Where sensitivity comes from

For George Floyd

Yesterday, in his Instagram story, my son posted a picture about George Floyd. It’s a still image from a news flash about his murder. My son also added an expletive.

(The picture above is my son, posted with this consent.*)

From a 14-year old who barely speaks English, this shows remarkable sensitivity and attention. I could brag that this is a parenting feat—but the truth is, he knows how it feels to be on the receiving end of racist prejudice. In my country, racism usually goes against the Roma (although anti-semitism hasn’t exactly died out either). Over here, it’s not that difficult to find people, even in the highest ranks, and at schools, who think like “Adopted and has ADHD? Must be Roma. And if he’s Roma, he doesn’t deserve to be treated like a human.”

He even tried racial slurs on us and maybe on others. I guess he was testing how it feels to be racist, testing if becoming racist really gives you the feeling of belonging and being powerful. He must have sensed that at home, we’re often angry about some injustice, and he must have seen that we’re largely helpless about them.

And here we have a 14-year-old who picks this up from the news on his own, and immediately knows that this is something to be outraged about.

Events in our country happen uncannily in parallel with what goes on in the US. Last week, two gangs clashed in downtown Budapest. Two people were stabbed and died. The perpetrator automatically went down in public as a Roma. As a result, this week there was a racist demonstration in the city, openly declaring that the Roma are by default criminals. And the police—who were heavy-handed with peaceful opposition protesters just a few weeks before—looked the other way.

This happened seven years after four men were convicted for going on a hunting spree against the Roma, making ten attacks, and murdering altogether six people. The attacks happened in 2008 and 2009, and for several years it seemed that the murderers would be able to evade justice.

My point? Racism and xenophobia is everywhere and people with racist views appear to gain more power every day. With the Covid crisis, as we become frightened and once more begin to search for who we are, I guess we have a choice. We can choose to fear on and hide under our rocks—or we can once more choose to challenge the ones in power.

I, for one, want to live in a place where it’s natural to bring those in power to justice; where it’s not acceptable to use force against your own citizens; where your government isn’t allowed to tell you who you are and judge you by your color, gender, or birth.

I wrote this down too many times, and I’m getting tired of it. If, in the US, all four perpetrators of George Floyd’s murder are brought to justice, and brought to justice quickly, that will be something to shout from the rooftops.

George Floyd didn’t want to become a symbol. He wanted to stay alive. Attila József, one of the greatest Hungarian poets wrote a poem called A breath of air (Levegőt!). Unfortunately, I didn’t find an English translation**, so you need to believe me that this poem tells how it feels to live without freedom. The title compares being able to breathe to being free… so, to me, even Floyd’s simple “I can’t breathe” becomes symbolic. In a way, neither of us can breathe while we allow unchallenged power—no matter who wields it—to rule over us.

* Normally, I don’t post photos of my kids, and when I do, I try to make them as unrecognizable as possible. At this time, I have asked for his consent.
** There are translations into some other languages here.

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