Not blending in

 Uncategorized
Feb 162004
 
Authors: Kyle Endres

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

student.

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.’

“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

past.

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

even began.”

It’s the little things, like when someone makes an effort to

appear conscientious and politically correct, but fails in his or

her attempt.

“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

something.”

Or when people try to apologize for past aggressions against

African Americans.

“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.

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