As a Romani American, I see the word 'gypsy' (or 'gipsy') thrown around a lot in casual conversation. Generally, it's part of a joke about stealing away children in the night, or being ripped off (ie., "gipped"). Most people don't realize, however, that gypsies do exist – we are an ethnic group (the Romani people), and (when used by outsiders to our culture), the word ‘gypsy’ is a racial slur (much like the ‘n’ word for African Americans).
There are several misconceptions about the Romani people, one being that they cannot settle down. People believe we are free-spirited and exotic - promiscuous and morally deficient. They may think of crystal balls and tarot cards, fortune telling and other such nonsense. Some think we are thieves.
Here are a few facts about the Romani people:
- They were not nomadic by choice. They moved around because they had to… they were persecuted everywhere they went, and still are, to this day. They were persecuted alongside the Jews in the Holocaust – the Roma & Sinti (Romani nations).
- Despite the belief that gypsies dress provocatively and seduce men, traditional Romani culture has strict guidelines for the way women dress, and how they act around men. The marime code (or Gypsy law) is a strict series of laws that govern all aspects of Gypsy life. Traditional Romani women wouldn't be caught dead in shirts that barely cover their breasts, expose their bare stomachs or in skirts that have hemlines above the ankle.
- We can't tell the future. If we could, don't you think we'd have foreseen Hilter's plan for Gypsies in the Holocaust and gotten the hell out of there? Sorry to burst your bubble, folks. No crystal balls here...
Although most people seem to think that the romanticized version of the “gypsy lifestyle” should be flattering, I’m afraid most Romani people do not see it that way. This misrepresentation and romanticization of our culture is called ‘exotification’ and it is highly offensive. Though the belief among gadje (non-Romani) is that we should be flattered by these stereotypes, it is not up to outsiders to decide what racial slurs are and are not “harmless”.
I am so tired of hearing people talk about the "gypsy lifestyle". That is like saying you want to live the ‘nigger’ lifestyle, or the 'spic' lifestyle. My ethnic group is not a lifestyle or a choice. No one wanted to be a ‘gypsy’ when they were carting off Romanies to the concentration camps. These folks need to read a bit more about the race they're appropriating. This link has more info: http://www.holocaust-trc.org/sinti.htm
So, to those who think using the word 'gypsy' in this manner is "no big deal", let me ask you this: how would you feel if your ethnic heritage was mocked, or turned into a ‘mindset’ or ‘lifestyle’ by outsiders? No matter how harmless you believe it to be, this type of thing is very offensive to Romani people. I’m sure you wouldn’t like people using your culture simply because people attach a romantic nonsense to it, like they do to the word ‘gypsy’. You should be ashamed of yourself for treating someone else’s heritage and culture as if it is a joke – and that’s what you’re doing, whether you think it’s flattering or not. Romani people are fighting persecution all over the world still. It did not end with the Holocaust. What you think a ‘gypsy’ is, I can assure you, is quite incorrect. You think using this word makes you seem free-spirited, bohemian and unconventional, when the truth is it only makes you seem ignorant.
Here are several links, so you can read about ‘the gypsy life’. Gypsies (Romani people) have had to deal with the following, throughout history (and even today):
*forced sterilization (yes, it is still happening)
*harassment (by law enforcement as well as civilians)
*fingerprinting (this is happening in Italy right now – all Romani people are being fingerprinted, simply because our race is considered ‘criminal’)
*exclusion from public schools and welfare programs
*bombings (it is not uncommon in places like the Czech Republic for people to throw molotov cocktails into the windows of Romani homes)
*forced into a nomadic lifestyle because no country wanted them there
Unfortunately, it is not as romantic as you seem to believe. I truly wish that it were. If you can read these pages and still not understand why foolish romanticization of a people that has suffered so much (and still suffers to this day) is disrespectful and wrong, then I am at a loss as to what else to say.
I want to say one more thing, which is this… to so many people, the word ‘gypsy’ has a positive connotation, however erroneous it may be, of a free-spirited, bohemian lifestyle.
But, to others, like this burned child (http://www.cnn.com/2010/WORLD/europe/0
People need to know her story, and the stories of so many millions of others, the stories of the Sinti and Roma in the Holocaust, they need to know the truth. Outsiders to our culture who would use this word have a perfect opportunity to educate people, but often choose to remain silent and continue to use the word ‘gypsy’, as if it were their own.
WE suffered (and still suffer) because of that word, and it does not belong to outsiders. I hope they will take a look at some of these articles and perhaps they can see where I am coming from, and why it is offensive.