Michelle Obama's College Roommate Wanted Segregated Dorm
by Zoey, Tue Apr 15, 2008 at 06:08:16 AM EDT
Cross-posted at DailyKos under my real name.
There has been much ado about Michelle Obama's college thesis in which she described feeling like an outsider at Princeton -- a black person first, a student second. I understand how she could have felt that way, especially twenty five years ago. After reading a poignant article about Michelle Obama's first college roommate, I have new insight into the environment that made her feel like a second class student during her college years.
More after the fold...
When Michelle Obama's roommate, born and raised in the South, arrived at Princeton, she was shocked to find herself assigned to share a dorm with a black student. So shocked, in fact, that she called her mother to help her implore the school to move her into another dorm.
The girl's mother was also shocked and angry. She called the grandmother who suggested the situation was serious enough to warrant pulling the girl out of Princeton altogether.
This was a girl raised by a struggling single mother and against all odds was able to attend Princeton, and her own family felt that she should forgo an ivy league education rather than be subjected to rooming with a black student. I cannot fathom this level of prejudice, but this the account told by the roommate and her family.
When told about the dorm assignment, her mother "stormed down to the campus housing office and demanding Donnelly be moved":
I was horrified...
I told them we weren't used to living with black people -- Catherine is from the South. They probably thought I was crazy.
Growing up, Michelle Obama's roommate was taught not just that blacks were inferior but also that they should be feared:
Her mother and grandmother filled her head with racist stereotypes, portraying African-Americans as prone to crime, uneducated and, at times, people to be feared.
[Her grandmother], 71, explains that she was raised to think that way. She recalls hearing her grandfather, a sheriff in the North Carolina mountains, brag about running black visitors out of the county before nightfall. And Brown's parents held on to the n-word like a family heirloom.
As I read the story, I came to a paragraph that talked about the grandmother's feelings today. She says that now she believes it is fine for blacks and whites to room together. She has grown and shed her prejudice, and it makes me smile. Then I read further and feel like I've been kicked in the gut:
Where I draw the line is interracial marriage. That I can't quite deal with.
She goes on to describe her feelings towards blacks today, saying:
African-Americans don't take enough responsibility. Bill Cosby says the same thing. Get off your rear end and work hard and improve yourself.
I cannot imagine what that must have been like, what it must be like for black Americans. Sure, I sympathize, I have the picture in my mind, but that feeling deep down -- I'm not sure that I can really know what that's like without walking in those shoes. It pains me deep in my soul just to know it, to think about it.
The roommate goes on to describe a quasi-segregation at Princeton in those days:
Donnelly was surprised to find something familiar - segregation - alive and well on a prestigious campus in the Northeast. The university's private eating clubs, host to frat-style parties, were largely white. The social scene for many minority students, including Obama, revolved around an activity building called the Third World Center.
What struck me about the article was the gradations by which each generation's view of blacks changed. The grandmother still holds the most prejudices. The mother says that blacks are "resentful" but says she understands why they are. The daughter, Michelle Obama's roommate says that she laments missed opportunities to make black friends.
The mother realizes now the irony of what happened so many years ago:
We thought this is so ironic. [Obama] could be the first lady, and here we wanted to get my child out of her influence.
Obama's roommate says that Obama likely never knew about the "behind the scenes maneuvering."Yeah right. Does she seriously think that you can live with another person 24/7 and not know that they are prejudiced against you? Does she think Michelle Obama could not see it in her eyes?
By the second semester, Michelle Obama's roommate was able to move to another room.