It’s the little things.
It’s the things that go unnoticed by most CSU students that
serve as a daily reminder for others.
What may pass as an innocent or meaningless conversation to one
person may carry a world of meaning – racism, political
correctness, hypersensitivity, guilt – to an African American
It’s the things that happen daily to Je’Nean Johnson.
Johnson, a junior speech communication major, said her status as
a minority at CSU sometimes puts her in a difficult position.
Whenever topics like affirmative action, slavery or Martin Luther
King Jr.’s life come up in class, she is suddenly under the
scrutiny of every pair of eyes in class.
Or she is expected to represent more voices than her own,
especially in her ethnicity classes.
“I was expected to be the spokesperson for minorities, you
know,” Johnson said. “We started talking about Latino women’s
issues and people kind of looked at me and I’m like, ‘I’m black.’
Start talking about Indian women and it’s like, ‘I’m black,
“Actually I can’t give you every black woman’s perspective on
it, I just know my own.”
Johnson grew up in Oklahoma, a place she said is more accepting
of diversity than Fort Collins.
“Here is very different than where I come from,” she said. “It’s
a totally different atmosphere in regards to race. At home it’s
more tolerant and people are more eager to learn about black
history. Here it’s more of a requirement, I think.”
It’s the little things, like when someone assumes something
because of a person’s ethnicity.
Kenyetta Hargrett, a sophomore political science major, said
freshman year she had someone come up to her and ask what sport she
played, without any prior knowledge of her life. Hargrett told the
person she hadn’t participated in organized sports since high
school, and the girl came back the next day and apologized.
“She came back, she apologized because I’m sure she knew – maybe
she didn’t figure it out until she talked to somebody else – but
I’m sure she found out what type of effect that had on me and what
that would make me feel like,” Hargrett said.
Also freshman year, Hargrett moved from one part of Corbett Hall
to another, a move that some of her former neighbors thought was
because they were Caucasian. They would approach her and ask her
why she moved and whether it was because they were not minorities.
She thought there might be nothing to the question, but there was a
part of her that also questioned the motivation.
“It’s like you’re trying to start a confrontation, like you want
somebody to say ‘actually yeah that’s exactly what it is, now
what,'” Hargrett said. “Like you want somebody to challenge your
opinion. I get stuff like that all the time.”
It’s the little things, like feeling like an outsider as the
only African American student in class. Wilhelmina Proby
experiences being “the black girl” in class on a daily basis.
“The professor knows who you are, when you’re not there because
you’re gone. You know, you don’t blend in,” said Proby, a junior
psychology major. “I mean sometimes it’s OK, and then other times
it’s like you might be sitting and there’s two empty chairs on
either side of you.”
For Proby, this isolation has led to a curious conclusion.
“For me, I still say that I’m the only black psychology major on
campus. I’m not, but I always say that because in my classes, all
my psych classes, it’s always just me,” Proby said, “and you know
it’s like in the psych department, I’m looking around like, ‘maybe
there’s one more person.'”
It’s the little things, like a once-a-year reminder of the
February is Black History Month, but the three students said
more awareness of African American issues is needed year-round.
James White, interim assistant director of Black Student Services,
said African American history should be recognized as a part of
basic American culture.
“It’s actually American history and the situation is that it’s
just recognized and celebrated during that one month,” White said.
“Black history spans before Martin Luther King and still continues
today. Black history or African history started way before slavery
It’s the little things, like when someone makes an effort to
appear conscientious and politically correct, but fails in his or
“A lot of times people make such an effort not to offend you
that they wind up offending you,” Proby said. “People are almost
scared to talk about certain things with you, as if you’re just
going to lash out, or you’re going to have an attitude, or you’re
going to hate them all the sudden just because they said
Or when people try to apologize for past aggressions against
“I’ve actually gotten apologies. People will say to me, ‘You
know I’m so sorry for what my ancestors have done to your people in
the past,'” Johnson said. “Unless you do something that’s going to
directly affect me or is going to directly offend me, that’s when
you can start getting on your knees and apologizing.”
It’s the little things, like when people are identified by their
ethnicity, not their personality.
Johnson said she and others are often described as “that black
girl,” whereas a Caucasian girl would be described solely by her
gender. These descriptions add to stereotypes and prejudices.
“I’m a person first,” Johnson said. “Being black is very
important to me and it’s a defining characteristic, but I’m always
going to be a person before you should look at me as a black
person. I should always be Ja’Nean first.”
Sometimes the little things make a big difference.