If you’re like me and pretty tuned-in to the likes of social media and online shopping, you’ve more than likely come across the word “gypsy” when referring to a specific fashion trend or lifestyle. Maybe it’s become synonymous in your mind with the ideology of being “bohemian” or “nomadic,” or maybe you’ve watched this show on Netflix, described as a “psychosexual drama,” which I’ve just discovered through a google search. Whatever your connection to the term, what you and I may not share is the knowledge of the negative, derogatory, and historically disenfranchising use of the term in reference to the Roma population–straight and simple, the “G” word is a racial slur.
Who are the Roma?
Admittedly, I did not know of the Roma population prior to my study abroad travels to Prague, Czech Republic in the Summer of 2015, and then subsequently took an entire course on Roma Rights during my graduate studies in Budapest, Hungary this past year–so if you’re reading this and also from the states (or another place where the ins and outs of European society are not common conversation), I can understand if this is new information for you. Regardless, the Roma are a people with an origin believed to be in a region of India who have a long, rich history, dating back to thousands of years genocide, persecution, and exile.
Currently, it is estimated that anywhere between 10 and 12 million (or more) Roma live in the European Union. The Roma are also referred to (according to the World Bank) as the most vulnerable minority group in Eastern Europe. Centuries of systematic, social, and economic oppression and depression have led many in the community to have a negative stigma associated with them. From what I’ve learned in courses as well as through my own research, it is apparent that discrimination against Roma is not unique to any one specific region of Europe. Across borders, children are subjected to lower qualities of education (oftentimes being placed into separated classrooms or “special classrooms,” for those deemed to be mentally incapable to participate in classes with the other schoolchildren), men and women are subject to high unemployment, access to water and proper health facilities are lagging, and lack of adequate housing are only some examples of unjust and prolonged inequality experienced by the Roma.
In spite of all of the odds stacked against them, the Roma community warrants respect and a long-overdue commitment by European nations (and others abroad) to ensure that equal treatment and relief of poor living conditions be a top priority for this large population. Negative stigmatization combined with limited, if not impossible, access to political power and robust educational opportunities makes for an overwhelming amount of literature almost exclusively dedicated to exposing injustice and commentary of (usually ineffective) ways to improve these situations instead of highlighting the achievements and positive stories within the Roma community. It is my wish that the term Roma be associated with more positive and time-telling cultural histories and stories of these people in way which can be appreciated.
Where does this term come from?
From what I have been able to gather from my own research is that the “G” term has its origin similar to that of the word “Indian” in the context of the Native populations in the Americas. It is said that when the Roma moved westward from India, they were mistakenly thought to be from Egypt due to their darker complexion. Consequently, the term “gyped” also became synonymous with the racist idea that those of the Roma community were not to be trusted and prone to stealing or cheating you out of your belongings (like the ridiculous idea that Roma women steal babies, for example). The term is even used in literary classics, including F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby, quoted: “We had over twelve hundred dollars when we started, but we got gyped out of it all in two days.”
Over time, the term has followed the Roma community around and used in justification for their mistreatment. Throughout all of the major devastations of the world, including both World Wards, the Holocaust, Depressions, Reconstructions, and the like, Roma have largely been invisible. Perhaps not widely known, Hitler executed somewhere around 250,000 Roma during the Holocaust, and following, those communities directly and indirectly affected were left worse off with no additional support after the end of the conflict. This is only one example of a long history of persecution.
What do I do with this information?
My hope is that by allowing yourself to get to this point (the end) of my post you are well informed now to the point that you will be more conscious of your own personal use of this term. Of course, in an ideal world, it would also be neat if you would take it upon yourself to correct those close to you when you find yourself in a situation where the term is being used.
Personally, I have had the pleasure of meeting and befriending with people who identify with the Roma community. With Hungary being home to the European Roma Rights Centre and one of the largest populations of Roma in Europe (also not to mention my entire major being human rights), I have had the opportunity to educate myself on the issues revolving around the Roma population along with identifying the misinformation that is often circulated concerning the Roma way of living. With that being said, I take it upon myself to educate whenever I can, mostly because I love to learn and value the conversations I can get from the sharing of information. In addition, I tend to avoid commercial brands or “lifestyle” type communities which mis-appropriate the term, but this is just me. In any case…
For more information about the Roma community, I recommend utilizing the resources of the European Roma Rights Centre, whose website can be accessed here:
Additionally, for supplements in this post, I consulted these following two articles:
and this MTV Decoded Video:
And, if you are interested in a paper that I wrote about concerning access to healthcare by Roma Women, you can find that at this link:
I hope you found this post to be informative at the very least, and as always, feel free to comment or contact me to keep this conversation going!