This week our land-lady told us that our neighbors were uncomfortable with us having black people over to our house. They were concerned with safety in the building. I stared at her, "OH MY GOSH! You are kidding me!" Both Will and I stood there with this naive idea bouncing around in our heads, trying to make some sense of it. "Yeah Hungary," I responded with sarcasm.
Since this conversation, the prejudice issue has been a topic of conversation between us and our land-lady, us and foreign friends, and Will and The Neighbor. Our land-lord, who is a super nice Hungarian lady, explained the issue quite well in an email:
Xenophobia is a problem in Hungary but very much so because most of the people live in a very homogenous context, never in touch either with people of any color or different cultural habits, or even disabled in any way, so they just do not really know how to relate to that - and it is very much different to grow up in such a multicultural, melting-pot society as yours. I know the difference as we lived in the States almost for 2 years, had Eszter (daughter) go to school there and it made a world of difference... e.g. you know how we are, but I have to tell you that I remember that Eszter was about 3 when she saw a black guy on the bus first time in her life and was quite scared of him, which made me very embarrassed. On the other hand, imagine how unique it was for her then... It is unimaginable in the US but in fact most other Western European countries. But also, I bet that in our village none of the kids my son's age have ever seen a black or Chinese or Indian person in their lives. Or a blind one. When we lived in the States (or even first landed in Paris or London), it was really a very dramatic, revelational experience for me. Or having a black friend in Colorado when we lived there. But most people never had such a hands-on experience. I am sure that now so many people, especially young ones studying and working abroad, it will change.
I understand that Hungary is a very homogenous culture. But having grown up in an all white community myself, it makes me even less sympathetic to this thinking. I think our neighbor is another example of the prejudice so interwoven a much of Hungarian society. And Hungary is not alone. Many countries and cultures (even my own) have issues of prejudice, which let's be honest, are created out of ignorance and the unknown. However, I also think that our land-lady is right - the next generation can change it. In Hungary. In America. Across the world.