Roma Stereotype blog
by Monica Bodirsky
Truth and Myth
Racial stereotypes are damaging because they are a distilled version of an entire culture or race. Stereotypes reduce a group or culture to a one-dimensional caricature by ignoring aspects of complexity and diversity. Sadly, despite the inaccuracies and often-ludicrous portrayals of Romani people, media continues to engage in stereotyping because it is easy to be reductionist and easier to bypasses the need for critical thinking, time and effort.
Which is why it has so much appeal and is so rampant. How easy to judge an entire race by one, or, if you are really open-minded, a handful of people you deem worthy of representing their entire culture. A recent American television show “My big fat Gypsy Wedding” is an example of the ridiculous ideas circulating about ‘gypsy’ people. To begin with, people who identify as American travellers are not Romani, but are comprised of American Irish immigrants who live a similar caravan-style existence. To the minority of knowledgeable viewers, “My Big Fat Gypsy Wedding” is a portrait of economically challenged American southerners with drinking issues and not a show about “Gypsy’ or Romani traditional values.
Sadly, the word ‘Gypsy’ itself is so entrenched with the romanticized idea of freedom and rebellion, it is hard for most historically unaware people to make the distinction.
My point exactly. In the absence of any real education, media fills in this gap and perpetuates misinformation and damaging stereotypes.
This blog will share examples of common misconceptions and stereotypes, but will also contrast these with the truth of how strong, diverse and accomplished the Romani community is and has been throughout history.
The contrast of these truths and lies, will offer a forum and invitation for the Roma community to explore both truth and lies about Romani people.
Commodity or Product
Once a minority culture is commodified or ‘packaged’ as a product and sold to the dominant culture, it is difficult for many to see the harm this creates. These are a few of the products that perpetuate the ‘myth’ not the facts.
The myth here is stuck in a romanticized and outdated version of a very small group of people in the community that were painted by non-Romani artists who presented their as an accurate representation of an entire culture.
Myths: Freedom, non-conformity, close to nature, and mystical.
Truths: Currently Romani people are less ‘free’ than the dominant culture due to racism. Non-conformity is in the eyes of those who belong to a dominant culture who want ‘others’ to assimilate. Most forward-thinking cultures allow for ‘integration’ in which a minority culture has the right to retain unique characteristics while living in a dominant culture, whereas assimilation implies absolute conformity and loss of cultural identity.
The image of wandering caravans of Romani people is so entrenched in the current psyche; it is hard for anyone to accept reality. No one wants to see unhappy, struggling people. It means accepting responsibility to assist any actual social change. It just isn’t fun.
Some members of the Romani community may have retained herbal wisdom or knowledge; many have not since they have been economically depressed and living on lands that do not support the growth of any herbs, plants, etc., and many who live in urban centres have no need for this knowledge, nor find lacking it a threat to their identity.
Being ‘mystical’ better translates as ignorance of the culture. Many use tarot cards as a means of economy but do not possess any special, mystical powers. Survival can depend on how observant you are when part of a persecuted minority; this is often confused with ‘special powers’ that the dominant culture lacks.
Current commodity examples
The cutline for this ‘gypsy water’ reads…
“A vagabond story in scent: bergamot, juniper, orris, amber, pepper and sandalwood nestled in pine needles.”
Much to my horror, Microsoft Word has in it’s thesaurus – tramp, wanderer and gypsy as synonyms for vagabond. I’m not sure why people think it is a compliment to create a product that has nothing to do with the culture just the myth. This person freely admits it is a ‘glamorization; of the culture. I beg to differ. Many Romani would currently settle for clean water, but that doesn’t sell products.
“Gypsy Princess Adult Womens Costume”
From a popular Halloween Product site. Also available as accessories? Gold hoop earrings, finger cymbals, and gold coin shoes.
Last I checked, Romani culture was not a monarchy. There are no kings, queens or princesses, and, I’m not sure I would see this rather revealing outfit at the average Roma gathering.
I can’t imagine an equivalent Halloween outfit marketed that uses other cultural stereotypes this way.
This outfit is as ridiculous as creating a “Black Soul Singer Princess” costume, or perhaps the “Jewish Rabbi King” outfit or maybe even the “Latino Gang Prince”. I suspect these might not become popular in light of education and therefore lack of ignorance about these cultures. Often the idiotic phrase ‘positive’ stereotype is used to perpetuate this myth. No stereotype is positive because this is a subjective and often dominant culture’s way of seeing ‘others’ as positive. Positive to some perhaps, inaccurate nonetheless and, therefore, equally harmful.
This is a “Gypsy Relic’ Necklace for sale for $15.
It is neither gypsy nor a relic. It is a contemporary necklace made with an Indian coin, and while, Romani people originated in India, this is a tenuous connection at best and a silly way to market. It panders to popular stereotypes and pop culture to sell a necklace.
This is a popular form of tattoo art and graphics depicting the same ‘gypsy’ woman repeatedly. Always wistful, sultry, mystical, with gold earrings and roses….and it’s nonsense. I have a nightmare in which Roma people begin wearing this foolishness due to internalized racism. No criticism about the quality of the art, merely the content.
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