Apr. 26th, 2011

gipsylife: (Default)
Much of this blog has been about inappropriate use of the word ‘gypsy/gipsy’ in popular culture. Two examples of this would be Kerstin Martin of gipsylife.com and Alessandra Cave of gypsygirlsguide.com. In personal communication with each of these women, they have shown no compassion, no respect and no ability to understand why what they’re doing might be offensive. They both seem to feel that they have every right to use that term, in any way they please. I’d ask again if either of them would feel the same if it was the word ‘nigger’, ‘spic’ or ‘kike’, but neither of them seem to get that reference, or the fact that they’re blogging under a racial slur.


Take Kerstin Martin of gipsylife.com, for example. Although several months ago (after much discussion) she admitted it was offensive and took the site down, she has now began using it again, and claims she has every right to use the word ‘gypsy/gipsy’ any way she sees fit.

In an email response to me, Kerstin states that “unlike other slurs - the word gypsy has evolved” and that “it is an undisputable fact that as a Romani who associates a racial slur with the word [I am] outnumbered by many others who have more positive and light-hearted associations. This is just the way it is.” She further goes on to state that “harassing and threatening people like [her] is definitely not the way to go about changing this”.

Well, Kerstin, here’s what you don’t understand… “changing this”, as you put it, is really in the hands of people like you… until outsiders to our culture can understand why these things are offensive (and stop using them!) it won’t ever change. It is because of that fact that I continue to use my voice in opposition to such practices, and I will continue to protest your blog, gipsylife.com as long as it remains.

In reality, there are at least 1 million Romani Americans, (and many, many millions not officially accounted for on census records and the like) so I am not as alone as she seems to believe. That is her ignorance talking, trying to justify her actions. The fact that people like Kerstin have taken (what she herself has admitted to knowing is) a racial slur and turned it into some fantasy for her to hide behind does not make it right. In fact, Kerstin, of all people, should be especially ashamed because she DOES know Romani history, from a European perspective. She should know better.

Kerstin thinks I am “bullying” her, and says that she acknowledges that the word “gypsy/gipsy” is a slur in my culture, but in her culture it isn’t. That’s an outright lie, as Kerstin has personally told me that she is of German descent, and was born and raised in Germany, the same place where the Holocaust originated, where Gypsies (along side the Jews) were rounded up and systematically exterminated because of their race. Maybe the word isn’t the same (‘zigeuner’ is the German word for ‘gypsy/gipsy’, not near as fantastical and pretty, but neither is the reality for Gypsies in Germany at that time) but she is well aware of the racial connotations of the word.

She claims that I need to understand “her side”. The problem is, she doesn’t seem to understand that she doesn’t have a ‘side’. In all honesty, if I were Kerstin, I would be questioning why she needs the word ‘gipsy’ at all. What is it about herself that is not enough that she has to take from another culture? She has said herself that she has been called a ‘gypsy’ (again, erroneously) because she move around a lot… this is a stereotype in and of itself about my people, a stereotype which only serves to hide the truth which is that Gypsies didn’t move out of choice, as she has done… they moved because they were forced to. The very fact that she has assumed this word or this identity under false pretenses is an insult to every Romani person. The fact that she is (and has always been) able to move about as she chooses, from country to country, is such a contradiction to the truth that it’s an insult. People who need to take from other people’s cultures (and especially one so downtrodden and persecuted) are missing something within themselves. I hope she finds it, so she can stop stealing from mine.

I previously had the impression that she was an intelligent, compassionate person. I deeply question that now as she is putting her own selfish desires to hang on to the ‘magical’, erroneous connotation to this word over taking the high road and acknowledging that what she is doing is insensitive and wrong, to understand that as an outsider to our culture she has no right to tell me what is and is not offensive. Saying that, essentially, “everybody else does it” is a terrible justification for insulting an entire culture.

The fact that she believes I am ‘bullying’ her by posting the truth in my blog proves that she isn’t getting what I am saying or where I am coming from at all. I have no desire to ‘fight’ anyone. If I fight, it is a fight to be heard, a fight to be recognized, as a group and as a people, not as an individual. There is no personal gain here. I get no enjoyment out of this, but I feel it is necessary and I feel I owe a debt to my ancestors who suffered, to speak out. I could easily sit back on my couch and not pay it any mind, but the very fact that I *CAN* do those things, that I even have that choice at all, is why I cannot turn my back.

So, in closing I say to Kerstin Martin of gipsylife.com, to Alessandra Cave of gypsygirlsguide.com, to all the hippies and teeny boppers that dress up like us for Halloween, you may never understand what it is like to see things like ‘Gypsy Machine’ in the craft store, or blogs and sites like yours, or a million other little things on a daily basis that reference your culture. You may never see why this new ‘use’ of the word doesn’t erase the past. You may never comprehend what it is like to HAVE to speak out, simply because you CAN, and you know that others of your race do not have that privilege. I can’t make you understand these things. I can only hope that you can put your own nonsensical attachment to what is still today a very loaded, racial term outside of this country aside and try to be compassionate. What’s at stake for my people is much more than what is at stake for you.


gipsylife: (Default)

There are days when I almost wish I didn't know my ethnic background, or better yet, that history had been kinder to my people. The racism, violence and persecution my people have faced is not unique to the Romani. Like the African American people, we've been slaves and we've never received any sort of reparations for what has been stolen from us, (of a monetary nature or otherwise). We suffered along side the Jews in the Holocaust, and were slaves here in America during the colonial period. The past is the past, as one might say, and I realize that none of that can be erased or changed, but to not even be acknowledged as a proper race in modern American society? I really don't think that's too much to ask, is it?

