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Mrs. Silverstein… Is Dana Black or White?

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.













About Dana Silverstein

I am a Senior Management and History major at Bucknell University. I currently live in Westchester, New York and am hoping to start a career in advertising upon graduation.


7 thoughts on “Mrs. Silverstein… Is Dana Black or White?

  1. I think you did a nice job of incorporating the sociological imagination into the post. It is interesting that “Alex” at only 5 years of age recognized that she was different and questioned her identity (and your identity) with respect to skin color. It is really amazing when you think about it – that “Alex” was very self-aware of her race in comparison to those around her. Mills would enjoy reading this post!

    Posted by Lauren McGuiggan | February 27, 2012, 8:48 pm
  2. It’s amazing how at such a young age children can pick up on such sensitive issues. I grew up in a town that was, although predominately white, had a large array of ethnicity. I’ve always been extremely pale and was often envious of my friends that had even the faintest of brown skin. It wasn’t until the end of 6th grade when my family moved some towns over. I transferred to a new school district. On my first day I had the reaction of “Why is everyone white?” There were literally less than 10 people that were something other than white (that I knew of). It didn’t seem normal to me, having experienced my education up until that point in much more diverse classrooms. As you mentioned with Alex, I wonder if these initial kids felt discriminated against in any way because of their skin.

    Posted by Danielle Marquette | February 27, 2012, 10:36 pm
  3. Race is so deeply embedded in US history and politics. I remember looking at electoral maps of the 2004 and 2008 elections and thinking how people bemoaned the “polarization” of the two parties into red and blue America. But, the “golden age” of bi-partisanship, especially in the 20th century, was a product of interests that cut across party lines, especially Southern Democrats who could make allies with Northern Republicans. Lyndon Johnson, who the speaker Tuesday night, Robert Caro, has written on, was a master of this (Johnson supposedly said, on signing the civil rights act, that he had lost the south for the Democrats for a generation; he still signed it). But those southern Democrats were “moderate” precisely because they were tied to the particular mileux of the Jim Crow south. As they left, both parties became “freer” to realign along purer ideological/geographical lines. The “blue” cities and coasts and the “red” agricultural zones and sunbelt sprawl cities. The old confederacy had now become completely Republican. Republican as in the party of Lincoln.

    So, in this way, it seems that the 2008 election was perhaps the last chapter of the US civil war.

    Posted by Jordi | February 28, 2012, 12:00 am
  4. I wonder if Alex asked your mother that because she was looking for some sort of companion that she did not have previously. It is really enlightening that at such a young age she would notice that there is a difference, and I think this shows just how much a lack of diversity can affect a person. I think this relates to our community here at Bucknell also. I remember Jordi mentioned in class the issue of all the white people sitting together in the cafeteria. It is clear to me that there is a definite diversity issue here, and perhaps the reason is because we are all coming from towns that lack in diversity? I know that my town was largely white, and I know many students come from the same town as Dana. It seems that places that have had a large white population typically stay that way, and I think this is problematic.

    Posted by alyssakinell | February 28, 2012, 12:19 pm
  5. I actually thought about that too Alyssa, the fact that I went from one homogenous community to another. But when I came to Bucknell, in all honesty, I did not look at the racial percentages on campus (I did look at the number of Jewish people on campus though). I was more focused on academics, the size of the classes, and if they had Greek life or not. Those were the things that were most important to me. Looking back, I do not regret applying early decision to Bucknell, but I do regret not thinking about how a diverse student body would affect my overall college experience.

    Posted by Dana Silverstein | February 28, 2012, 2:12 pm
  6. Dana, I laughed a bit when I read this story because I have had similar experiences. In the summer, my dad’s skin gets so dark. Me of course — well, I’m lucky if I even get a shade darker without getting completely fried. My dad and I always laugh when we compare our arms: it looks like a half moon cookie in a way, he is the chocolate side and I am the vanilla side. I think people are always trying to make sense of what confuses them.

    Posted by Jenna | February 29, 2012, 12:05 pm
  7. Great story, and I agree with your insights in terms of racism still being prevalent in our society. I find it amazing that there is only one black family in your town, but I’m not surprised. As you know, I’m from Irvington – about 20 minutes away from Rye Brook. In my town, there are very few black families, maybe in the single digits. Irvington is similar to Rye Brook as well, pretty homogeneous, tucked into Westchester. And it is interesting, because like Rye Brook, I feel that Irvington is pretty tolerant place. But I would like to hear the black families that live in Irvington say, that; I can’t speak from their perspectives. From kindergarten through high school, I never really thought too much of race. But that also could be due to the fact that there was very little exposure to any other ethnicity in my town.

    Posted by Ben K. | February 29, 2012, 3:45 pm

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