Racism and the Romani People
In some respects, this is a retread of a blog post I did on Halloween three years ago, about the way we as Americans treat “Gypsies” as imaginary fantasy beings, like elves and wizards. But I keep running up against it. Last week it was someone doing their “Gypsy” accent and talking about their costume. The next day, one of the blogs I follow used an image of an old “Gypsy” fortune telling machine as part of a post about the current political situation.
When I pointed out to one of these individuals that “Gypsy” was a racial slur*, they said they knew, but used it because people wouldn’t understand, otherwise.
Look, the treatment of the Romani people throughout history has been horrific, and continues to be to this day. We’re talking about a group who have been persecuted, enslaved, and murdered for centuries. Here are a handful of the many examples:
- 1749: The “Great Roundup” in Spain. During the reign of Ferdinand VI in Spain, thousands of Romani were “deported, interned, subjected to forced labour, punished, hurt and killed.”
- 19th-20th Century: The Church of Norway and the Roma of Norway.
- “End of 19th century: Legal to shoot Roma people, priests that gave baptism, confirmation, wedding or funeral to Roma people were in risk of losing their job.”
- “Most of 20th century: Children were taken from their parents (1500 children out of a population of less than 10.000 were either brought up at other people’s homes or in institutions) laws were enacted to make it impossible for Roma to continue their traditional living and Roma were subject to forced sterilization, often without their knowledge.”
- 20th Century: Hounded in Europe, Roma in the U.S. Keep a Low Profile. “One law in New Jersey, enacted in 1917 and repealed in 1998, allowed Gypsies to be regulated more harshly than other groups by allowing local governments to craft laws and ordinances that specified where Gypsies could rent property, where they could entertain and what goods they could sell.”
- World War II: The Roma Genocide. The Roma were among the first victims of Hitler and his Nazis. “[A]t least 500.000 Roma were victims of the genocide, amounting to perhaps as much as 70-80% of the total Roma population in Europe at the time.”
- 1979: Sterilised Roma accuse Czechs. Beginning in 1979, Czech doctors sterilized Roma women against their wills. This policy officially ended in 1990, but human rights groups say the practice continued through at least 2003.
- 2008: This persecution of Gypsies is now the shame of Europe. Italian Interior Minister Roberto Maroni responded to a wave of violence against the Roma people with the quote, “That is what happens when Gypsies steal babies.”
- 2012: The situation of Roma in 11 EU Member States. “[O]ne in three is unemployed, 20% are not covered by health insurance, and 90% are living below the poverty line. Many face prejudice, intolerance, discrimination and social exclusion in their daily lives. They are marginalised and mostly live in extremely poor socio-economic conditions.”
- 2016: NYCC ’16: Anti-Romani Statements Made at X-Men LGBTQ Panel. American author Peter David defended the portrayal of Romani people as thieves, relaying a story about how Roma parents break their children’s legs to make them more effective beggars. David refused to discuss the issue further, and “told the questioner to go away.” (David later apologized, saying he was mortified and ashamed of himself.)
There’s a lot more information out there about the Roma and the discrimination they continued to face. There are an estimated one million Roma living in the U.S. today, but many prefer to keep a low profile. From the Hounded in Europe article linked above, “‘Traditionally, nothing good has come from being identified Roma because the prejudice is so high,’ says Robert Kushen, executive director of the European Roma Rights Center.”
I grew up ignorant. I had no clue “Gypsies” were a real thing. I thought nothing of the person in my D&D group who played as, and later dressed up as, a “Gypsy” character. Eventually, a friend of Romani descent helped me start to open my eyes.
In the U.S., racism against the Roma is similar in some ways to racism against Native Americans. We erase them, replacing real, living people with stereotypes and costumes and caricatures. The idea of a white person dressing in black face and putting on a minstrel show would horrify to most of us today, but people think nothing of dressing up in their homemade “Gypsy costume” and putting on their best fortune-teller act for Halloween or the local Renaissance Festival.
