Michelle was only 21 or so when she wrote her Princeton thesis, so I’m certainly willing to give her a pass on a fair amount of stuff. After all, few of us are polished people at that age. As a college student, I wrote a lot of good stuff and a lot of garbage. I had bad ideas, and turgid writing. I never wrote badly, though. Turgid or not, my writing was informed and coherent.
With that in mind, the rapturous reception Michelle received from the French, apparently in part because of her stellar intellect, left me wondering if a sustained piece of writing — following 4 years at one of the top flight American universities — hinted at her brilliance. I’ve pulled out some bits and pieces for finger-pointing. I’ve tried to steer away from the mistakes of youth (ponderous cant, foolish ideas), as well as the tendency, in typewriter days, to ignore anything but gross errors, and focused solely on errors that should not appear in writing from a “brilliant” woman educated at one of America’s top (or, at least, most self-satisfied) institutions:
From the Dedication: “Thank-you for loving me and always making me feel good about myself.” — high on the self-interest there, but that’s typical for youth, so Michelle gets a pass. Writing “thank-you,” though, is either an embarrassing comment on Michelle’s literacy level or on what passed for teaching at Princeton.
That use of “thank-you” isn’t anomalous, by the way. In her “Acknowledgements” (which is either a misspelling or a Britishism), Michelle says “Thank-you Professor Wallace you have made me a much better student.” I assume she meant: “Thank you, Professor Wallace. You have made me a much better student.” In this regard, Michelle’s writing is not indicative of youth. It’s indicative of ignorance. One wonders, therefore, what kind of a student Michelle was before Professor Wallace got his hands on her.
Here’s a cute one (p. 13) because, in an almost Freudian typo, Michelle tried two different types of punctuation, both wrong:
As a future Black alumnus [was she ignorant about the feminine “alumna”?], this study is particularly interesting because often times [“oftentimes” should be one word, but I’ll admit that’s a bit obscure] I take my own attitudes about such issues for granted;. never pausing to reflect upon how my experiences at Princeton may somehow have caused my attitudes to change
That “;.” should, of course, have been a comma. And yes, I’m giving Michelle a total pass for just how silly and self-involved that sentence is, because she was young. It’s the horrible writing that concerns me.
Michelle’s same troublesome inability to understand the difference between commas, semicolons and periods crops up again in her much quoted passage about her sense of alienation (p. 15):
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 [sic, but I assume that’s a typo] I interact with Whites at Princeton, it often seems as if, to them, I will always be Black first and a student second.
First, let’s clean up the inexcusable grammatical errors:
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. It’s as if I really don’t belong. Regardless of the circumstances underwhich [sic, but I assume that’s a typo] I interact with Whites at Princeton, it often seems as if, to them, I will always be Black first and a student second.
Perhaps these horrible Whites were looking at her askance, not because she was Black, but because she lacked the foundational education that used to be a prerequisite for those institutions.
Even if you want to give Michelle a pass because her work is typewritten — and those of us who remember typewritten theses also remember a certain willingness to ignore mistakes that were too hard to correct — the fact remains that in one sentence after another, Michelle proves herself incapable of manage managing[*] basic grammar. (And again, I’m ignoring silly college-educated pontification.) Look at this, from page 15:
This realization has presently, [sic] made my goals to actively utilize my resources to benefit the Black community more desirable.
I think what she’s trying to say is this, but it’s very hard to tell:
My realization that an Ivy League education separates me from the Black community, without fully integrating me into the White community, increases my desire to use the skills I’ve obtained in a White education institution for the benefit of the Black community.
I’m only on page 15 of a 225 document, and it’s apparent that I could spend days and weeks correcting her writing. Whether the fault lies with the high-priced education she received, or with Michelle’s own intellect — well, I’m not qualified to answer. Suffice to say, this youthful effort doesn’t impress me, whether one looks at her grasp of basic English, or her ability to understand and synthesize complex sociological information.
*In my defense regarding the above correction, it was a manifest typo, as opposed to a failure to understand basic grammar. You all know I’m a lousy, lazy proofreader — at least when it comes to my own work. When it comes to other’s work, I show a certain impressive rigor.