By Sion Firew |

You may not control all the events that happen to you, but you can decide not to be reduced by them. 

~Maya Angelou 

As my group and I gazed at the Liberty Statue looming over Budapest, I was overcome by a sense of gratitude that I, a young woman from Houston, Texas, could end up in a place filled with so much history and beauty. While I looked at the city from my breathtaking view, I noticed an older woman staring at me. I smiled at her and looked away, but I could still feel her eyes on me. She then approached and asked if she could take a picture of me. I was taken aback, wondering why she wanted to document my existence the same way she documented the historic statues we were there to observe. I smiled embarrassedly, then said sure. She snapped a quick picture of me then said, “Thank you, I’m from Germany.”  

 It was then that I realized she wanted a photo of me because I might have been one of the only black people she had ever seen in her life. 

Before I came to Europe, I understood that there is very little ethnic diversity in certain areas, especially Hungary. During orientation, I understood that Hungary has a very monolithic culture, and citizens are not always accepting of people that look or act different from the norm. Before coming to Europe, I thought I understood what it meant to be the only black person in a room. However, coming to Hungary gave me a new perspective on what it means to be a black woman.  

According to statistics recorded by the Hungarian government in 2011, the country’s ethnic dispersion consists of 85 percent Hungarians, 3 percent Romani, 1 percent Germans, 0.3 percent Slovaks and 0.3 percent Romanians (the remaining 10.4 percent did not declare their ethnicities). These numbers show how black people in Hungary do not have a strong enough presence to even be included in the government’s statistics.  

At the beginning of this program, I struggled balancing between being comfortable in my own skin and being wary of how people viewed me. Anytime I leave my apartment I am bombarded with stares and comments from strangers. But I came to realize that being black in Europe does not mean living in fear or discomfort. It’s not being afraid to look back at someone who stares at me on the tram. Being a black woman means living boldly in my skin and loving myself enough to not care about how others view me. 

Before going to any place that has little to no diversity, it’s important to remember that people are not only staring because we look different. They are staring because we are the embodiment of stereotypes being broken.  

Many people in Europe have this contorted view of black and African people, thinking we are uncivilized or uneducated, because those are the lies they have been fed. To see a black woman walk across the street gracefully may genuinely surprise people. That does not excuse their ignorance, but it gives us the opportunity to educate them. 

As the younger people, who are much more accepting of diversity, grow older and gain more power in politics, business and technology, they have the power to spread the ideas of acceptance and peaceful coexistence with people who look different. They can change the perception of people of color and people of different religions and lifestyles.  

Hungary is a beautiful country full of history, art and potential and though it has come a long way, it is not perfect. I hope to see more diversity when I return in the future and encourage any people of color to live boldly in their skin, and to not be afraid. And if a lady asks to take a photo of you, don’t be afraid to kindly say no.