Is that conscious, deliberate hatred or intolerance? Not always. But it’s still racism. It’s still hurtful and damaging to a marginalized group that’s been targeted for hatred and extermination for centuries.
Harm done in ignorance is still harm.
*The last time I talked about this, a commenter challenged whether “Gypsy” (or the derived word “gypped,” which is essentially equivalent to saying “Jewed”) was really a racial slur, or if I as a white person not of Roma descent was just White-Knighting and making a big deal over nothing. Here are a few links and references for that conversation.
- Always Romani, But Never a Gypsy. “It is an ethnic slur word for my people. Originally it alleged incorrectly that we came from Egypt, instead of India, but, over the centuries, it has come to imply we are thieves.”
- The Problem with the Word “Gypsy”. “There are Romanies (like myself) who take no offense to the word, and in fact, have embraced it and there are others who abhor the word, likening it to the word ‘nigger’ when describing an African American or ‘spic’ and ‘wetback’ to refer to a person of Mexican heritage.”
- I’m sorry, but no you cannot & never will you be. “This little word, ‘gypsy’, makes my skin crawl. It causes aches in my heart and beats at my soul. I die a little inside everytime I must say or write the word. ‘Gypsy’ is a racial slur. It is tantamount to the ‘N’ word. Like the ‘N’ word, ‘gypsy’ was created by people who believed we were sub-human and enslaved us.”
Eleanor C Ray
November 3, 2016 @ 11:14 am
I was reared (I am 53) using the term “gypped” to mean “cheated”. I did not realize where the word came from or that it might offend someone, any more that the word “cheat” would offend them.
My father started to call himself on it in the eighties, and he called me on it, too. I was shocked that I had been using such a racist term all my life, without knowing it. I also used to dress up as a “gypsy woman” for Halloween when I was a girl. Like you, Jim, I never really thought of them as real, quite, and I never heard the name Roma or Romani until I was in my forties.
To any Roma people that may read this, I am truly sorry I have been an insensitive, complacent white person with regard to your people, your culture and your struggles. I am ashamed of it, and I ask for such foregiveness as the ignorant is able to get. And thank you, Jim, for the article. The world is an incredible and diverse place, and the more I learn about its people, the more I learn about what it means to be human.
November 3, 2016 @ 11:18 am
Eastern European here, from a country very associated to the Roma.
Their very culture keeps them from integrating (while also encouraging them to steal and whatnot). My home country does very few things right, but it did try to integrate the Romani for decades, through positive discrimination measures. Most of them ignored (and ignore) those measures; ever since my country got into the EU and travel became easier, many Roma people went to steal in Western countries (which is pretty much how the situation in your link from 2008 came to be). I’m not gonna say any more, because probably I’m gonna be labeled a racist (in fact, I’m probably labeled as one already), just this: do please talk to someone who has had any contact with them and their culture, and you may be surprised.
Also, Peter David was right. I myself have seen children begging on the streets, with various injuries caused by bones broken and mended the wrong way. There are also mothers begging on the streets with babies who have been drugged up to keep quiet throughout the day, and various instances of Romani women using their own babies as “weapons” to beat up people with (generally when their begging doesn’t meet with success). Yes, I know it sounds like I am being the prejudiced one (and from far away in America I understand that it may seem so), but… just look into the matter some more. Read about Eastern European Roma and how they behave, and the things they believe in.
As a note: again I know that what I said may seem racist, but we have nothing against their race (although of course some people who got burnt repeatedly may be more guarded when dealing with a Roma than otherwise). However, their culture is something else. I have yet to meet someone (even Americans) who knows about their culture and appreciates it — yes, it’s really that bad. It’s easy to pay lip service to the thing when you have never come into contact with it.
Personally, while I understand that articles like these come from a good place, I find them a bit annoying because I feel that they’re not treating the situation in a fair manner. Prior to my country’s being accepted into the EU pretty much all Western European countries were criticizing us because of our lack of success in our integration attempts. Needless to say, years passed, and they are just as not integrated in other European countries as they were in mine (despite the people in some of those countries being really, really nice people). So maybe, just maybe, the problem is with them, don’t you think? Anyway, again, you don’t have to take my word for it. Just read about it some more.
