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Culture, History, Poverty, Society

Roma, Romanians, Racism and Racial Differentiation

Since this image has been shared on facebook at least 9,200 times and multiplying, I thought I would respond.  Along with the image is the “hope that there is no more confusion” about these two ethnicities. And “those of the opinion that Romanians should no longer be considered Gypsies,” then they should “share this picture wherever they can.”

This message, it seems obvious to me, is racist. However, some think it’s simply a correct view of reality that doesn’t conform to the trends of political correctness. But I think that is a misunderstanding of “political correctness.” To be politically correct would mean that you, at least, adopt terminology like “Roma” or “Romani” rather than “Gypsy” or “Tigani”, which the Romani have rejected because of their derogatory roots and connotations. In this case, I don’t think we succumb to secular liberal ideology by using “Roma” or “Romani”; rather, it seems to me to be an opportunity to show a basic respect, or what Romanians call “bun-simt”. But I don’t want to die on the battlefield of politically correctness. I am willing, however, to fight against racism. This caricature is not simply politically incorrect, it is racist. Let’s walk through this:

1) To caricature the Romanians with 19th and 20th Century great males on one side but the Romani by females in traditional dress is full of denigrating undertones. If it were Romanians in traditional dress on one side and Romani in traditional dress on the other or Romani greats on one side and Romania greats on the other, that would be a step in the right direction.

2) Some have heard the Roma claim that these preeminent Romanians (Eminescu, Enescu, Brancusi, Blaga and Eliade) have Roma heritage. It isn’t unusual for various ethnicities to lay claim to great people. When I was studying in Moldova, I heard Russians laying claim to Eminescu. But I don’t hear those claims much from the Romani or from other Europeans. This is a straw-man argument; it doesn’t support the argument for ethnic differentiation.

3) With over 2 million Romanians spread across Europe, the US and Israel, it begs at least to nuance the affirmation that Romanians are from Romania and Romani from everywhere. There are millions of Romani from Romania. By stating otherwise, this caricature is false. Without any nuancing, the caricature is also racist.

4) It would also be helpful to nuance national identities and ethnic identities. Romani are nationally Romanian, and Romanian Romani are different than Romani from other nations. Additionally, there are many, many who are of mixed ethnicities (i.e. Romani/Romanian) in Romania. What is worse is that many “Romanians” with Roma ancestors deny their own history because of the dominant culture’s views of this marginalized minority – an attitude that amounts not only to the hatred of the other but also the hatred of one’s self.

5) This gets to larger problem with this caricature, which presents the “Gypsies” as the problem, and Romanians as good contributors to culture. If Romanians thought Gypsies were good, I believe that they wouldn’t be so offended when ethnicity and nationality are conflated. This cartoon is a rejection or exclusion of the other.

6) While I don’t paint the whole ethnicity with the same brush, I realize that there is a significant amount of criminal behavior by the Romani in western Europe that attracts the press and portrays the whole ethnicity and even nationality in a negative light. I decry the criminal behavior of Romani. But this can also be said of ethnic Romanians. I personally know dozens of Romanians who are involved in illegal activity in western countries, some of whom are now in jail, who attract the attention of the media. Just look at the area of cyber crime: http://www.news24.com/World/News/Romania-FBI-crack-down-on-cyber-crime-20111219 and http://www.fbi.gov/news/news_blog/u.s.-and-romania-targeting-organized-romanian-criminal-groups. To place the negative image of Romanians on the shoulders of the Romani is a way of scape-goating, and it is racist.

7) Some are upset that the Roma moved to western Europe in the 1990’s, told stories of persecution in Romania, and requested asylum. They were then seen as being “from Romania.” While I realize that many claims of persecution were false, we also need to recognize the places where persecution did occur. For example, Human Rights Report from attacks on Roma villages in the early 1990’s: http://dosfan.lib.uic.edu/ERC/democracy/1993_hrp_report/93hrp_report_eur/Romania.html

8) We also need to introduce historical factors into this discussion. Many Romanians, at best, do not know or, at worst, fail to acknowledge that the first evidence of Romani in Romania was in bills of sale as slaves. I would not promote the idea that contemporary Romanians are presently guilty of slavery or that they must atone for the sins of their ancestors, but I think we would do well to recognize the benefits we reap today by not having a heritage of slavery. The social conditioning that slavery and discrimination has on a people, as we see, is passed from generation to generation. And that is where I think we must share not in guilt but in responsibility for creating equity and inclusion in society.

9) As a Christian, it seems to me the issue is how do we live together and move together toward being what God intends us to be as a human family – without diminishing or confusing identities. If we want to differentiate ethnicities, there are healthier and more constructive ways of doing it.

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About Fragments & Reflections

David Chronic

Discussion

4 thoughts on “Roma, Romanians, Racism and Racial Differentiation

  1. You found the image then? Really helpful discussion. I hadn’t even noticed about the ‘Romanians’ figures being all men and the ‘Romani’ being only women. The image really seems to draw national identity along ethnic boundaries as if a romani person could not be considered Romanian. Where does that leave a Romanian born gypsy who has grown up in Romania? This image would suggest that they could not fully consider themselves Romanian. If they consider themselves primarily Romany then they are part of an ethnic group that 9200 facebookers are at pains to distance themselves from whilst emphasising their own great heritage. I met Romanians in Spain whom I confused for Spanish people. There was no hint of upset at this confusion and certainly not a facebook campaign to differentiate between Romanians who speak good spanish and spaniards. Of course this is in the context of many Romanians experiencing racism throughout Europe but surely the best response to racism is not to resort to further racism but to challenge racism itself.

    Posted by Will John | September 13, 2012, 10:13 pm
  2. thankful for your thoughtful response to this David.

    On Thu, Sep 13, 2012 at 12:17 PM, fragments and reflections wrote:

    > ** > Fragments & Reflections posted: “Since this image has been shared on > facebook at least 9,200 times and multiplying, I thought I would > respond. Along with the image is the hope that there is no more > confusion about these two ethnicities. And those of the opinion that > Romanians”

    Posted by rachel simons | September 15, 2012, 11:39 pm
  3. Good insights! I definitely noticed one side only showing their “best” and the other side the negative stereotype. It was really cool visiting Castelul Peles because the tour guide mentioned the young Romanian king being influenced by Roma musicians. Would love to see more mention of everyone’s best.

    Posted by Emily Batdorf | June 10, 2013, 4:16 am

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