Growing up in a heavily populated, fast-paced city like Houston, I have neither experienced nor witnessed racism as some have.
Then I moved to north Louisiana. Upon arrival, newly made friends warned me about the tension between Whites and Blacks in northern Louisiana.
Before walking into the McAlister’s in Monroe, my friend stopped me.
“Diana, don’t get offended by the way people look at you when we walk inside,” she said.
Making that “awkward moment face” I asked why. Her response was that the guy with us was Black and we were not.
Because of my extremely thick, curly hair, I was told that local people would look at me funny. If they were curious of my race, they would ask. At times, sadly, I caught myself giggling inside wondering how they would react to me saying “No, I am Hispanic.” Other than telling me how exotic I looked, it seemed they were more comfortable knowing I was not Black.
After one year and becoming a Louisiana resident, it was time for me to go back to college. Although I applied to both Louisiana Tech University and Grambling State University, Grambling was willing to look past my low GPA from my previous college. However, there was a catch.
I received a phone call from a lady in the admissions office going over my application. She noted that my GPA was too low to transfer, but there was only one way around it. Confused by my elaborate, long last name and how proper I spoke, she asked with no hesitation, “Are you white? Because if you are not we will accept your application.”
Am I white? If Grambling is “The place where EVERYBODY is SOMEBODY,” why was my race in question?
Honestly, I was so upset with the question that I waited about a week to tell my parents about my acceptance letter. I later disregarded how unethical the lady handled the process for me to enroll, but I knew then that it was going to be a rough yet unique experience at Grambling State University.
My only friends then were the ones I first met when I moved to Ruston and the Grambling students who worked at wonderful Peking. They knew me as Diana the Puerto Rican.
It bothered me to be told that probably nobody at Grambling would approach me or try to get to know me as a person unless they saw me talking to someone they knew. So I decided to lay low and focus on my studies.
Moving back to Houston for the summer was a relief. After hearing about the Trayvon Martin rally at the Rodney F. Byrd Funeral Home in Third Ward, I saw potential for a story that I could write for my internship. Even though no one from my internship was going, I decided to go hoping to gain experience from a possible story.
While snapping pictures, taking notes and trying to listen to the speakers, I found it difficult to stay focused. Occasionally, I began looking at my surroundings because I felt like an outsider and unwelcomed. I noticed how people would move when strangers would say excuse me while passing through, but not for me. Because nobody would move, I had to create an obstacle course so that I would not bump anyone.
Trying to get quotes to start my story was a mission. Of course there were people that were approachable for other reporters; however, I didn’t have a camera man behind me.
When I was around Quanell X and his supporters, they wouldn’t look at me in the eye. They just looked at me like I was nothing. After it started raining, I saw my opportunity. Waiting my turn as he was giving statements to reporters, I stood behind him and a lady holding a big umbrella. She didn’t even ask if I would like to come underneath the umbrella as I stood there soaking wet and patiently waiting.
The rain began to pour even more and I decided to walk back to my car. Along the way I saw a car offering people umbrellas, but nobody offered me one. Then there was a lady in scrubs who I thought would be willing to share her umbrella with me. When I asked she said sure, then I noticed how her umbrella shifted away from me.
The next day I attended another rally, this time I shadowed a reporter and assisted with taking pictures. They were proud of me for my efforts from the previous day. Standing in front of the Criminal Court House, I saw Quanell X again and I noticed how he would move occasionally in the direction away from a perfect picture. He also gave me that blank infamous look again. I knew he recognized me.
When we went to the Federal Court House I decided to approach a speaker from the day before and yes, I made sure that she knew I was a student at Grambling State University. Needless to say, I have her personal business card and contact information.
Yes, this bothered me because these rallies and protests throughout the nation were sparked because justice was not served and someone was seen as being treated different, “racially profiled” and judged.
I know I will never understand what it is like to grow up as a Black person because I am not Black. I will never know how it feels to be treated different as a Black person and I will never understand the struggle that a Black woman may experience.
However, I do know how it feels to not be Black and attend an HBCU with the very people that complain about being treated different. I know how it feels to be treated different because I am not Black and I know how it feels to be wet, cold and ignored because I am not Black.
I even know how it feels to be hated for having a lighter complexion because Black people have labeled me as “light skinned.” I know how it feels to be the only person not Black in the building.
Instead of people focusing on racism and a corrupt justice system being the cause of the verdict, let’s focus on changing the law before it’s too late. The decision of the jury sent a message that day. If you feel threatened by a teenager, you have the right to kill them. We need to ask the justice system will justice be served before or after the same thing happens to a child younger than Trayvon Martin.
Diana Sepulveda is a junior mass communication major from Houston.