As the article linked above states, we are what is commonly known as the 'invisible minority' here in America. You may ask yourself what exactly that means... some may be tempted to believe that we've earned this title because there aren't very many of us, but there are more than 1 million Romani Americans, (likely much more, as no accurate census has ever been taken, or ever could be since many Romani families left their ethnicity behind when they fled Europe to come to America - I have encountered grown men in their late 20's and early 30's that were told their entire childhood that they were Greek, Persian or Spanish, only to find out they were actually Romani). As this article states "unlike the situation in Europe, where Gypsies are much in evidence, Romani in the United States have been called the 'hidden Americans' because they remain by choice largely invisible. There are two reasons for this: first, the United States is made up of minority groups of all complexions, and so it is easy for Gypsies to present themselves as American Indians, Hispanics, or southern Europeans, and they usually do this rather than identify themselves as Gypsies. Second, most Americans know very little about actual Romani but a great deal about the Hollywood "gypsy" (with a small "g"), and since people fitting the romantic gypsy image are not actually encountered in real life, the real population goes unnoticed."

There is more to this story than just raising awareness, however. I have learned as I have spoken with people and tried to change these perceptions that while many people are horrified when they learn that the word 'gypsy' is a racial slur or that the word 'gipped' isn't as harmless as they've been led to believe, or that the Romani people have suffered for generations and still suffer today, from hate crimes, death threats, segregation and persecution because of their race there are others for whom the fantasy of what a 'gypsy' is has such a strong pull that even this newfound awareness doesn't deter them. They see it as 'harmless' to continue to perpetuate a stereotype, and fail to recognize or care that in doing so they only make us that much more invisible by ignoring and hiding the truth.

There's an old saying, "the truth hurts", and in this case, it's accurate. The truth about the lives Romani people have been forced to lead is not a glamorous one. It isn't all tambourines, fortune telling and magic spells. In fact, Romani history is quite depressing. While it may be easy for the western world to ignore all of that and just concentrate on the fantasy, it does irreparable damage to the cause of raising awareness, and without awareness, the prejudice and persecution of our people will never end.

I have been told by some who refuse to let go of their perception of gypsies that western culture has formed a 'new meaning' to the word and that the Romani people need to recognize that. What these people do not realize is that it is just as offensive, if not more so, when it is used in this manner, because their usage of it like this (to signify a lifestyle) essentially discounts all the suffering attached to the word. That is what I mean when I say that these folks do not have the right to say whether or not that word is offensive - they claim they have only 'positive feelings' about the word and towards my people, yet they needn't be calling me a 'filthy gypsy' in order for the word to be offensive. It's offensive because they use it to refer to a lifestyle, instead of a race of people.

Some have said that these sorts of generalizations and 'positive stereotypes' are harmless. I can assure you this is not the case. When someone searches for that word on the internet, they should be coming up with sites which show them the truth. Instead, they get blogs like gipsylife.com or gypsygirlsguide.com, Halloween costumes, people on eBay and etsy using that word to sell "spells" and "charms" and other such nonsense, bellydance troups who aren't even Romani (but have zero issue with using that word and even our own language in their names), Disney characters, fairytales, and other such rubbish.

Unfortunately, these people have 'decided' they want to use the word to signify something else, but it is never truly separated from the Romani people. Just because the word has come to mean something else in their minds (and, for the record, that meaning was assigned by people who are outsiders to the culture and have no business taking that word and making it mean whatever they wish as it isn't their word to take... have THEY suffered for it? NO.) that doesn't make it right.

It may sound outlandish to make this comparison, but imagine if I decided I was going to dress up as a German, and this is the costume I chose:


I imagine I'd have many German people rather angry with me, ready to knock down my door with protests and explanations about how not all Germans are like that (and they would be right). If my response was simply that I meant no offense but I liked the costume and was going to portray their race any way I chose to, I think they might take issue with that. You may think that example is ridiculous, but when you erase the image of the fantasy 'gypsy' and put the Romani people in its place, you may come to understand where that line is. It's not my place to make the word 'German' mean whatever I please, any more than it is for others to make 'gypsy' mean something else than its true meaning. That word has been tied to the Romani people from the beginning, hundreds and hundreds of years, and it isn't going to change just because some white folks want to play Disney Princess on the internet. It will always be tied to us, and it will always have blood on it... and, it takes more than white people wanting to believe the fantasy to erase the reality.


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