HOW IS A GYPSY SUPPOSED TO LOOK?

Jennifer Lee who is roma 1

by Jonathan Lee 

I am probably not the image most people have in their mind when they think of a Gypsy.

My mother is of mostly Irish-American stock – which gives me a few ginger wisps in my beard, and a smattering of freckles across my nose and cheeks. My hair is dark brown, not black. I don’t wear a lolo diklo (red scarf) around my neck, or a staddi kali (black trilby hat) on my head. Most of the time I wear jeans and t-shirt, I rarely ever dance on tables, and I have no piercings or tattoos. I live in an apartment in the centre of a European capital with a woman whom I am not married to, and I travel only about 20 minutes maximum by foot every day to go to work.

If I ask you to close your eyes and picture a Gypsy in your mind’s eye you probably see someone with bangles and gold hoop earrings, floral patterned clothing, long hair, and dark flashing eyes. They may or may not have a tambourine, and may or may not be wearing a turban with a little gem in the centre holding it up. Maybe you see a fortune teller, or a travelling metalsmith? Perhaps a musician? If you are European, more likely you also see a beggar, a thief, a criminal.Continue Reading

HAPPY APRIL 8TH. LET’S HAVE A PROTEST

by Jonathan Lee

Content warning: article mentions antigypsyism, racism, discrimination and persecution 

Opre Roma, si bakht akana
Aven mansa sa lumnyake Roma.
Roma arise! The time is now.
Come with me, Roma from all the world.

These words were written in 1949 by Žarko Jovanović, a Romani Holocaust survivor, Yugoslav Partisan fighter, and activist. They were put to a traditional melody, and adopted as the Romani Anthem in 1971.

It bears none of the hallmarks of an anthem as conceived in the traditional sense by European nation-states. It is not a hymn or an opera. It’s melody is plaintive, unstructured, reckless even. It does not conceive of a homeland, real or imagined, nor does it call for the unification of a people in a national sense. Instead the lyrics speak of the freedom of the road, freedom from persecution, and the need for unity of Romani people across the world. Amongst many other things, it is fundamentally a protest song.Continue Reading

SEXY FILTHY GYPSIES: THE STRUGGLE FOR ROMANY IDENTITY THROUGH THE ARTS

2

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.Continue Reading

ROMANY GYPSIES: MODERN APARTHEID IN WESTERN EUROPE

1

by Jonathan Lee

Numbering around ten million, Romany gypsies constitute Europe’s single largest minority ethnic group and are almost certainly the continent’s most discriminated against. The Romany people uniquely bear both the intense scrutiny of outright persecution and the simultaneous off-hand dismissal of their very identity, allowing and even justifying racism to go unchallenged.Continue Reading