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"Gypsy" is a racial slur.
August 19, 2012 8:40 PM   Subscribe

The Romani people would like you to please stop using the word 'gypsy' now (or even wear 'gypsy' tattoos) as it is a racial slur connected to past and present persecution. This is not 'gypsy'; this is Romani.

More about the problems with the word 'gypsy'
Crash course in Romani history
The truth about 'Gypsy Life'
Instead of 'Gypsy': Picture Dictionary of nomadic tribes around the world
posted by divabat (216 comments total) 36 users marked this as a favorite

 
Apparently there's a reality show now that follows around a group of self-described Gypsies, and they refer to themselves as Gypsies all the time i.e. "you can't do that, you're a Gypsy", etc. My mom was telling me this and I was surprised because I'd always heard the term "gypsy" was super offensive, almost as bad as the n-word to them.
posted by DecemberBoy at 8:43 PM on August 19, 2012


Okay, it's a deal. From now on the word "Gypsy" will only be used to refer to a certain purple robot.
posted by Strange Interlude at 8:47 PM on August 19, 2012 [16 favorites]


Romani ite domum.
posted by isopraxis at 8:48 PM on August 19, 2012 [9 favorites]


Or a musical.
posted by Curious Artificer at 8:49 PM on August 19, 2012 [1 favorite]


Somebody tell Cher it's time to do a re-recording. (To clarify, she never claimed to be a member of the ethnic group, just a family that fit the stereotype)
posted by oneswellfoop at 8:50 PM on August 19, 2012 [1 favorite]


Stevie Nicks is going to be really embarassed.
posted by kirkaracha at 8:50 PM on August 19, 2012 [4 favorites]


The show is called American Gypsies.
posted by beisny at 8:51 PM on August 19, 2012


The only thing I can possibly add to this discussion is that when Telemundo bought the North American remake rights to the Chilean telenovela Romané (Romani), they changed the name to Gitanas (Gypsies).
posted by infinitewindow at 8:51 PM on August 19, 2012


Aside from the merits of this particular case, "Do you know that Newspeak is the only language in the world whose vocabulary gets smaller every year?" is a great quote.
posted by ThatFuzzyBastard at 8:51 PM on August 19, 2012 [10 favorites]


Are they going to have to change the name (and logo) of Gitanes too then?
posted by dabitch at 8:55 PM on August 19, 2012


I had a cat named Gypsy that I had to give to my brother-in-law when our son was born with cat allergies and asthma.

Do you think it would be weird to ping said brother-in-law five years later and ask him to change the cats name?
posted by bpm140 at 8:57 PM on August 19, 2012 [1 favorite]


Gypsy is too cool a word. Like Eskimo. D/oh
posted by stbalbach at 8:58 PM on August 19, 2012


Noted. Thank you very much.
posted by gingerest at 8:59 PM on August 19, 2012 [1 favorite]


Sidenote: the Swedish word that would equal "gypsy" is "zigenare" and no, that's not used in polite company anymore. Instead we say Romani.
posted by dabitch at 9:04 PM on August 19, 2012 [1 favorite]


What, no link to all the relevant Law & Order episodes? Come on now, if there's something that sheltered merkawhitepeople can get confused by there have to be some Law & Order episodes out there that capitalize on the confusion...
posted by trackofalljades at 9:04 PM on August 19, 2012


Originally from the word Egyptian.
posted by Brian B. at 9:04 PM on August 19, 2012 [2 favorites]


Those tattoos are the ever loving worst. I had no idea they had an offensive name to match, though. Yeesh.
posted by milk white peacock at 9:06 PM on August 19, 2012


I'm glad to learn they can't tell the future though. Next time they come banging on my door, trying to sell me their lucky heather, I'ma tell them that I have it on the authority of one of their own tribe that they're full of shit.
posted by PeterMcDermott at 9:07 PM on August 19, 2012 [2 favorites]


Cognates of "gypsy" in other languages are considered very, very offensive. I think only in English is the term even vaguely acceptable in polite company. So keep that in mind. Tzigane is another term used instead of gypsy.
posted by deanc at 9:07 PM on August 19, 2012 [3 favorites]


So, the upshot here is that this woman has infected this people with racism about the Roma. In the US, we don't care about the Roma at all; we're not prejudiced either for or against them, because they barely exist as more than fairy tales to us.

