This article was originally written by Judit Deen in Hungarian, and was published on wmn.hu on 16/06/2020, an open and inclusive online platform for women. Translated by Julia Levai.
I’ve stopped explaining to complete strangers at the shops or at the post office that I am Hungarian too.
What’s it like to live in Hungary as a Black woman? To be complimented on your ‘nice’ accent, when you are Hungarian? To be in school and hear another girl say she doesn’t want to hold your hand, fearing that you would ‘dirty’ hers? What’s it like to watch everything that is going on in the US from here, hearing all the racist opinions, maybe even reading all the hatred in the comment sections on posts? Judit Deen discusses her experience and gives some recommendations regarding what to watch if you want to get an insight into the experience of living as a Black person anywhere in the world.
I have experienced so much as a mixed-race Hungarian-African.
I was mocked, humiliated, outcasted, hit. Imagine the feeling when, as a primary school student, I had to deal with another young girl’s refusal to hold my hand in line, as she claimed that she felt disgusted and worried that my hand would make hers dirty. This painful feeling is all too familiar for those who have also been Othered. Personally, I’ve experienced this feeling throughout my whole life.
I know exactly which kinds of articles I don’t want to see the comments section for – and sadly, my fears are always confirmed. There is no way to put this nicely; I see how most people react with an angry or a laughing emoji under all writings regarding this topic. Friends of mine, who I never thought would, are posting fake page listings of George Floyd’s made-up crimes on Facebook. Seeing these posts obviously hurt my sense of justice, but I know that I am trying to convince people from a losing position already. I tend to read international papers in relation to international news, just like how I read Hungarian papers for Hungarian news. I think everyone who has the chance to, should gather their information like this too.
It hurts me to this day, how here in Hungary, people are still using the n-word so naturally. It hurts me even more, that when I tell someone off for it, they keep using it, claiming that they are not using it to offend.
Whereas, it’s really rather easy: If Michael mentions that he wants you to call him Mike, because he doesn’t like his full name, you won’t be calling him Michael. This is not about being PC, a concept that everyone talks about with such disgust. Abroad, this phrase is only used by racists.
I’ve had enough
I’m bored, that whoever I meet, the first thing I have to talk about is where I am from, or smile proudly when they compliment my accent. I’ve stopped explaining to complete strangers at the shop or at the post office that I am also Hungarian. Once I was at a house party with a childhood friend of mine, who said to me that she can’t understand how I can cope with this when even she is so tired by it all. She started to respond instead of me to the people questioning. She said I was Swedish, and with that, the conversation was closed.
I’ve had enough, enough of everyone thinking that I can only listen to hip-hop, that I must be a good singer (nope) and that I dance (definitely not). Sadly, this is still a form of racism, even if it doesn’t aim to offend with the labelling.
Black Lives Matter!
I have noticed that All Lives Matter has become the new pocketnazi (sic!) phrase. I can’t comprehend how young people growing up surrounded by today’s pop culture still don’t understand the point of Black Lives Matter, and that the phrase is not written under all BLM posts for provocation. People should understand when they are caught up in the details of the life of George Floyd, that this is not about ‘criminals made into martyrs’. This is about Breonna Taylor, the twenty-six-year-old medic, who was killed when police shot eight rounds at her chest after arriving at the wrong home address. This is about Ahmaud Arbery, who went for a run, and was chased by a father-son pair, and shot dead with their rifle gun. The father-son murderers were only arrested four weeks after the killing due to the huge uprising from citizens in defense of Arbery. The murderers of Breonna are still free. I could bring so many other examples here. In the eye of the American justice system, none of their lives mattered.
So, I think that whoever is bothered by the protests and thinks that this movement is just a media obsession, should have a think about what they’d do if something like this happened to their family.
This is usually where the classic argument is brought in, that something like this could never happen here, because we are not in the U.S., and anyway, this wouldn’t happen to someone who’s not a criminal. I have to disappoint these people: racial discrimination doesn’t just happen to criminals.
The Movement in Budapest
To my surprise something started to get organised in Budapest too; on June 8, 2020,, more than a thousand of us gathered at Szabadság square. People of different ages, sexes, and identities gathered to take part in a peaceful and quiet commemoration. The speeches were so quiet, that even the people sitting at the balcony of the restaurant opposite us didn’t know why we gathered. There were people with signs saying George Floyd’s name and Black Lives Matter. One point the speakers asked us to remember George Floyd by silently kneeling for eight minutes and forty-six seconds. But in the midst of these nice things, there were also two uncomfortable moments.
A young man found it important to come and shout: “Death to the niggers”
A known Hungarian vlogger also felt that he had to take part in the organised peaceful remembrance of murdered Black people, and with two others arrived with a sign saying ‘European Lives Matter’ to protest against the racism towards white people. Surprisingly, he was able to film anyone who tried to send him away. Anyone who can stomach it can watch it. I can’t.
Will there be any change?
My simple reply to that is, no – there will always be racists. There will always be people who will express themselves through hatred towards others. Any public figure who stood up against racism has been the victim of attack/assassination. It brought no real change in global politics that the U.S. had a black president for eight years. A mixed-race actress marrying into the British royal family has only brought on negative comments.
People stopped saying, Negro. However, quickly a video started spreading of an old woman spitting on one of Will Smith’s colleagues. It’s a double-edged sword.
But maybe I can say that something has started.
What is happening is similar to the #metoo movement in 2017. A lot of people hated the #metoo movement or thought it was over-exaggerated, but a lot of important heads had fallen, and finally, people who never had the chance to talk about their traumas before could have their voices heard.
