I was raised by my conservative grandmother in Budapest. My gran never left the country and never interacted with any foreigner apart from the large Chinese community we have in the country. I risk this statement, but I believe she has never seen a black person face-to-face, only on TV.
In old movies, black guys are always the criminals. That's what she knew, and she ensured I knew that too. But it wasn't only black people she had opinions about. The Chinese & the Jews, despite our dearest neighbour being an old Jewish couple whom she left me with many times while she was at work. At some point, she moved on to the Arabs when the neighbour's daughter married one, and things didn't work out. Then the Slovakians, the Romanians, and whoever appeared on the news.
I just listened and never really knew how to react or what to say. Sometimes I would just say, "What's wrong with the Germans now?"
Aged 25, I moved to London, and my rented room was in East London. I didn't know what it meant. East London has a large non-white community of Asian and African backgrounds. My gran's voice went through my head, and I felt unsafe. Moving wasn't an option, so I just had to get on with it.
I started working and going to school, and for the first time in my life, I interacted with non-Hungarians. Thank god my father instilled curiosity in me. I wanted to learn about my new surrounding. I started to have friends of all kinds.
In 2008 I moved to China and started to understand cultural differences even more.
But not until a year later, when I ended up living with an African American and a British Indian guy in London, I got to really learn about race-related topics. Ron and Ilesh, my two fav boys!
We spent nights in the kitchen talking about EVERYTHING! A lot of our conversations were around race and cultural differences. We had debates and disagreements about racism, and we agreed on millions of things. They shared their good and bad experiences, we laughed about some true stereotypes, and I talked about how they were viewed (at that time) in Eastern Europe.
Those endless conversations taught me that if you approach this topic with curiosity, you get to ask anything that comes to your mind. There are no taboos, and people don't think your questions are offensive. Our friendship was a safe place to have those sometimes uncomfortable conversations.
Those, often drunk conversations, refuted everything my gran tried so hard to instil in me. God bless her; that was her generation. She thought she was teaching me right.
Racism is learned not only during our upbringing but also from social media, TV, friends, and interactions with others. We quickly generalise a whole race based on one person's behaviour. It is a normal reaction of your lazy brain.
But while your brain is lazy because its purpose is to keep you alive, you are responsible for challenging the message it throws you and making it unlearn and relearn when it is needed.
If organisations want to tackle racism and other types of discrimination, the only way forward is honest conversations. It takes time, it requires safe space and trust, but it can be done.
PS: Living in Dubai for the past 12 years taught me other aspects of this culture. How did I learn? I asked millions of questions. I have two local friends with whom I am comfortable asking anything. It is important for me to know and to understand because what happens when I don't? My gran happens.
God bless her soul!