Michelle Obama attends and promotes a “Black Solidarity” event for guest lecturer Manning Marable, who was, according to Cornel West, probably “the best known black Marxist in the country.” The event is the work of the Third World Center (TWC), a campus group whose board membership is exclusively reserved for minorities.
Michelle Obama (Robinson at the time) was one of those 19 board members and a leader of the organization. She helped to dispense what was, in today’s dollars, a $30,000 budget. Of the 19 elected positions on the board, there were two reserved spots for each of the five ethnic groups TWC purported to represent: Asian, Black, Chicano, Puerto Rican, and Native American.
The board also had representatives from the various minority organizations on campus, including Accion Puertorriquena y Amigos, the Asian-American Students Association, the Black Graduate Caucus, and the Chicano Caucus, among others. She also fundraised for the TWC by participating in its African-themed fashion show and fundraisers (see picture here). It was a controversial and racially-charged organization. And in looking at the group’s racial focus before and during Michelle’s tenure, we get a glimpse of her priorities while at Princeton.
“White Students on This Campus Are Racist”
If ever there was an example of the TWC governing board’s obsession with race, an editorial from October 21, 1981 is it. The members took great offense to an op-ed titled “Rebuilding Race Relations,” calling the article “racist, offensive, and inaccurate” for daring to question the group’s true commitment and to present a thesis on race relations counter to its own.
“The word RE-building implies that race relations once existed and, for some mysterious reasons, fell apart … ,” the board wrote in a scathing letter to the editor. “We, on the other hand, believe that race relations have never been and still are not at a satisfactory level. We are not RE-building. We cannot RE-build something that never existed in the first place.”
“Don’t hide behind excuses such as a lack of effort [to integrate with the Princeton campus] on our part,” the revealing letter added.“The bottom line is that white students on this campus are racist, but they may not realize it.” [Emphasis added]
Princeton itself, however, was concerned about the self-segregation by black students and proposed reforms to counter it, including no longer permitting black students to all room together in one dorm and integrating black freshmen into the general student body. The TWC strenuously opposed all of these reforms, arguing that integration of non-white students would harm the “support system” available to them, especially blacks. (Julie Newton, “TWC criticizes CURL plan: Minority strife would worsen,” The Daily Princetonian, October 21, 1981).
While Michelle was not a part of the board in 1981, as a board member of the Third World Center starting on April 7, 1983 she joined in a different racially-charged statement reproaching the college for not doing enough to hire “Latino administrators.” In a letter a few weeks later, the TWC attacked Princeton’s administration for not replacing Hector Delgado, a minority dean of students.
“This search needs to produce another experienced individual who is of minority background, preferably Latino, and who will be responsive to the concerns of Third World Center as well as the student body at large,” the TWC’s governing board wrote.
Others on campus took notice of the group’s calls and expressed concern.
For example, Fred Foote — the editor of Prospect magazine, a conservative monthly publication — criticized the TWC and Delgado for their obsessive focus on race.
“[Delgado’s] penchant for drawing campus issues along racial lines—a penchant shared by the TWC and The Daily Princetonian—is the chief cause of racial strife on campus,” he wrote.
A Culture of Racial Focus
The TWC’s racialism extended beyond who could become an officer in the group . Although the TWC served a number of roles on campus and was a hangout spot for minorities, its focus was mostly political. Its various constitutions make this clear. To quote the 1983 version:
The term ‘Third World’ implies[,] for us, those nations who have fallen victim to the oppression and exploitation of the world economic order. This includes the peoples of color of the United States, as they too have been victims of a brutal and racist economic structure which exploited and still exploits the labor of such groups as Asians, Blacks, and Chicanos, and invaded and still occupies the homelands of such groups as the Puerto Ricans, American Indians, and native Hawaiian people. We therefore find it necessary to reeducate ourselves to the various forms of exploitation and oppression. We must strive to understand more than just the basics of human rights. We must seek to understand the historical roots and contemporary ramifications of racism if Third World people are to liberate themselves from the economic and social chains they find themselves in. More