This statement does need little explanation, I am sure, for it indeed is the case. Gypsies, real Gypsies, are indeed the victims of stereotype.
It has to be said that many of our People, and in addition to that the media, and here especially the gutter press such as in the UK the likes of the Sun, the Mirror, the Express, do not help here one bit.
The Gypsy, the true Gypsy, the Romani, and yes, we still exist, though we no longer travel in wooden horse-drawn wagons and no longer have a campfire outside, is put on the same level, on purpose, with the trailer trash that travel the highways and byways of the British Isles and other countries and live by scamming and thieving, in that the dear media always insist on calling those “gypsies”. They are not Gypsy, they are hedge-mumpers or worse.
I am a real Gypsy but I am not Roma. This is another misconception. Some claim that we all prefer to be called Roma. No, we don't, for those of us who, while Romani, such as Sinti and Cale, but who are not Roma, do not wish to be called thus.
While I may never have been to school or college I nevertheless an educated and do an ordinary job while at the same time I am also a journalist. No, and I did not go to university to study journalism and I am glad, seeing the capability of so many journalists that went there, or the lack of capability and ability, that I did not go to such a place.
It is amazing how many people wonder whether, despite the work that I do, I live in a wooden vardo with a yog outside. Dordi! And I have even been asked whether I do not mind no longer being a Gypsy. Duh?!? Hello, people! We are a Race not a lifestyle.
The other stereotypes are that all Gypsies are thieves, scam artists, vagabonds and society dropout. If Nick Rosen can be believed, which he cannot, then there are no longer any true Romanies around, whether in the UK or elsewhere, but all those that still travel or live in trailers (and many of ours still do travel and live in trailers on sites) are nothing but pretenders or scum.
Well, I am the first to admit that we have rogues amongst the Romani, as much as amongst other people, and we have our share of criminals, petty and bigger, as well, and there are those among our that, unfortunately, do pick on the elderly and the vulnerable, and steal from them while they pretend to fix their roofs or do up their gardens, or such. However, let us place the ball firmly in the proper court; the majority of travelling folks that do such scams are not (proper) Gypsy but are Travellers, and the great majority of them are Irish Travellers. One could refer to them, as I have done before and will do so again, in the American term, namely as “trailer trash”. They are neither Gypsy nor are they even of the old Irish Travellers. The great majority of the so-called Irish Travellers, whether in Britain, the USA, and even as far as Australia and New Zealand, are not Gypsy nor even “old” Irish Travellers; they are but people who have decided to live this way to make an easy, often illegitimate, living.
Good Gypsies are not shown for being the clean, decent people that we are. People call us “dirty Gyppos” but I doubt that any of them have ever been in the home, whether trailer or house, of a true Romani-Gypsy family, whether in the UK or elsewhere. It is always the scummy Gypsies, often those that are not even Gypsies but of the other groups wrongly called Gypsy, that get seen for thieving, etc. The media picks up on the bad stuff.
Gypsies, the Romany, have traveled a tough road these past thousand years.
Let us fast-forward through lots of history to the 14th century. By then the Gypsy have become noticed in Europe and were wrongly thought to be from Egypt (hence the name "Gypsy"), when in fact our origins are between the Caucasus and the valley of the Indus River in India.
Gypsies were darker-skinned, to a degree, and fiercely protective of their cultural identity and were quickly persecuted.
Because, as all the land was already spoken for, our People had no other choice but to offer skills that we could practice on the go, such as mending, entertaining or working at fairs, making items such as clothespins, tent pegs, baskets, and also metal goods, including weapons and armor.
“No one wanted us, and everyone and every country chased us away. . . . With no means of survival, of course often the only recourse was to steal, but it was to feed ourselves, to feed our children; not in order to accumulate wealth. Theft of food, such as vegetables or even of water – how can anything that the gods have provided, so the Gypsy saw it – belong to someone and the taking of it, as long as it is not more than one's needs, be theft – became the downfall often for many Gypsy in that they were caught and hanged for such offences or sent as slaves to the colonies.
Unfortunately, Gypsies still shunned across the globe. Nothing has changed. The misconception by the people as to who and what we, the Gypsy, are and the misinterpretation by the media of what and who we are, is not helping one bit in combating this. Neither are the actions by the so-called Gypsyologists and so-called experts that try to make all Romani (Romany) into Roma. While the Sinti and the Cale, as I already said, are Romani they are not Roma and do not, in the main, wish to be addressed as such, e.g. the vehemently refuse to be called Roma, while some, in the Czech and Slovak lands, for instance, have no problem to refer to themselves and to be referred to as “Cygani”. In fact they rather will use the attribute “Gypsy” than the attribute “Roma”.
It is often claimed that the incredible amounts of discrimination and marginalization that we have gone through for centuries, is partially because of hostility of the host country and but partly because of our own inability or unwillingness to integrate. It is not integration that we have a problem with; it is the assimilation, the forced assimilation, under the guise of “integration” that we have a problem with and that we refuse to accept.
It certainly does not help that too many Gypsy families do not value education, and many many Roma youth saying that they do not see college as their most viable option. But is it education per se that is being rejected or the brainwashing institutions of the non-Romani society? Without education, and Gypsy families will have to come to understand that, whether in the West or in the East, there will never be a way that we, the Romani, of whatever group, will amount to much. Sports alone, such as footfall (soccer players – and we do have a fair number of them) or boxers, even of world class, are not going to liberate us as a People and bring the individual families out of poverty and dependency. While some of the crafts and skill are today again in demand, such as well-made baskets, and even the old clothespins can be sold again, it would seem, at the right location, at a very good price indeed, this is not going to lift the Romani out of their condition as a People. We, as a People, must understand that only by education, which ever way this may take, we can fight the stereotype and over come the obstacles placed in our paths.
If you look at the socioeconomic conditions of the true Gypsy People, the Romani or Rom (not Roma), you see every major cause [for our plight]: poverty, overpopulation and lack of education. But in my view lack of education – this does not need to be formal education – is the major cause and obstacle, far aside from the fact that the Gohja, the non-Gypsy has the wrong perception of us.
© Michael Smith (Veshengro), March 2008