by Jonathan Lee
In the post-imperialist Western world, liberal society is becoming ever more self-aware of social and cultural sensitivities, most evidently in the influence of the arts as a vehicle for perceptions of race, gender, sexuality and culture. Cultural appropriation is a topic hotly debated, and one where the divide between appropriation and appreciation can sometimes be uncertain. This ambiguity and subsequent argument is usually tied to power relationships, dichotomy in stereotypes (e.g. black hairstyles being perceived differently on white heads) and most often, the struggle for the appropriated culture to control its own identity.
The struggle for Roma to self-determine their own public identity — that being which is perceived by those outside of the Romany community — has historically been dominated by stereotypes of the ‘Gypsy other’. These myths, biases and often outright lies likely stem from the Middle Ages with arrival of the Roma in Europe. In an age of relative racial homogeneity, the Roma appeared as a foreign, outsider race whose dark countenance was associated with evil in a time of church hegemony and bigotry. The associations forged with the Roma during their early arrival were compounded by subsequent centuries of persecution and hatred, often based on conceptions of ‘the Gypsy other’ rather than interactions.