So, while meaning well, this woman has shoved a new form of racism into these people's heads, one they didn't need. She could have just let it go, let the racism die, but she stoked the flames, she made herself Roma, and she made herself horrible. They'll never forget what assholes 'those gypsies' are, now. They were just talking about a cat.

That's how racism really dies, you know... when nobody even knows that the slur word you hold so dear to your identity was ever even a slur.

If you want racism to die, that's how it will happen. You have to let the slurs lose meaning, get diluted into nothing. "Gypsie's Sale" was absolutely innocent, and this woman, meaning well, made it horrible for everyone involved. She helped perpetuate another thirty years of hate.
posted by Malor at 9:07 PM on August 19, 2012 [17 favorites]


The Canadian government keeps denying refugee claims from Roma/Romani fleeing European countries like Hungary and the Czech republic. The govt stance is that these refugees don't deserve refuge, because the countries in question are first world democracies.

For once, I want the media to point out that they are first world countries whose governments - in the case of the Czech republic at least - systematically discriminate against the Roma on the basis of race. In the Czech republic, Roma children were being segregated in special education classes solely on the grounds of their race.

I'm pissed off at Europe for putting up with that kind of bullshit - and ashamed of Canada for not calling them on it.
posted by jb at 9:08 PM on August 19, 2012 [23 favorites]


...and we can all be thusly impressed that the TV Tropes page for "Gypsy" edifies visitors by offering some disambiguation and a link to the TV Tropes page for "Romani." Nice.
posted by trackofalljades at 9:09 PM on August 19, 2012 [6 favorites]


Malor: wow, victim-blaming much? Who are you to speak for their experiences?
posted by divabat at 9:09 PM on August 19, 2012 [32 favorites]


Romani, PLEASE ....
posted by ZenMasterThis at 9:10 PM on August 19, 2012 [2 favorites]


I cannot recommend Latcho Drom enough. It continues to be a source of musical inspiration for me, and a reference point for all the diverse types of Romani music. Watch in 480 or netflix it, it's so worth it
posted by special agent conrad uno at 9:11 PM on August 19, 2012 [7 favorites]


That said, I'm totally confused about the correct use/meanings of "Roma" and "Romani" (and whether there is any difference).

In the UK, "travellers" is a word for Nomadic people of a variety of heritages (Romani, Irish, Scottish, and people who have chosen the lifestyle of travelling).
posted by jb at 9:11 PM on August 19, 2012


Memo to Amy Sherman-Palladino: gonna need to retcon the Stars Hollow auto mechanic of indeterminate ethnicity.
posted by gsh at 9:12 PM on August 19, 2012


(I learned this the hard way when I casually called one of my language teachers something that translates to "gypsy instructor" because he told me that he didn't have an office, and he recoiled and told me, "don't say that word!").

That said, is tzigane out of bounds? Particularly in the Balkans, you have the factor of trying to differentiate Roma from Romanians from Romaioi, so tzigane was the more common term, at least back in the late 1990s.
posted by deanc at 9:15 PM on August 19, 2012


Roma were persecuted by the Nazis, who killed at least 220,000 Roma during the Porajmos (Romani for "devouring"; their Holocaust).
posted by kirkaracha at 9:16 PM on August 19, 2012 [5 favorites]


Somebody tell Cher it's time to do a re-recording

Not to mention generations of bluesmen (and a few blueswomen) who went to see the gypsy, to have their fortune told.
posted by flapjax at midnite at 9:17 PM on August 19, 2012 [2 favorites]


Apparently there's a reality show now that follows around a group of self-described Gypsies, and they refer to themselves as Gypsies all the time

...which proves that like every other ethnic or cultural group, Romani aren't all alike. I'll happily err on the side of looking "PC" if it means not using a word that hurts someone, but it's probably good to keep in mind that the blogs linked in the FPP do not necessarily represent all Romani and their feelings on the subject.

