Stop saying the G word

Wednesday, July 15, 2020 - 11:01am

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Hibah Chughtai
 

You slip on your coin skirt, your vibrant colored scarf and you declare yourself a “gypsy” for Halloweekend. Your most grave concern is what color lipstick will best suit your costume. You take no second thought about the struggle for liberation, the painful hate crimes and systemic oppression of the “gypsy” you are dressed as endures. 

The idea of a “gypsy,” which you believe to be an exotic Halloween costume, is rather a racial slur assigned to the Roma people (Romanis) intended to subside their value and isolate them in society. Romanis are a group of people originally from the Punjab region of northern India. They are known as travelers because of their historic migration through the Middle East — some through northern Africa — into Europe; they are now the largest minority group in Europe. However, even with 12 million Romanis residing in the European Union and 1 million in the United States, there is no political power or representation for their ethnic group in government.

For centuries, Roma people have been victims of chattel slavery in Eastern Europe which only ended in 1860. Today, the Romani are still victims of institutionalized racism; they are not provided adequate healthcare, lack sufficient access to education and have segregated living conditions. At least 90 percent of the Roma people live below the poverty line in Europe. Even the Roma individuals who found success in their communities are reluctant to claim their identity, affected by society-imposed shame. 

As sinister as this systemic discrimination is, some European officials do not bother to hide the cruelty directed towards the Roma people. In 2013, Hungarian political figure Zsolt Bayer claimed: “A significant part of the Roma are unfit for coexistence. They are not fit to live among people. These Roma are animals, and they behave like animals.” This perpetuates a social stigma and normalizes the abuse for the Roma community. Hence, it does not come as a surprise to hear governments have coerced sterilization upon the Roma women with intersectional intentions: racism and eugenics. Even today, Roma women experience extremely high infant mortalities; the current infant mortality rate among Roma is 24 per 1,000 live-born children, according to a UNICEF report

Unfortunately, the media around the globe has found a way to divert the attention from the maltreatment by creating an illusion through numerous light-hearted films and songs about the Roma people. This includes: Shakira’s single “Gypsy”, the TV show “Big Fat Gypsy Weddings” and even a Netflix original series called “Gypsy.” These songs and films not only hypersexualize the Roma women but have grounded stereotypes to the whole group which dismisses the real issue at hand. 

In the Roma community, the term Roma directly translates to “human being.” We are all human and merit a life without divisive policing and intolerable treatment. Through educating ourselves on the persecution of the Roma community, we can advance equity and strive for inclusion in all societies. Next time you see another “gypsy” Halloween costume, remember your ethical responsibility to inform them about the on-going oppression of the Roma people, and what it truly means to make a culture a costume. 

Shay Szabo can be reached at szabos@umich.edu