Jim C. Hines
November 3, 2016 @ 11:26 am
Read about it some more. You mean like Peter David did, after which he said he was ashamed and mortified at the racist views he’d held and perpetuated?
I’m away from my computer at the moment, but will respond more later.
November 3, 2016 @ 12:40 pm
For me growing up a gypsy wasn’t a real thing. The only places I knew of gypsies were caricatures, songs and things like that. No idea they were a people. It was a word to describe a costume and a set of traits. The first hint I had otherwise was actually a Mercedes Lackey title that mentioned the Romani. I’ve read more on it over the years, enough now that Danny Kaye’s performance in The Inspector General causes me to cringe. This middle grade fiction story probably opened my eyes the most in the last year, https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/25205301-the-lightning-queen but we need more representation of the Romani in story as they are to begin to erase the learned concept that inhabited my childhood.
November 3, 2016 @ 12:52 pm
I am curious…..did you actually see injuries occur, or are you assuming they were made by the parents on purpose? If they are ostracized and do not have access to good medical care, and kids being what they are they fall out of a tree or something and break a leg or an arm, I can see how they would then be insufficently healed. Your assumption is not the only possible reason for the outcomes you are seeing. Is it possible that you are associating results with the stereotyped causes you have been fed?
As with any group of people, there will be the few that do fit the stereotype. It sounds to me like maybe there are a few bad apples, and you are using it as proof ALL Romani people do this and are that way. I have seen some people who are not Romani who are in pretty dire straights behave in the sme way you are describing. The issue is not that they aren’t “assimilating”….the issue is that you think thier culture is so abhorant that they need to abandon it for yours. Instead of trying to make them what they are not, laws should be updated to allow them to still prosper while they continue to keep thier identities. Employers who discriminate should be disciplined, not rewarded, for either not hiring them or harassing them to the point where they feel they have to leave. It is a cultural endemic, and it needs to stop. And the first step to making it stop is changing how you see it.
Lastly, I would like to say that exploiting children to gain money is not strictly limited to Romani. I have seen, here in America, in a cold Utah winter, a very white non Romani man force his 3 kids and PREGNANT wife stand outside in the snow with no coats and shoes on to try to gain sympathy and money. And when I tried to give them food, blankets and chairs he attacked me. He wanted money and cash money only. This is reprobate behavior that is possible by anyone, and trying to get rid of one race is not going to stop that behavior AT ALL. That is asshole behavior, not race related.
Just my 2 pence.
November 3, 2016 @ 1:56 pm
Everytime I see the word assimilated used in a cultural context, I think of the Borg on Star Trek: “We are the Borg. Lower your shields and surrender your ships. We will add your biological and technological distinctiveness to our own. Your culture will adapt to service us. Resistance is futile.”
On a less nerdy note, my country, Canada, tried forcing people to give up one culture of a “superior” culture for four hundred years of so, and it worked out more like torturing and killing children, and less like helping. Would not recommend to other countries.
November 3, 2016 @ 5:03 pm
Any time someone talks about a minority, oppressed culture assimilating or integrating, etc. it is in nearly every instance talking about wiping out their culture in order to make them assume the majority culture. Now, often it is done with the best of intentions especially when the minority culture is in such poverty and faces significant problems. It is very tempting to think “We shouldn’t be so separated, if we were more assimilated they would be so better off!”
Unfortunately, in so many instances (I would like to say “every instance” but I don’t have time to do the research), the assimilation is a destruction of their culture and heritage. Here in the United States, in order to “help” American Indians, an explicit program of assimilation went on for decades. One measurable result? Over half of the indigenous languages of the Americas are now dead languages with no living speakers. Several more and down to populations so small you can count them on one hand.
