A few days ago, I came across something that offended me greatly. I have been told that I'm overreacting.
Two days ago, I wrote an email to phaballa. She has yet to respond. This had nothing to do with her recent bandom post. Rather, this had to do with two sentences in her user info:
She also told kids at school the story her sister had once told her to scare her: that she'd been abandoned by gypsies, and her parents were really murderous, fiddle playing thieves. (Disclaimer: the author does not really believe all gypsies are musically inclined.)
These sentences are just part of a tongue-in-cheek, written in the third person, clever and mostly amusing bio.
I do not, however, find those two sentences amusing. To me, they are a glaring ethnic slur. And I do believe that the author didn't intend this as a racial remark. This is an old joke, and not one that people even recognize as ethnically aimed. The prejudice against, and the ignorance about, the Romani people (gypsy is, in fact, a pejorative) is so pervasive that many people would read that statement at face value. Substitute any other ethnicity in those two sentences and...yeah, not so nice, is it?
This is the first time that I've made any kind of stand or statement like this. I'm sweating. I feel awkward. Every time that I've seen someone on my flist use the words "gyp" or "gypped" - as in "What a gyp!" or "I've been gypped!" - I say nothing.
Which is a shame because I honestly believe that the majority of people do not understand exactly what they're saying when they use those words. One could substitute "rip" and "ripped off" respectively (because that is what that means) and, voila!, no more racial remark.
Yes, Romani is an ethnicity, an ethnicity that has been on diaspora for approximately a thousand years. There are now Romani all over the world, over one million Romani Americans. Persecution and prejudice is not historical romance (in Eastern Europe, it's called the 'Romska Problematika', the Gypsy Problem - proposed solutions range from segregation to genocide. Not just sixty-five years ago, but today). And this is not just a European issue:
Despite the presence of a substantial Romani-American population, the general public in the United States continues to be misinformed about who and what “Gypsies” really are. Many people think Gypsies are not a real people at all; most believe us to be a population defined by how we dress and behave, a group to which anyone may belong if they adopt certain behavior. Because of this, and because of such widespread reinforcement of such an image in the media (both news and entertainment), the real situation of our people is not at all well known, and “Gypsy” continues to be a synonym for “thief” (cf. the common American slang term “gyp”). In 1992, the January 8th issue of the New York Times published the results of a public opinion poll surveying national negative attitudes to 58 different ethnic/racial American populations over a 25-year period. For the entire quarter-century, Gypsies were ranked at the very bottom. Since most Americans have no personal, social contact with Gypsies at all, such attitudes in this country can only be based upon how we are presented in the media.
--Dr. Ian Hancock
from "REPORT BEFORE THE CONGRESSIONAL HUMAN RIGHTS HEARING ON ABUSES AGAINST GYPSIES IN EASTERN EUROPE, WASHINGTON, APRIL 14TH 1994"
The irony here is that Professor Hancock teaches at the University of Texas, Austin, where he also founded the Romani Archives and Distribution Center, the largest collection of Romani materials in the world. He is a world-reknowned (if somewhat controversial) Romani activist. He has met with the Dalai Lama to discuss human rights issues and the Romani people. He has represented the Romani people at the United Nations. He has served as a member of the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Council.
phaballa lives in the same city.
LJ Romani communities:
Other web resources:
The Patrin Web Journal: Romani Culture and History
Romani People (the Wikipedia article, with many links)
Potential Romani Rights Violations:
Human Rights Watch (articles search = roma)
Human Rights Watch (articles search = sinti)
Amnesty International USA (search = romani)