also, no doubt, have a valuable (to others) and extensive "rolodex" of contacts for others to potentially mine for favors, deals etc...so being in business with them has benefits other than the immediate economic ones.

  • Alcibiades||

    Don't know much about the economics of the book industry, but yeah, that's a lot of tree material or electrons directed towards this effort. The so called charisma of Obama has always utterly escaped me.

    As to how Obama's other books performed in the marketplace, I don't know since I'm more likely to contaminate my bookshelves or my kindle with Trump's literary efforts long before any effort by this pair of grifters.

  • DiegoF||

    An old Italian guy is talking excitedly to his friend on a playground bench as a well-dressed lady walks by with her children. Her eyes widen as she overhears him.

    "Emma come first. Then I come," the Italian says. "Dennis come. Dennis come again. I come once more. Two asses, they come. I come again and pee twice. Then I come one last time."

    "You dirty old Italian beast!" the woman exclaims, outraged. "You are in a playground for small children! I should call the police, you pervert!"

    "Butta what for, lady?" the Italian guy exclaims, puzzled. "For helping my friend here how to spella 'Mississippi'?"

  • ||

    lol

  • TuIpa||

    She clearly knows she was only there as a token to salve the consciences of guilty white people.

  • simbatia||

    Poor Michelle, she's been so abused.

  • Dillinger||

    waahmbulance 30 years later unsurprising.

  • Dillinger||

    >>>certainly deserved to get into Princeton

    deserved?

  • Agammamon||

    Princeton probably did use affirmative action to raise enrollment numbers for minority students, but the school apparently didn't do a great job. "There were so few of us minority kids at Princeton, I suppose, that our presence was always conspicuous," Obama writes.

    You're just taking her word for it?

    To be clear, Obama certainly deserved to get into Princeton. By all accounts, she was a brilliant student who went on to become an accomplished lawyer.

    By what standards? She was awarded her JD in 1988 and left in 1991 - where she worked in politics (and not as a lawyer in politics but as an assistant to the mayor and as an assistant commissioner). And her law license has been left 'inactive' since 1993.

    So, what, pray tell, were her accomplishments as a lawyer? I mean, she has accomplishments in general - but what *specifically* makes her an accomplished lawyer? In the less than 5 years she was actually a lawyer. I don't see anything that would merit that accolade.

    And let's not forget that absent any Affirmative Action preference - she was still a Legacy applicant.

  • ||

    'Accomplished' to me would mean winning some key cases. Building a sterling reputation. Becoming a partner. etc.

    Was she any of these things?

  • Alcibiades||

    "Was she any of these things?"

    No...she just did one crucial thing...

  • Rev. Arthur L. Kirkland||

    Observing a bunch of disaffected, anti-social, marginalized right-wing losers whine about progress and an improving society's general rejection of white nationalism is interesting, instructive, and even somewhat entertaining.

    Carry on, clingers. The culture war is lost, but you can still mutter bitterly about it.

  • Alcibiades||

    Still bitter, still clinging and still incoherent.

  • TuIpa||

    Whoever runs the Revbot needs a thesaurus.

  • Alcibiades||

    I imagine the Revbot at some street corner with a sandwich board draped over its bony shoulders shreiking it's insanities to all while passersby avert their eyes and hurry on, their children asking "mommy, what's the crazy bad man saying?"

  • DesigNate||

    I imagine him as a less funny Bender.

  • ||

    And there it is...

    Kirkland. Come for the hyperbole, stay for the bitterness and insults.

  • ||

    I imagine Kirkland to be like a SIth Lord. Scouring the message boards for the perfect mixture of exhausted sarcasm and bilious superiority that will comprise the voice of the one he will groom to be his apprentice.

    Damn, I would probably watch that movie.

  • buybuydandavis||

    Will the Rev ever get another schtick?

    Does he have anything to say but "I hate so many Americans I can barely stand it"?

  • WhatAboutBob||

    Steve Sailer said it best about Michelle Obama:

    If she'd gone to, say, the University of Illinois or wherever she would have gotten in without affirmative action, she wouldn't have spent four years knowing that she was below the student body average in intelligence; she wouldn't have spent four years worrying that everybody else was noticing she wasn't as smart as the average; and she wouldn't have spend four years, plus the next 22, hating them for noticing it.

    http://www.unz.com/isteve/mich.....=princeton

  • Weigel's Cock Ring||

    If the fat-assed human ice cream cone does decide to run for president, we know she has Setyon's vote (and Welch, and Gillespie, and almost everyone else around here).

  • sharmota4zeb||

    Princeton probably did use affirmative action to raise enrollment numbers for minority students, but the school apparently didn't do a great job. "There were so few of us minority kids at Princeton, I suppose, that our presence was always conspicuous," Obama writes. She adds that this drove her to "overperform" in order to "keep up with or even plow past the more privileged people around" her.

    Meh, my brother made the same complaint about U of Penn when he was a college student there, but I found their high school summer program a bit underwhelming. The molecular biology course was interesting enough, but their computer science course was mostly learning how to email and program a turtle (it was a long time ago) and the bioethics teacher didn't understand the relevancy of citing a Torah portion when discussing the morality of genetic engineering.

    At least the Columbia University High School Science program was stimulating even if I was the only student who could deduce the definition of "sarcoma" from its roots.

  • No Longer Amused||

    Despite being a "brilliant student" and an "accomplished lawyer" I can't find anything online that backs those assertions up.

    Are her grade transcripts and list of major cases available?

  • Echospinner||

    Harvard Law is pass/fail you can also get honors or low pass. So there is no GPA. There is a record somewhere but to me at that level if you graduated and passed the bar exam, who cares?

    To get in there a 3.75 is competitive along with strong LSAT score. She graduated cum laude from Princeton so her grades must have been up there.

    Don't think she ever tried any cases. She did work in a law firm for a while before she went to community work and her job at U of C.

    I don't think she is really saying anything about affirmative action here. She is good at talking without really saying very much. A lot of Oprah type heartwarming jingles.

  • loveconstitution1789||

    Why does a supposed Libertarian publication care at all about an ex-first lady writing a book?

  • PS||

    "...says she sometimes wondered why she had been accepted into Princeton..." I imagine it had something to do with ticking the box marked "African American" (or non-white or black or minority or whatever the moniker was back then) on your application.

  • CGN||

    The sad fact is, and this has been proven more than once, that affirmative action allows students who do NOT have what it takes to succeed as prestigious schools to attend anyways. This does nothing good for these students.

  • Azathoth!!||

    I am so sick of this 'outnumbered' bullshit.

    Yes, Brainiac, there weren't a lot of black kids. You're outnumbered roughly 8 to 1. in any standard group there will be 8 times as many people who are not black as those who are black.

    Why do we have to keep acting like this is a surprise?

    Because black people keep being shocked by it and no one wants to deal with what that implies?

  • Mnemonicmike||

    The only people who believe in "white supremacy" are the people who think that black people need Affirmative Action to get into college. Racial discrimination will stop when you stop discriminating racially.

  • MostWanted||

    Affirmative action existing, can make black student feel insecure, so there should be no affirmative action. Exactly which logical fallacy are you using? I can't put my finger on it, but definitely an absurdly flawed argument.

  • jbrennan||

    I've heard that whites don't think much about race and that's all blacks think about. This country has become race

    crazy thats all your hear about these days

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