Entire cultures and heritages were destroyed. It was a devastating failure.
November 3, 2016 @ 8:15 pm
“Read more about it”. You mean like that article Jim linked to (“Hounded in Europe…”) which describes the life of Romani in the US? They’ve been here as long as Europeans have. But since America had black people to be slaves and fill the “inferior” position, the Rom suffered discrimination, but not the worst of it. People who are discriminated against often turn to crime, and this is then mistaken for their “authentic culture” that “everyone knows”.
Nowadays, Americans don’t hate Romani. They mostly think “Gypsies” are people of the past, only seen in movies or cartoons, as people here testified. So when they find out the Rom exist and “gypsy” is a racist term, they mostly react like Eleanor C. Ray did — being sorry, apologizing, and trying to get away from the stereotypes.
And we DO think Europeans are racist in how they speak and think of Romani. Swap “Roma” for “black” in your screed and it’s exactly what white supremacist groups say about African-Americans.
November 3, 2016 @ 8:17 pm
Jim, if “Invisible 3” ever happens, it obviously needs a Romani contributor.
November 3, 2016 @ 11:14 pm
I feel like the one thing I heard about residential school system (where the government, aided by various churches, forcibly took children away from their parents and made them speak English/French and be Christian, and often starved and abused them), was that your chances or surviving as an active duty soldier in WWI were better than surviving those schools.
November 4, 2016 @ 4:58 am
What I meant by “read more about it” was literally to read more about it — though preferably getting to actually talk to someone who actually lived among them (not the sanitized version in the US) would be even better. No, a handful of articles showcasing one side of the story are not enough.
I know that in the US you think we are racist, that’s why I left my first comment. But you don’t really know what you are talking about, do you? (not you personally, you as a group of people living far away from the problem) You’re thinking of something like your Native American people, or your black people — people with different cultures than your own but valid cultures, cultures that don’t teach that stealing is okay and the others are there simply to be taken advantage of. That’s why I keep insisting on finding out more, because we’re talking about something that you guys in the US don’t have the full picture of. I am not talking here about how the Romani are lesser people than us (which would indeed make me a racist), but yes, their culture has quite a bit of a bad side. Calling something that is actually bad “bad” doesn’t inherently make one a racist, you know.
November 4, 2016 @ 5:51 am
In my home country we have universal medical care (well, universally bad, but such as it is it is accessible to everyone), so the hypothesis that they couldn’t fix the problems they had doesn’t quite hold water.
I totally agree with the idea that in any group of people there will be few that do fit the stereotype. But in this case they aren’t as very few as you think. I never said ALL of them are in a certain way, I said their culture is in a certain way — and while it does affect all of them, it does so in varying degrees. I never said all Roma people steal, I am saying that their culture encourages them to do so, and there are many who do. There are also some who stayed in school and made something out of themselves, but those are the exceptions, by far not the rules.
I never said that only the Roma do bad things either. A lot of folks in my country are just as bad as them in some regards — but I don’t see how that is an excuse for anything I did say about the Roma and their culture. Not to mention I have yet to see/hear about someone in a different culture hitting people with their babies — can you even imagine taking the baby in your arms and hitting people with him or her? They do that (and not as a once off).
What I am trying to say is that yes, what you mentioned *is* asshole behaviour and no one is denying that. But their culture promotes that kind of behaviour, and saying that they are assholes because of it does’t mean one is as racist as you might think.
November 4, 2016 @ 11:03 am
I would just like to note that some of the replies are attacking Andreea’s comments in a very sarcastic way. Some topics are extremely thorny, and just because we are all trying to learn more compassion and tolerance does not mean that we should not pause to consider that the thing we are learning to embrace might itself contain one or two of those thorns. As my husband reminds me when he flips the radio to an oppositely-political news channel, if we listen only to the side we like then we drive ourselves to extremism.
Jim C. Hines
November 4, 2016 @ 11:20 am
I was actually a little surprised at the restraint shown by most of the responses. Where do you feel like people are being inappropriately sarcastic?
