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Being black on campus

O’Dell Harmon Jr.: Individuality takes a back seat to race

Published: Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Updated: Wednesday, July 25, 2012 20:07

Growing up in Houston, I was always surrounded by people of different races and nationalities. I knew I was black, but I also knew that the world was made up of different people, with a unique personality and set of opinions. When I came to A&M, that all changed.

For the first time in life I was aware that I was a black male, and I knew that was all I was going to be to most people, for better or for worse.

I'm a part of the black community on campus, but I do not represent the voice of the black community. These are my experiences and my opinions.

Coming from a diverse population in the city to College Station, a small, majority-white town in the country, was hard in the first place. I knew it would be a challenge, but I was not mentally prepared for all that I would face.

My first roommate was from Trophy Club, Texas, a place with a 90 percent-plus white population. I was maybe the third or fourth black person he ever interacted with in his life. The first thing he could think to say to me was, "You're short for a black person." This annoyed me, but I wrote it off as simple ignorance and went on with life.

I began to find out through my freshmen and sophomore years here that a lot of students experienced a similar situation. They came from small towns with a huge white majority or they had never interacted with a black person before — or maybe any other race for that matter, which I found amazing.

My freshman year, I had many experiences that made me want to leave Aggieland. People made me feel like I was either an athlete who could only come here to carry or shoot a ball, a lucky black boy who made it out of the ghetto, or someone to fear and not to mess with; everything except the one thing I thought I would be here: an Aggie.

Also that year, I ran into a girl who told me she never had a problem with "coloreds." I honestly did not know how to feel. How do you respond to that level of nonsense? When she saw that I was obviously offended, she simply said, "I'm sorry, do you prefer black or African-American?"  I simply walked away to avoid saying something I might regret. I thought it was 2008 but apparently it was the 1950s.  

One of the biggest events that year was also the election of Obama. I did not vote in the 2008 election but that didn't matter. People already made up their mind that I did. I saw people literally cry after Obama got elected while I just went on with the week, but the way people would stare at me or sarcastically ask, "I bet you're happy, aren't you?" made me feel like they wanted to BTHO me along with the shirts that said the same for Obama.

The thing that always hurt the most was the fact that very few people tried to get to know me. I was just a black person; what was there to know? I could only like certain things; I could only do certain things; and of course I could only think a certain way.  If people took the time to know me, they found out that a have a diverse taste in music, I love video games, I like to dance to Latin music and I'm an encyclopedia on all things Pokémon.

As time went on and I decided to stay here, I met people who I could get along with. They either felt my pain or were just cool people. I didn't just hang out with black people, but Hispanics, Asians, whites and anyone else I could find; and no, it wasn't just the one or two friend minimum from each group.

They helped me make it through the overwhelming Aggie "love" and helped heal my animosity for Texas A&M. Before this, I found myself starting to feel the things about white people that some of them felt for me. I started to feel a lack of understanding and a dislike for them.

If I didn't want them to look at me with those piercing eyes, I couldn't do the same. A&M is known as one of the whitest and most conservative schools in the country. That was funny before I came here. I want to change that perception, so I had to change my attitude and become more open-minded. It's something we as Aggies should strive to do, but sadly it does not happen for the majority. I have no idea how to change that, but I try, and that's all I can do.

Now that I'm a senior, I can honestly say that overall it hasn't become much better. I am now used to the way things work here. I learned from it and became better for it, and I hope the same has happened for the people who I actually did talk to about it — I met some awesome Aggies who truly love this place and who taught me that I could, too.

The this issue will not get better if no one talks about it. Everybody here, regardless of race, color or creed, needs to just talk and listen to one another. People shouldn't automatically destroy somebody for his or her ignorance, as difficult as that might be — even when they use offensive terms, like "coloreds." Some need to open their minds and realize that someone is a person first with their own thoughts. It won't change the world, but it will change your perception. I challenge anyone who calls themself an Aggie to prove it, and realize the world looks, thinks and acts differently than the social norm here.

At the end of the day, I am one student who speaks for himself. We all have different experiences, different stories and different perspectives. The one thing I want people to learn is that we are all different people and that's a good thing because before I'm black, before I'm even an Aggie, I'm O'Dell Edwin Harmon Jr. first.

Thanks & Gig ‘em.


O'Dell Harmon Jr. is a senior agricultural communication and journalism major and opinion blogger for The Battalion.

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