On Thursday Michelle Obama spoke at a “women’s empowerment event” in Boston, saying among other things that “she sometimes ‘felt like an affirmative action kid’ as a freshman at Princeton University.”
Since she almost certainly was “an affirmative action kid,” I wonder why she felt that way only sometimes as a freshman. Of course, one of the most harmful effects of affirmative action is that it inevitably makes students at selective institutions who would not have been admitted but for their race feel like they would not have been admitted but for their race.
But wait; there’s more. “In our society, somehow, when affirmative action means color, it’s deemed to be problematic,” she also said. “I have a problem with that, because affirmative action exists everywhere throughout society. It’s called privilege.”
So, Ms. Obama believes that preferential treatment is a privilege blacks — presumably including her daughters — deserve because they are black, necessary, one supposes she thinks, to offset the undeserved privilege whiteness bestows on all whites at birth.
It would be interesting to know whether Ms. Obama believes Asians enjoy white privilege, especially since they suffer the brunt of the privilege affirmative action bestows on blacks and Hispanics. Based on her comments, there is certainly no reason to suspect that she is familiar with work of Princeton sociologist Thomas Espenshade, who joined the Princeton faculty a couple of years after she graduated. But I wonder what she would make of his findings, which I discussed at some length here and here, that if selective colleges eliminated racial preferences in admissions “Asian students would fill nearly four out of every five places in the admitted class not taken by African-American and Hispanic students.” Black students, Espenshade found, receive preferences worth 450 points (out of 1600) on the SAT compared to Asian-American applicants.
Since Michelle Obama in all probability was “an affirmative action kid,” there is a very strong probability that her race allowed her to displace an Asian applicant who would have been admitted in a colorblind process with no affirmative action. But, hey, whoever that kid was, he or she can at least enjoy all the benefits bestowed by inherited white privilege.