I’m also curious what you mean by thorns. The metaphor is vague enough I’m not sure what you’re actually trying to say about this particular situation and discussion. Thanks.
Jim C. Hines
November 4, 2016 @ 11:27 am
Others have addressed the issues with trying to “integrate” other cultures, and how that can go so horribly awry. So I’m going to start with this comment:
“do please talk to someone who has had any contact with them and their culture”
Five points to the first person who spots the (incorrect) assumption in this statement.
You keep telling people to read about it more. While at least some of the commenters here have done some reading, it seems like we haven’t read the “right” things. So I’m curious what reading material you’d recommend. I’m particularly interested in what you think we should read that might justify things like forced sterilization, school segregation, stealing children from Romani families (ah, the irony), and so on.
I did my best to provide links and citations for my blog post. If you’re going to make claims about weaponized babies and such, I’d appreciate you doing the same. Because otherwise, yes, it really does just sound like a racist trying to justify their bigotry.
November 4, 2016 @ 11:56 am
Actually, I felt that your (first) reply read sarcastically, although that may have been a side effect of its brevity.
And I guess by thorns, in this particular case I mean that Andreea is arguing that the Romani culture has elements that promote criminal behavior. That may in fact be true. In neither case does that mean that all people should not be treated with the dignity they inherently deserve, but if it is true then that does make the important work of dismantling racism and racist institutions that much harder. It is a valid component of the discussion, and I felt it and her main argument was being overlooked in favor of talking about other red-flag words, like ‘assimilation’; although I agree that your most recent reply does do the appropriate job of steering things back toward the presentation of research.
November 4, 2016 @ 11:58 am
I taught English in Bulgaria in the Peace Corps in the early 2000s. I had a lot of conversations with my students about anti-Roma racism (and, as an aside, even the Roma I spoke with referred to themselves as Gypsies). As Andrea writes, the situation is complicated. Much of the prejudice that the ethnic Bulgiarans had towards the Roma in their communities was based on lived experience with those communities. Being pick-pocketed by gangs of kids, seeing parents abusing their children, seeing how hostile they often were to the Bulgarians, etc. The Roma tended to be very insular and not very interested in being part of mainstream society, and there were elements of their culture that made it hard for individuals to excel or break free of the cycle of intense, heart-breaking poverty that many in those communities experienced, notwithstanding the intense racism they experienced. It was this horrible feedback loop – the Roma had developed this culture and mechanisms in reaction to being outcasts for centuries, and that culture and mechanisms repelled most attempts to make them a more equal part of society. It was a lesson to my bleeding-heart self that communities sometimes contribute to their own marginalization.
November 4, 2016 @ 3:15 pm
Wow, I had no idea people thought Roma were mythical—when I was a kid in England they turned up in a lot of adventure stories for kids (depicted, yes, very stereotypically) so I knew they weren’t just fantasy creatures.
Although I still see stories that write in “gypsies” as if the word had no meaning, just a label to apply so the author can make a character more exotic. The MU has lots of Roma or people who were raised as such (Doom, Scarlet Witch, Quicksilver) but it’s rarely used for anything but to give them ethnic color.
November 4, 2016 @ 5:05 pm
When I was a child in 1960s Oxford Romany women would come door to door selling wooden chrysanthemums, clothes pegs and paper poppies. Some would offer to tell your fortune too. The men would call round asking for scrap metal and had a reputation for taking any that wasn’t locked away if it was unobserved, I remember a friend being told to ‘put your bike away of the gysies will steal it’. There were particular places they parked up locally that I saw too. So I have always know they were a real people.
Sheffield University hold the National Fairground Archive, which arose from the work of Professor Vanessa Toulmin who is Roma. While not all traveling fair families were Roma many of them were.
November 4, 2016 @ 8:51 pm
And you don’t know anything about either Native Americans or African Americans and how they have been accused of the exact same things in the exact words “they’re lazy, they don’t care about their children, their culture encourages them to steal. No I’m not being racist, I live among them so I know.”
