Romani culture often overlooked and misunderstood

Despite recent social justice movements sparking conversation about race, gender and sexuality helping pave the way for a better, more empathetic tomorrow, the Romani people are too seldom talked about and widely misunderstood.

Few people even realize that the Romani are an ethnic group, thinking instead that the word Gypsy refers to a lifestyle rather than an ethnic group.

Gypsy is often used as a descriptor for beggars, thieves, fortunetellers and cheats while also having an implication of sexual deviancy, promiscuity and seductiveness for women. This is extremely offensive and dehumanizes and invalidates an entire culture that has faced consistent historical discrimination.

Systematic hatred and oppression of the Romani people is so normal that it no longer even registers, few people realize the damage they are causing by perpetuating cultural myths about the Romani.

Popular culture reinforces these offensive stereotypes with songs like Shakira’s ‘Gypsy’ which features lines like “I might steal your clothes and wear them if they fit me,” this reinforces deeply held and damaging beliefs about the Romani people.

I often hear otherwise progressive people say horrible things about the Romani, clearly not realizing how offensive their speech is or how hateful their message.

The fact that this is done by socially conscious people is a one of the most frightening aspects, people who have devoted much of their time and energy towards making the world a better and more empathetic place still often exhibit racist behavior towards the Romani.

The word gyp, a shortened version of gypsy, is often used to describe a bad deal or a rip-off without thought.

This hateful speech is especially damaging in light of the persecution that the Romani have faced in the past and still face to this day. Many European countries still oppress the Romani with France, Greece, and The Czech Republic being among the worst.

The Czech Republic has a history of forced sterilizations of Romani women and has recently refused compensation for the victims of the practice.

The Romani in France have faced police brutality, illegal eviction, and deportation. Another example is a Romani baby who was refused a burial place in Paris due to her ethnicity.

Greece meanwhile all but segregates the Romani and meets them with intense hatred. Roma are often excluded from schools and, in one incident, when Romani children were admitted to a school, non-Romani parents blockaded the school in protest.

The Romani make up the largest minority population in Europe, despite murder of 25% of their population by Nazi Germany and its allies during World War II.

You would think that with such consistent and horrendous persecution that the Romani would be treated with some degree of respect, but little is given to them.

More recent examples of callous treatment of the Romani include the Netflix series Gypsy. The poorly received series features a white therapist who descends into deceit, voyeurism and depravity. The title of the show is meant to reflect the person she is becoming associating the Romani stereotypes of sexual promiscuity and duplicity with her character change.

We need to as people be more conscious of our speech and actions in regards to the Romani people, in addition to paying attention to our issues. With all of the issues that have and currently do face the Romani we need to do more to include them in social movements and cultural discourse.