(DecemberBoy, this comment isn't directed at you in particular, but is something I like to mention whenever this topic comes up.)
posted by capricorn at 9:17 PM on August 19, 2012 [3 favorites]


Romani, usage and meanings: per good ole Wikipedia, the Romani are a people who share the language Romani. Some of the specific population concentrations of the Romani are the Roma and the Kale. Romani people may also be referred to as Romany, Romanies, Romanis, Roma or Roms. More:
Romani usage

In the Romani language, rom is a masculine noun, meaning "man, husband", with the plural roma. Romani is the feminine adjective, while romano is the masculine adjective. Some Romanies use Rom or Roma as an ethnic name, while others (such as the Sinti, or the Romanichal) do not use this term as a self-ascription for the entire ethnic group.
(snip)
English usage

In the English language (according to the Oxford English Dictionary), Rom is a noun (with the plural Roma or Roms) and an adjective, while Romani (Romany) is also a noun (with the plural Romanies or Romanis) and an adjective. Both Rom and Romani have been in use in English since the 19th century as an alternative for Gypsy. Romani was initially spelled Rommany, then Romany, while today the Romani spelling is the most popular spelling. ...


Although Roma is used as a designation for the branch of the Romani people with historic concentrations in Eastern Europe and the Balkans, it is increasingly encountered during recent decades as a generic term for the Romani people as a whole.

Because all Romanies use the word Romani as an adjective, the term began to be used as a noun for the entire ethnic group.

Today, the term Romani is used by most organizations—including the United Nations, the Council of Europe, and the US Library of Congress.

The standard assumption is that the demonyms of the Romani people, Lom and Dom share the same origin.
posted by gingerest at 9:19 PM on August 19, 2012 [1 favorite]


Cue the flood of "uhhh, my one black friend said he wasn't offended when I said it so what's the big deal?"

But seriously, folks, you don't get to decide what's an appropriate name for somebody else. It's like the kid in middle school who everybody called "lard-ass" or whatever, but instead of tripping you in the hall and not inviting you to parties, they tried to exterminate your people, deny your culture's validity, and label you as an entire race of kleptomaniacs with stereotypes of savagery. Anyway now you're 30 and you can reasonably expect everyone to know better than to call you "lard-ass" in public, but people keep. fucking. doing it. You keep trying to be like "come on guys, we're adults and my name is Steve" but they send you letters addressed to lard-ass, and they introduce you to their friends as lard-ass, and eventually you ficking go crazy.
posted by Jon_Evil at 9:20 PM on August 19, 2012 [67 favorites]


Roma were persecuted by the Nazis, who killed at least 220,000 Roma during the Porajmos (Romani for "devouring"; their Holocaust).

Indeed. I didn't know what "Sinti" and "Roma" were until I moved to Germany at the old, old age of 20. I found out within about 4 weeks of being there when I took a trip to a museum which chronicled their history during the holocaust. Horrifying shit.

If they'd rather I not use certain words to describe them, I'm fine with that. It's not like "gypsy" is a common word in my vocabulary that's going to be really hard to excise.
posted by King Bee at 9:20 PM on August 19, 2012 [2 favorites]


So, the upshot here is that this woman has infected this people with racism about the Roma. In the US, we don't care about the Roma at all; we're not prejudiced either for or against them, because they barely exist as more than fairy tales to us.

I'm sorry; come again? This is ludicrous reasoning. Just because I don't have personal experience with something doesn't mean that I can't see that it's wrong. By this logic, should I not care about the "black on black" violence of the Hutu vs. the Tutsi in Rwanda? Should I not care about the problems between Israelis and Palestinians?

Just like members of any of these groups, there ARE members of the many Romani groups here in the US who have been affected by this prejudice.

Just because you can't see it doesn't mean it doesn't exist. In fact, that's exactly why you SHOULD care.
posted by Madamina at 9:20 PM on August 19, 2012 [33 favorites]


Also, as the last "more inside" link notes. there are plenty of people that get shoved into the 'gypsy' term (due to that nomadic nature) but aren't technically Rroma (a big example being Irish Travellers).
posted by divabat at 9:21 PM on August 19, 2012 [1 favorite]


It's a bit more complicated than that; like most of the "what you call us" controversies of the past fifty years, it's about trying to regain some control over who you are seen to be. Roma call each other "gypsy" all the time, and everyone knows Esma Redzepova is "Queen of the Gypsies". What they are objecting to is OTHER people calling them that, without knowing or caring who they actually are or what they actually have to live through.

