If you think going to Bucknell for four years was like living in a bubble, then you never grew up in Rye Brook, NY. Being raised in this homogenous community and attending the same school district, there was only one African American family in town The family, who actually lived around the corner from me, had four children; two of them graduating from my high school while the youngest two transferred before senior year. One of the girls who transferred was actually in my grade and in my kindergarten class in 1995. (In order to protect the identity of this girl, I have chosen to not use her real name. So for the purpose of this assignment, I will refer to her as Alex). For those of you who don’t know me well, I tend to get absurdly tan when I go away to tropical climates and completely change skin color (I am too embarrassed to post a picture to blog so if you are truly interested in my transformation, I’ll email you a picture)! I will never forget this story, since it’s my mother’s favorite to tell. I had just gotten back from President’s week vacation in Puerto Rico in February of 1995. Being my usual self and despite wearing massive amounts of sunscreen, I came back chocolate brown. Alex and I took the same bus to school each morning and waited together at the bus stop. The first time she saw me, she gave me the weirdest look and for the rest of the day, as we colored pictures of our vacations and ate snack, she could not stop looking at me. The next morning while we were waiting for the bus, Alex asked my mom a simple question, “Mrs. Silverstein, why is Dana black and you’re white?”
Besides being totally taken back and it being 7:30 in the morning, my mom had only a few minutes to explain to her that I was in fact white and that I tend to get extremely and absurdly tan. Although my family and friends look back on this story and laugh, I think it took Alex a lot of courage to ask my mother that simple question. Being the only African American girl in our grade, seeing someone else as dark as her must have been confusing for her, since we were only five years old. It was evident looking back that she recognized that she was a minority and even though we were treated as equals in the classroom, she realized that she was inherently different. This made me question how did the lack of diversity in my community and being the only African American girl in our grade affect her identity?
Now, I cannot speak for Alex, but I can say that she did transfer to a boarding school in South Africa to pursue her passion for golf. I also cannot say if the lack of diversity was a deciding factor in her decision to leave my school district or if the school itself was not challenging enough for her. But what is clear is that even at a young age, we are fully aware of our race and or gender. I wonder, in our small community, if she experienced racism or was treated any differently because she was Black. Despite being a homogenous place to grow up, Rye Brook was, and still is, a very accepting community. Being apart of the majority, I never faced any criticism or opposition because of my race (but I did based on my gender). Having my mom retell the story of her encounter with Alex when I was older more understanding of the situation ultimately heightened my awareness about the lack of diversity in my town. I was apart of the majority and being a minority never crossed my mind. I do not think it made me ignorant to diversity but rather, made me numb to it. Because I was never taught by a Black or Asian teacher and never had a diverse group of friends, I never realized how race places a critical role in shaping the American landscape. Although I studied the Civil Rights Movement in elementary, middle and high school, I do not think I truly understood how the struggles of minorities have affected history and the way our nation functions today until I came to Bucknell. Although the university lacks a diverse student body, I think that my professors have done an excellent job in exposing me to the realities of non-white Americans.
I cannot imagine people saying that racism has been completely eradicated from our society and the problem no longer exists. I still think it is a prevalent issue despite the fact that we have our first African American President in office. There are many people in this country that still stereotyped people based on the color of their skin. I think there is a generational component of racism as well, that certain beliefs have been passed down from generation to generation which causes racism to continue to permeate our society’s pores. I do not think it is something we can escape, but I think it is something we can play an active role in changing. By becoming more educated, more tolerant and more aware, we as individual’s can begin to become more accepting of diversity, and halt the pervasiveness of racism.