You are EXACTLY the same as American racists, just against different people.
November 4, 2016 @ 9:00 pm
That’s a fascinating combination of handicrafts. Wonder why those? I’d probably have gone for some clothes pegs and a fortune.
Traveling folk in the US are mostly descendants of Irish Travellers — they fill the same niches here as the Roma do… and are infamous for home repair scams. But they look like the average white person, so there’s not prejudice when they’re just walking down the street.
There’s another strike against the word “gypsy” — not only is it a slur, it’s imprecise. It can mean either Roma or Irish traveling folk.
November 4, 2016 @ 11:16 pm
Ironically, the first time I heard about the Roma as a real people was in an antisemitic context. The speaker was complaining that the Jews pretended the Holocaust was all about them, when actually the Roma had been more devestated.
November 5, 2016 @ 5:43 am
From the Vagrants Act 1713 (England and Wales)
Impersonating and Egyptian (ie a Gypsy) was a felony and could get you transported. Scary scary stuff, all “wandering gypsies” had in theory been expelled from England hence impersonating one was a crime.
My father used to say “thieving arab” a fair bit when I was a lot younger: similar etymology as a slur but with added anti-Berber pirate dislike, our part of the world was subject to regular raids until the USA finally put them out of commission. The way mud sticks to entire “Other” groups due to individual actions continues to horrify me.
November 5, 2016 @ 5:05 pm
We have a population of Roma here in Spokane (state of Washington, USA), so I’d learned about them at a pretty young age. Ours are a little assimilated, but certainly not totally. Sadly, when I was in my 20s, and delivered pizza for a living, I was the only driver willing to deliver to their houses (I’d trade the guy drivers for the scary neighborhoods). My dad was the only city official they’d work (housing department) with because he treated them like any other citizen.
And, yes, like Jim and another poster, I had no idea that my favorite Halloween purple sequined satin “gypsy” skirt would be hurtful. Awareness of these things is one of the best things about our modern world. But I did figure out by the time I was in high school that “gypped” is a terrible term to use.
Issues of assimilation are complex, especially forced assimilation, but forced sterilization is not, and the US has, sadly, a long history of both. Google the “Indian Schools” and their affects or view the YouTube video interviews with people in the US who went through that (a practice here until the *1970s*!) if there’s any question about that terrible practice.
Thank you, Jim, for an informative article.
November 6, 2016 @ 2:09 pm
I think the handicrafts chosen required little in the way of materials, the chrysanthemums were a piece of dowling carefully ‘shaved’ with the curls of wood left attatched for the petals then dyed. I suspect they were the kind of things anyone with a bit of manual dexterity could make when not doing something more profitable. And the components wouldnt take up much space.
I may be wrong but in the UK of the 60s I would say we distinguished between Gypsies (Roma) and Travellers (Irish). In the UK the Irish travellers suffered the same discrmination that all Irish immigrants did (boarding houses with ‘No Irish, No Blacks, No Dogs’ signs being an oft quoted example showing the attitude in the 50s, probably somewhat less common by the 60s) with the additional prejudice of the settled against those who moved around, and who therefore were thought to be able to do wrong with impunity as by the time a crime was discovered they’d be long gone. The latter distrust would have also applied to tramps for instance. However that prejudice didn’t apply to the French onion sellers who went door to door in late summer selling strings of onions, so it was claerly more complicated than just people moving around.
November 7, 2016 @ 4:45 pm
Another wonderful article. I can’t do more than skim the discussion because it spikes my blood pressure and makes me so angry I want to break things. I want to be like you and answer ignorance with education, and stereotype with fact. But I’m too close to this situation to be any good at it.
Thank you for being an advocate and an ally. Thank you for recognizing when you need to step away for a moment so you can come back with logic instead of emotion (which is something I can’t always do with this issue). Thank you for including a little snark (but not too much) when an issue really needs a slap in the face.