It's not for nothing that the Roma are often called "the niggers of Europe". That's how powerful and charged the word is. It would behoove all white dumbasses (myself included) to learn a little about who they are, where they live, why they live there, and what they do with themselves; this goes a long ways towards gaining some slack in calling them anything at all. The oppression is real, and virtually all white Europeans practice it avidly; it is not at all surprising to hear the most liberal, enlightened folks in France or Germany or Italy or Spain go off on a tirade about "those people" and how the "must be controlled" or even, yes, really, exterminated.

BTW, most of the "gypsies" in the British Isles are not Roma but native (or at least ancient) groups of "travellers" of anglo or celtic extraction. This has changed a little in recent years with the opening of travel in the EU. But most Roma are only half-citizens even in the countries where they supposedly "come from".

A real interesting place to start might be "Princes Among Men: Journeys With Gypsy Musicians" by Garth Cartwright. He travels around Macedonia, Serbia, Romania, and Bulgaria talking to Roma along the way, always in the context of their remarkable musical heritage. Fascinating stuff. Follow along on Youtube as he mentions the artists, although most of the stuff on Youtube is relatively horrible concert-hall footage of deracinated, bloodless elderly folks reliving the real hits they cranked out in the 60s -- a bit like trying to decode the ferment of the Western 1960s from just clips of the Rolling Stones tours of this decade.
posted by Fnarf at 9:21 PM on August 19, 2012 [8 favorites]


I find it difficult to hear 'Romani' without thinking 'third person plural indicative'. But that is, I admit, my cross to bear.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 9:23 PM on August 19, 2012 [4 favorites]


In the US, we don't care about the Roma at all; we're not prejudiced either for or against them, because they barely exist as more than fairy tales to us.

Hey, you got a little something showing there... oh, never mind. It's just your pr
posted by Etrigan at 9:24 PM on August 19, 2012 [23 favorites]


So they're going to stop calling us gaje?
posted by charlie don't surf at 9:25 PM on August 19, 2012 [6 favorites]


In the US, we don't care about the Roma at all

speak for yourself kemosabe
posted by edgeways at 9:25 PM on August 19, 2012 [4 favorites]


(dammit)
privilege.

Yes, there is anti-Rom discrimination, including people who think we don't fucking exist (seriously, I've had multiple arguments with people denying that it's an actual ethnicity).
posted by Etrigan at 9:26 PM on August 19, 2012 [16 favorites]


Yeah, I've heard plenty of prejudice against Roma, even here in the States. Might be a rural thing - I don't really hear it in NYC.
posted by Sticherbeast at 9:27 PM on August 19, 2012 [1 favorite]


(dammit)
privilege.


To be honest, I thought the cut-off was actually quite witty, even if it was just an accident...
posted by Sticherbeast at 9:28 PM on August 19, 2012 [18 favorites]


Well, I'm sure glad I know this now.
posted by hellojed at 9:33 PM on August 19, 2012


No, in NYC people just have bands that know how to play in minor mixolydian while wearing patchwork vests and flowing silks and call themselves "gypsy punk", and even though many of these folks are really talented and I like their music, I can't escape the feeling that our grandkids will look on this the way we look at minstrel shows.
posted by Jon_Evil at 9:34 PM on August 19, 2012 [6 favorites]


I highly recommend Isabel Fonseca's "Bury Me Standing" which delves into the life of the Roma of Eastern Europe.
I taught ELL to Bulgarian minorities, Roma and Pomak, for 3 years in the late 90s. The discrimination that Roma students endured in the Bulgarian state education system was both sad and ridiculous. But I must also add that the discrimination that students who wished to go on to university received from withing their own culture was also maddening. Higher education was definitely not part of the culture of the students I taught.

On another note, what is often called "Indian Summer" in the US was called "Gypsy Summer" in Bulgaria.
posted by Isadorady at 9:34 PM on August 19, 2012 [7 favorites]


> So they're going to stop calling us gaje?

I'm totally on board with a future in which people don't sling racial epithets at each other at all, but there is a difference between racial epithets that are backed with the power to keep a race of people down, and the ones that sprung up in rebellion against the power structures that were keeping those people down.

Also yes, there is anti-Romani prejudice in the US.
posted by capricorn at 9:36 PM on August 19, 2012 [16 favorites]


So they're going to stop calling us gaje?

