[tw: antiziganism, racism]
One of the more beautiful things in this country is its avian population. When I arrived in Constanța, in fact, the first thing to catch my eye was this lovely bird called a Hooded Crow—named for the contrast between their black-plumed caps and grey collars. In Romanian, they say cioară. The birds are quite handsome, and they’ve a call that’s full and proud. Every caw seems a sort of boast, and often I’d spend my mornings on the balcony watching them strut and flock about.
Cioară, however, also happens to be a derogatory name for the Rromani population in the area.
Now fancy that, an entire ethnic group being called crows. Let’s count the implications, shall we?
I’m sure you can think of more.
Since having arrived in Romania, I’ve been increasingly shocked, sickened by attitudes like this—and at the same time, I’ve grown curious. In the U.S., the Rromani culture has been pretty thoroughly reduced to pure romanticism, exoticized fictions like Disney’s re-telling of Hugo’s Hunchback, or Cervantes’ La Gitanilla. It’s such a warped perspective, and when you try to move beyond it you’re met with resistance. A majority of Americans will tell you that you’re being unnecessarily PC, or worse, they’ll complain that you’re taking their beloved “gypsy” caricature from them. Worse still are the handful of occasions when it’s not a matter of individual fault—I’ve spoken to plenty of people who are eager to change their attitude, but the sheer inertia of it all, the extent to which this caricature is ingrained into the American social consciousness… it drags them back down. The fault lies within the people who created the oppressive environment, and the people who perpetuate that environment through either willful ignorance or else outright hostility. And no one is immune to it.
It’s just… it’s a hard topic to address in the states, because we don’t witness it as directly as a European might—although we certainly participate in antiziganist behavior—which is why I’m doing my research project on it this semester, and why I want to do everything in my power to understand the nuances of these inter-ethnic relations.
It’ll be delicate (what with sorting through demonyms, distinguishing between various Rromani subgroups, and gathering speech samples, and not causing undue offense), but it’s something I need to do. I can’t just not say anything when the guys at the hostel talk about how base and filthy the Rromani language is—despite their quite-Rromani cries of “Ce gagică miștò”. I can’t just hold my tongue when a professor of mine proposes a mass-sterilization campaign, and placing his hand on my shoulder says to “relax, it was just a joke”. And go figure, I’m not just going to nod my head in agreement when these people say that it’s their fault because they refuse to integrate into a society that enslaved them.
Now, I’m well aware that the primary advocate for any social group should be the group itself, so it goes without saying that I don’t speak on behalf of all Rromani, nor do I claim to have shared in their history. But I need to say something. Because even if I’m not Rrom, I am a person of color—and the fact that people here can express such openly hateful sentiments and get away with it? That horrifies me. It makes me think of how much worse anti-black sentiment in the U.S. could have gotten, and it scares the hell out of me. And no, the oppression experienced by blacks historically isn’t completely analogous to that experienced by Rromani populations; not now, not then.
And no, maybe I haven’t been called cioară.
…but I’ve sure as hell been called crow.