In the United States, when someone hears “gypsy,” they think “flower child” or “free-spirit.” Especially in Pagan/New Age communities, “gypsy” is a word they believe fully captures the aesthetic of crystal and flowing skirts. It’s a cute adjective that anyone can choose to apply to themselves.
This is because Americans, for the most part, don’t actually know the history of the word (and its significance) because they have no idea that an ethnicity known as “Roma” or “Romani” exists. Those who do likely don’t know anything outside of My Big Fat American Gypsy Wedding. The sheer ignorance of Roma existence may be what makes the U.S one of the few places without federally legal active racism against them. So, on the off chance that someone walks into some New Age community and winces at the use of the phrase “gypsy,” they’re likely to receive odd glances or eye rolling at how oppressive “pc culture” has gotten.
But the reality of the situation is that Antiziganism is incredibly serious and widespread problem. In fact, Roma may very well be the most persecuted group throughout human history.
While the vast majority of us know the history of Antisemitism and the heinous tragedy that befell Jewish people during the Holocaust, very few know or care about the 500,000 Roma victims under Hitler. Or that, even before that, Europe legalized random hangings of Roma people. And unfortunately, not all of it is a matter of history…a lot of Antiziganism is very recent.
Antiziganism has taken place in form of forced assimilation, slavery, genocide, legal murders, legal rape, forced evictions, arson, forced sterilization, segregation, and pure hate speech. And as mentioned before, a lot of this is recent or on going.
Just in 2007, in Slovakia and the Czech Republic, Roma children were forcibly segregated in regards to schooling and placed in “special” classes or classes for “troubled” students. This was even a temporary practice in Denmark as well.
According to a 2012 Human Rights First report, Roma regularly experience hate crimes, often with the attacker seeking out the victim’s family to attack as well.
We talk about how disproportionate the amount of POC citizens to POC prisoners are in the U.S, but we’re not aware that Roma make up as little as 2-3% of the Czech Republic yet up to 60% of their prisoners. And this is not uncommon. It is no coincidence therefore than that a 2010 survey found up to 83% of Czechs consider Roma “asocial,” and that nearly half the population wants them expelled from the nation.
In 2009, the Vitkov Arson Attack took place wherein three petrol bombs were thrown into the house of a Roma family with the accompanying phrase “Burn, Gypsys!” The most gravely injured victim was 3-year-old Natalie, whose body was covered up to 80% in serious burns, as well as losing three fingers and muscular control of her hand. Her extreme treatments necessary for her survival (she is the first child in the Czech Republic to survive such fatal burns) have damaged her cognitive abilities as well. The ‘mastermind’ behind this attack was nicknamed by the media “The Lonely Wolf.” Not “Racist psychopath,” not “Egotistical maniac.” Nope. Just a poor, little lonely woof.
Within the past 10-14 years, Italy has seen multiple Romani settlements set aflame, legal justification of public outcry for Romani expulsion with the logic that basically “it isn’t hate speech to demand safety from thieves,” and a legal requirement for Roma to be fingerprinted (children included). Two Roma children were drowned on a beach, while tourists continued with their daily lives a few feet away. Italy declared Emergenza Nomadi, asserting that Roma were weakening national security, and passed Antiziganist acts. This is a catastrophic level of racism within such a short time span, and yet it is virtually unheard of.
In Romania, in 2011 (if I recall correctly), it was suggested that a Roma community be enclosed in a concrete wall. An expensive form of segregation. Some of our own citizens are still hopelessly chanting “Build A Wall!” and it’s a pretty disturbing similarity. Not so long ago as 1993, several Roma households were burnt down, over 100 people forced to leave, and a handful of Roma lynched all as a result of one murder committed by a Romani. Even Roma music is illegal in Romania’s public transport due to it “creating unease” for passengers. Ironically enough, several of the world’s greatest musicians and composers have been inspired by traditional Roma music.
In the UK, Roma are reported as the most disliked racial group. A conservative politician even outright said that Roma do not deserve the same human rights as everyone else. In 2011, Leeds’ educational and support center for Roma was vandalized and attempted to burn down as a result of Antiziganism.
Norway forcefully sterilized Roma people until 1977. In Slovakia, 2013, Romani women were sterilized without consent and it was deemed “nondiscriminatory.” This has occurred to more than 100 women.
The list of atrocities committed against the Roma people could (and does) go on and on. And its time that we pay attention to it. Being an ally to POC and marginalized groups means being an ally to all of them, not just the ones nearby. The LGBT+ community in the US, for a large part, is outraged over Chechnya. We need to be outraged about Antiziganism as well.