The difference is that "Gypsy" A) is seen by many of us as offensive, whereas you probably don't care whether I call you "gadje," and B) is derived from thinking that we're Egyptian. You know, like how "Indian" shouldn't mean "Native American"?

"Gadje,"* on the other hand, means "non-Rom." Are we allowed to refer to people as not of our ethnic group?

* -- I'm not trying to correct you; I've seen it both ways, but I spell it with the D.
posted by Etrigan at 9:39 PM on August 19, 2012 [7 favorites]


"Gadje,"* on the other hand, means "non-Rom."

Hmm, rather similar to "gaijin" which is Japanese slang for "non-Japanese".
posted by flapjax at midnite at 9:42 PM on August 19, 2012 [3 favorites]


Uh, I'm American, and the number of times "gypped" has come up in conversations that I've had with people born in the 40s and 50s is pretty freaking high. Americans know what gypsies are and many are still prejudiced enough against the very concept of gypsies to use "gypped" in the pejorative fashion it's often used in.
posted by These Birds of a Feather at 9:42 PM on August 19, 2012 [9 favorites]


They came and took our Dizz away from us.
posted by zadcat at 9:42 PM on August 19, 2012


Uh, I'm American, and the number of times "gypped" has come up in conversations that I've had with people born in the 40s and 50s is pretty freaking high.

Related: can't tell you how many times I heard "jewed down" while growing up in Alabama. Like, "I was asking a thousand bucks for my truck, but Bobby jewed me down to 800".
posted by flapjax at midnite at 9:46 PM on August 19, 2012 [14 favorites]


Anti-Roma prejudice is all too alive and well in Hungary. This article from The Contrarian Hungarian is very chilling. And of course some of the comments on the article are even more so. Anything we can do to address the out-right racism Roma face, we should.

And if you want to understand the human cost of racism against Roma, again in Hungary, you should watch, Just the Wind/Csak a szél. The film was highly acclaimed at this year's Berlin Film Festival.
posted by vac2003 at 9:46 PM on August 19, 2012 [1 favorite]


BTW, most of the "gypsies" in the British Isles are not Roma but native (or at least ancient) groups of "travellers" of anglo or celtic extraction. This has changed a little in recent years with the opening of travel in the EU. But most Roma are only half-citizens even in the countries where they supposedly "come from".

I don't know how the numbers compare to other travellers -- but there is a significant Romani community in Britain, especially in southern England. The Romanichal are Romani who have lived in England (some since the 16th century), and their language is Angloromani (a creole language of English and Romani). The Welsh Kale are (unsurprisingly) from Wales. There are large Romani communities in Kent -- I made an FPP several years ago based on a good-sized BBC Kent website created for and about the local Romani community.
posted by jb at 9:49 PM on August 19, 2012


Americans know what gypsies are and many are still prejudiced enough against the very concept of gypsies to use "gypped" in the pejorative fashion it's often used in.

I think you'll find that the vast majority of Americans (or Canadians, for that matter) who use the word 'gypped' have not the slightest clue that there is any connection whatsoever to the word 'gypsy'. It's amusing sometimes to see the 'oh shit am i like totally a racist now?' lightbulb come on when they discover the connection.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 9:49 PM on August 19, 2012 [34 favorites]


The Gypsy Lore Society which published the Journal of Gypsy Lore also focuses on Romani Studies, but did not change its name.
posted by Ideefixe at 9:56 PM on August 19, 2012 [1 favorite]


still prejudiced enough against the very concept of gypsies to use "gypped"

Eh. I don't think its prejudice, at least in the US. It's just ignorance.

I consider myself reasonably informed about word origins (High school Latin nerd, I would be excited for someone to give me OED access for Christmas), but never in my life would I have associated gypped with gypsies until someone pointed out to me where it came from.

And furthermore, I never would have even guessed until today that gypsy is a slur. I thought is was just an ethnic group.



On preview: what stavros said.
posted by Nonsteroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drug at 9:59 PM on August 19, 2012 [2 favorites]


I used to use the word "gypped" in ignorance - in fact, if you had asked me to spell it, I probably would have spelled it as "jipped". I'm sure that its use in North America was originally racist, and I stopped after someone pointed the origin out to me. That said, at the time my knowledge of Romani people and culture was also almost entirely informed by the "noble nomad" image popular in novels and movies in North America.
posted by jb at 10:04 PM on August 19, 2012 [3 favorites]


I think you'll find that the vast majority of Americans (or Canadians, for that matter) who use the word 'gypped' have not the slightest clue that there is any connection whatsoever to the word 'gypsy'.