My family was deported from Switzerland. They were taken out of their tightly knit communal living situation and deposited in a new society. They could integrate or die. We’ve lost the old stories. We’ve lost the cultural connection to those who came before us. We’ve lost a piece of our identity. Though I’m a fourth generation American, with only genetics to show my Roma heritage, there are people who suddenly like me less, trust me less, and fear me more when they learn about this connection. Integration is not a welcoming thing.
November 8, 2016 @ 9:44 am
“It’s easy to pay lip service to the thing when you have never come into contact with it.”
Well, I have. I’m Czech, white, and living in a predominantly Romani neighborhood. What you’re displaying here is a stance that’s unfortunately so common among white people in our part of the world that it’s automatically seen as acceptable and justified.
It is neither.
I’m curious as to how exactly has your country been sincerely and systematically trying to integrate Roma people for decades, because the Czech Republic is certainly doing a half-assed job of it, and that’s if I’m being generous. There’s very little true will (or skill) involved in the governmental efforts to help people, in fact we effectively segregate the Romani since childhood. For instance our education system is still pretty stuck in the old ways with emphasis on homework, memorizing and discipline, which makes the situation that much more difficult for anyone who can’t rely on their parents to help them study. Instead of making it easier for kids to keep up we merrily let them repeat grades and fall behind, not to mention the fact that a huge number of Romani children have been ending up in the so-called “special schools” officially meant for students with mild mental disabilities (which in itself is a shitty practice), but in reality serving as a dumping ground for brown kids.
Time and time again I see white Czechs acting all affronted if a Roma person doesn’t jump on the measliest opportunity to pull themselves up and rise in an environment that mostly sees them as pest. In my family and among my white co-workers and acquaintances, there’s only a handful of people who are neither hatefully nor condescendingly racist towards them, and quite open about it. The same often goes for medical professionals, teachers or the police. It’s what the Roma have to face here on a daily basis.
So many times I’ve argued or witnessed arguments with white people who refuse to give Roma people jobs, and then criticize them for not working. I’ve argued with white people who don’t want their white kids to sit in one classroom with Roma kids, and then complain about Roma kids not going to school. The same white people who expect the Romani to work extra hard often see nothing wrong with cheating the system when they themselves benefit from it. Things that are stereotypically associated with this group – like alcoholism, domestic violence, child abuse – are actually pretty common problems throughout the Czech society.
You talk about the Roma people and “their culture” as if it is something inherent to them. Something that separates them from “us”, something that hasn’t been at all shaped by the way they’re practically kept in isolation from the white majority and despised by it from infancy. How do you distinguish between characteristics that are supposed to be somehow hard-wired and those that are brought about by their social status? Because they’re neither better or worse than us, but they’re most definitely hated. There’s a ton of bad stuff white people do, how come you don’t blame it on “white culture”?
I’ve witnessed a conversation where a young Romani woman described how people insult, dismiss and mock her on a regular basis, only to be insulted, dismissed and mocked by most white people who joined said conversation. She fit the supposed image of a “good Roma” – well-educated, soft-spoken, raised outside the community by white parents – yet she was told to suck it up, to tell “her friends” that they should stop shoplifting and start working, and THEN, apparently, then she can come back and ask to be treated well. Respectability politics is bullshit, it doesn’t work, it’s an excuse people come up with to rationalize their prejudice.
If you and I had been born into the same circumstances as Romani people in our countries are, do you think we’d be able to just leap over all the extra hurdles? Do you realize we’d be expected to reject our family and our community, the only support system we know, and to leave them behind in order to maybe get a stab at being as respected as the average white person is? Can you imagine how hard that must be? Do you understand that even those who are able to do it are still generally not allowed the same level of dignity as we are?
We’re the ones with an advantage. We are the majority. Their representation in politics or business is virtually non-existent. We hold the power. It makes no moral or practical sense to lay the responsibility for integration at their doorstep, or to presume they should prove their worthiness by eagerly cooperating when we decide to throw them a bone.
