First, thank you all for your comments regarding my last posting.  Usually, I don’t like to be a downer, but discrimination is a major problem in Hungary.  I’d like to hit home this idea though: it’s not just an Eastern European thing.  Acts of discrimination has happened to be all over Europe.  In November 2003, I was assaulted in Belfast over how I looked.  In December 2004, I managed to get some taunts in 4 different countries for my appearance: France (where I was even spit on), Spain, Portugal, and Italy.  In Romania, I was refused a taxi four times, each citing that ‘they wouldn’t take Chinese people’.  In Copenhagen, I had problems 6 times in 6 months.  Of course nothing beats my personal record: 2 weeks, 5 experiences in Holland.

What I’m trying to drive home is that it happens in places where one would not think (e.g. liberal democracies), but it does.  Many of these governments stress tolerance.  When I think of tolerance, I think of ‘I’ll put up with your existence, despite my overwhelming disdain for your kind’.  What these governments and many others should be shooting for is acceptance, a concept surprisingly very tough to foster.

I’ll give you an example:

A few weeks ago, I was sitting in a course on Constitutionalism and Democracy.  Basically, we discuss various aspects of constituion-making in societies around the world, especially ones in democratic transition.  We had a discussion on minority rights and protection.  Things were fine at first, but then the topic of the ‘gypsies’ – the Roma – came up.

Then thoughts that many of my progressive colleagues had went from egalitarian openness to closed-minded bias.  I heard comments like, ‘they don’t want to integrate because they’re different people.  They are criminals anyways’.  What they did not know was that one of our colleagues in the room is Roma, secretly because of fear of discrimination and judgement.  I find it really sad that he has to conceal his background because of reprisals and that he cannot feel pride of his culture, instead of shame.  ‘Doesn’t that hurt?’  That’s what I always ask him.

FYI, there are many groups in Budapest that do work regarding anti-discrimination.  The European Roma Rights Centre does some great work.  Check them out.

One last point:

Most of the time, problems I face are happen completely out of the blue like on the metro.  Most of the time, I am not speaking.  So when they see me, they make the judgment.  Depending on their alcohol consumption, they approach me with their buddies.  Depending on the age, they give lewd swears, etc. 

Now, when I do open my mouth, they realize that I have an American accent.  Then I get another problem.   There’s this wave of anti-Americanism that’s been around for some time.  And looking the way I do and speaking the way I do seems to be a double whammy.  Despite the fact that many people separate the policies of the United States from the citizens of the United States, some people do not.  And sometimes it’s the same people who hate me for how I look.

If you’ve ever experiences any sort of discrimination for how you look AND where you come from, please drop a line.  Your comments are always welcome.

What we should be striving for…

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