A video surfaced recently of the former NBA-star, Stephen Jackson, with a little girl on his back, repeating the sentence ‘Daddy Changed The World’. The little girl is George Floyd’s six-years-old daughter, Gianna. Maybe this sentiment could feel too much or too gimmicky, but George Floyd-phenomenon truly brought change to the world. Never before have we seen a world-wide outrage following a case like this. The fact that we could watch a person dying for ten minutes has provoked such unanimous anger and sadness from everyone, that, whether they wanted to or not, leaders around the world had to respond to it. On June 2, 2020, almost everyone changed their profile picture on their social media platforms to black. This was called “Black Out Tuesday”. Professional boxer Floyd Mayweather has announced that he will cover the costs of George Floyd’s funeral. Kanye West has expressed that he will cover the costs of Gianna’s studies, and Southern University in Texas has also offered a scholarship to the little girl.
The street leading to the White House has been given the name of Black Lives Matter Plaza, and all over the U.S. and Britain people are bringing down statues of people that serve as symbols of slavery, colonialism, and racism.
I won’t list how many people have lost their jobs due to their previous racist comments, or for being intolerant towards the BLM movement. Donald Trump’s favourite film, the 1939 Best Picture winner Gone With The Wind has been removed from streaming platforms. I don’t want to finish this piece without addressing this as many people I know are upset about it. There are only a few films I have watched more than once, and I have also read the book. Gone With The Wind is one of these. I love the story, both the set design and the acting are brilliant.
However, the film’s huge fault is that it romanticized slavery. We as an audience like the character of Mammy, however, we don’t recognise that she and the rest of the black slaves are serving the white owners with such naturality, or acknowledge how much assault they have to endure.
The film captures the time period truthfully, but it is painful to people whose ancestors had lived and suffered through slavery. It says a lot about filmmaking at the time that none of the black actors in the film received an invitation to the premiere of the film, and that the award-winning actress who played Mammy, Hattie McDaniel, wasn’t allowed to sit at the table with the rest of the stars of the film – she only got a spot in the back. Nevertheless, I think that the erasing of the film would be a mistake, just because we can’t fake or change our history. Gone With The Wind is an influential piece and representation of history and, whoever can should read the book too.
If you want to know what it’s like to be Black
For those who are honestly interested in the Black Lives Matter movement, I recommend that you be more open to things which might not be advertised on television or in the news. Due to the protests, the film “The Help” has recently become one of the top-streamed films on Netflix. In this film we see through the eyes of a young, liberal, white journalist (Emma Stone) what it was like to live as a black maid in the 1960’s, working for a white family and not even being allowed to use the loos at the houses they work at. A lot of people (including the lead of the film, Viola Davis) have started a campaign about why watching this film is not helpful if you want to know more about Black history. The reasons are similar to why Gone With The Wind has been removed from streaming sites.
Netflix has also created a section with all BLM-themed films. The followings are the ones I find important:
1. Malcolm X
One of Spike Lee’s hugely important films and Denzel Washington’s best performance. Malcolm X is potentially the most important historical figure in African American history. He was introduced to Islam in prison, upon release became a civil rights activist, fighting for the rights of Black people and starting a fight against white supremacy. His personality could be questioned, but he was one of the most important figures of African American history. He was assassinated at the age of forty.
2. Everybody hates Chris
Based on the life of comedian Chris Rock, this sitcom shows what it’s like to be a child of a black working-class family, and the only black student in an all-white school.
Donald Glover’s (who under his artist name Childish Gambino has created one of the most brutal and influential music videos in relation to these issues in the U.S., This Is America) satire, follows the story of a student who gets kicked out of Princeton University and becomes a music manager for his rising rap star cousin. I think this is the 21st century’s best comedy, filled with vast amounts of social criticism.
4. The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air
This is here just because next to Friends this is probably the world’s most famous sitcom. There is a huge cultural impact around it abroad.
5. Jane Elliott
This name is probably unfamiliar to many. Jane Elliott is an American teacher and anti-racist activist. Following the assassination of Martin Luther King, the 86 year-old woman decides to talk to her students about racism and otherness. She was in the middle of ironing a traditional Native American tent prepping for her class the next day when her sister called her with the news of Dr King’s death. As the class was supposed to be about the Native Americans, she decided to teach the class a Native American prayer which has the following lyrics:
“Oh great spirit, keep me from ever judging a man until I have walked a mile in his moccasins!” It was under this mindset she started her anti-racist activities. Quickly she was ostracised at school; the kids spit on her children and people called her “negro lover”. Elliot started to work full time toward diversity. The blue-eye-brown-eye experiment was created by her. According to the experiment, white kids can be categorized by their eye colour; blue and green-eyed kids are deemed slower, stupider, and less useful in the group compared to the brown-eyed kids. The point of the experiment was to give white people the experience of segregation.
Jane Elliott has been giving lectures for more than fifty years teaching tolerance to her students. She is active to this day. According to her, the only way to know more about racism by taking the time to read beyond what most people are taught in school.
If I could say one thing to summarise the essence of her work, Jane Elliott would like people to learn that we are all part of the same species. We are all thirtieth to fiftieth cousins of each other, whether one likes it or not.
We all have the same ancestors from three hundred to five hundred years ago, who were all black. The only reason for some of us being lighter-skinned, while others are darker-skinned, is due to the fact that some of our ancestors moved away from the equator while others stayed.
I would like to see more Jane Elliotts in the world. Maybe if that was the case I wouldn’t have had to write this article.