November 8, 2016 @ 12:40 pm
See Helena, replies such as yours and Mr. T’s are what I meant when I told people to “read more”. It’s not important whether you agree with me or not (and in fact I do agree with you on most everything you said), what matters is that you know the full picture and the full extent of the issue. Note (to Jim, or whoever sees this) that I never wanted to say that it’s okay to be racist towards Roma — of course it is not. I just meant to say that the story is way more complicated than sharing a few links and pointing fingers.
When I mentioned my country trying to integrate them, I was thinking of the 80s for example (not just then, but especially then), when they were given flats and jobs and places in schools. But yes, you are right when you criticize the education system, ours is pretty much the same way, with the same disadvantages. I confess I was thinking more about the jobs, and apartments, and the high school/college education advantages they were given (none of these, of course, will fix everything wrong with everything, but it was definitely a step in the right direction, I believe).
I totally agree with everything else you are saying (especially with the “there but for the grace of God go I” paragraph — I sincerely hope I didn’t make it sound like I think their life is easy, or that I myself would have done better in their stead. No, just like them I am a product of my culture, and I am aware it wouldn’t be easy at all to break free of it. I’ve always admired the “good Romas” A LOT because of this, because I probably cannot imagine how hard it must have been for them to overcome what they did).
November 8, 2016 @ 1:23 pm
I hope I won’t sound patronizing, but the problem here is that while I speak your language, you do not speak the language of the countries we are talking about, and most of these incidents have not made it in international news. The “weaponized babies” thing for example is a something considered so common whenever someone denies Roma* something they feel entitled to, that while I did saw it/hear about it a few times it generally never makes the local news. If a friend of mine for example had this happen in front of him, what proof can I give you of that?
*not all Roma, of course, but it’s definitely more widespread than you’d think.
Also, I’m not really interested in sounding in a certain way. If you say I sound like a bigot, so be it (I’ve already been called a racist a few times in this thread); I’m not trying to pose as an impeccable hero. What I am trying to do is widen your horizons a bit — as stated in my other comments all I am interested in is showing a bit of the big picture, which is a tad more complicated than what your links (and your conclusions) show. I may have been wrong, but your article did sound a bit like you discovered a topic, did a quick Google search on it, got a handful of links (and we all know what an echo chamber Google can be) and you drew a conclusion. The reason why I assumed you haven’t talked to someone who had contact with their culture was the fact that you never even alluded to the fact that hey, maybe everything is not in black and white. Your article sees one thing, racism, without stopping to think that maybe some of the issues are not racially motivated, but are a result of their own behaviour and misdeeds. There is really so much to say about this, the matter is way too complex and your article *is* one-sided. That’s why I left all of my (too many!) comments, because you are just the last one in a string of people (including Madonna, a few years ago) thinking that they know how things are, and that they know enough to point fingers. We are not innocent, and prejudice does exist (in spades), but not everything can be reduced to mere prejudice in this particular case.
Jim C. Hines
November 8, 2016 @ 1:46 pm
I may have been wrong, but your article did sound a bit like you discovered a topic, did a quick Google search on it, got a handful of links (and we all know what an echo chamber Google can be) and you drew a conclusion.
Yes, you are wrong. One indicator that your assumptions were mistaken shows up in the very first paragraph of my post, where I note that this *isn’t*, in fact, the first time I’ve written about this. One of the things that prompted me to write this post was watching and talking to a friend of Romani descent as they dealt with some of the racism and bigotry I describe above.
Thank you for acknowledging that the prejudice I described does indeed exist. (In spades, as you noted.) Rather than trying to separate these people into the “good ones” and all the rest, as you did in another comment, would you mind sharing what you’ve done to try to work against those prejudices?
Jim C. Hines
November 8, 2016 @ 1:47 pm
Thank you for sharing this. I can’t imagine it was an easy comment to post.
As for balancing logic and emotion and all that…well, it’s easier when I’m not the one being directly targeted and hurt.
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