I ask this question after reading a report at Politico.com on her thesis written as a senior at Princeton. What did she write about? Well, not U.S. diplomacy between the World Wars; Milton's heroic sonnets; or even female artists of the High Middle Ages. Four years at one of the finest liberal arts institutions in the world, and Michelle Obama comes out still examining her navel in an excercise called "Princeton-Educated Blacks and the Black Community."
I suppose it's become required reading (download links available within the Politico story), given its deeply political nature--one that appears to strike a harshly discordant note with her husband's campaign message of post-racial unity.
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 underwhich I interact with whites at Princeton, it often seems as if, to them, I will always be black first and a student second.
I'm sorry. Feelings of "not belonging" to this campus or that institution or this tradition or that organization are just not the singular emotional domain of the Ivy League black student--nor, even the singular emotional domain of minority students in general. Insecurity, feelings of not measuring up, not belonging plague the more sensitive or paranoid or self-knowing among us. Indeed, F. Scott Fitzgerald, one of Princeton's most illustious alumni, was famous for his social insecurity.
The report continues:
Obama writes that the path she chose by attending Princeton would likely lead to her "further integration 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."
Does she even want to become a "full participant" (whatever that means)? Assessing the results of a questionnaire she sent to black Princeton alumni about post-graduation life, she writes:
"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."
I guess I'll have to read the whole thesis to see exactly what she means, and how it all relates to her husband's "unity" themes. All I can say now is that the Obama family worshipping at a black separatist Christian church starts to make a little more sense.