But, that doesn't nullify the racist origins. If someone feels offended by a word, then I say let's not use that word. You might want to tell them to "toughen up", but perhaps we could get away with such insensitive attitudes if there was no objectively hateful history behind the word making them upset.

Of course, I wouldn't say those who do use the word Gypsy or gypped without knowing better are racist, awful scumbags. It would just be pretty callous to continue using the word after it has been noted---note: not racist but just callous.
posted by thetoken at 10:08 PM on August 19, 2012 [1 favorite]


But, that doesn't nullify the racist origins.

Nobody is suggesting that it does.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 10:09 PM on August 19, 2012 [1 favorite]


Does this mean that Time of the Gypsies will need a new title, à la And Then There Were None?
posted by elgilito at 10:11 PM on August 19, 2012


jipped

Same. I probably would have associated it with "ripped", as in "ripped off". Or maybe guessed that it was some sort of hilarious Yiddish idiom.

Is there a word to describe a slur so ingrained in a language no one even knows it's derogatory anymore?



But, that doesn't nullify the racist origins.

No, of course not. What I'm saying, and I think a few others are, is that people just don't know. That's one of the reasons I come to MeFi - it very much expands my world. I don't live in an echo chamber, but there's certain cultural things that I just won't learn living my life in the American mid-west. I really appreciate posts like this one.
posted by Nonsteroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drug at 10:12 PM on August 19, 2012 [4 favorites]


As antibiotics come to an end, I fear a nomadic culture may too.
posted by poe at 10:17 PM on August 19, 2012 [1 favorite]


...is that people just don't know.

Which is why some people are trying to spread the word. I believe most aren't trying to condemn those who do use the word. They're just trying to express it is a condemned word and that you shouldn't use it. Once confronted with said information, you are then making a conscious choice about your actions and all possible implications.
posted by thetoken at 10:29 PM on August 19, 2012


The situation of the Romani in Europe is appalling. Before Hitler slaughtered them by the thousands, they were persecuted horribly, and even today, the supposedly enlightened countries of Western Europe continue to enforce odious expulsion and persecution policies against the Romani people. It is *also* the case that many Romani groups are enforcers of a horrifically backwards culture, where literacy is discouraged, virginity is a woman's sole value, and mistrust of the outside world is so pervasive that any attempt to learn something your parents didn't know is tantamount to treason. There was a fascinating book written a few years back by an outsider who tried to penetrate Romani/Gypsy culture in France; John Updike reviews it here.
posted by ThatFuzzyBastard at 10:45 PM on August 19, 2012 [5 favorites]


"Gadje,"* on the other hand, means "non-Rom."

Hmm, rather similar to "gaijin" which is Japanese slang for "non-Japanese".


Just coincidence. Gaijin is a borrowing from Chinese wài[guó]rén 外国人 'outside-(country)-person', i.e. 'foreigner'.

Romani is an Indo-Aryan language, but the etymology of gadje seems to be uncertain. Wikipedia suggests it comes from a word for 'peasant', but, [citation needed].
posted by zompist at 10:45 PM on August 19, 2012 [1 favorite]


Cognates of "gypsy" in other languages are considered very, very offensive. I think only in English is the term even vaguely acceptable in polite company. So keep that in mind. Tzigane is another term used instead of gypsy.
posted by deanc at 11:07 PM

That said, is tzigane out of bounds? Particularly in the Balkans, you have the factor of trying to differentiate Roma from Romanians from Romaioi, so tzigane was the more common term, at least back in the late 1990s.
posted by deanc at 11:15 PM

Also, "Tzigane" is the name of a well known piece of music by Ravel. If tzigane is an out of bounds term, what should that piece be called (ideally)?
Same question applies for this song.
posted by Oliva Porphyria at 10:52 PM on August 19, 2012


In the US, we don't care about the Roma at all; we're not prejudiced either for or against them, because they barely exist as more than fairy tales to us.

Speak for your apparently blind self. I know dozens of American Romanies who tell very different stories of discrimination and intolerance, at least two of them currently working at the professorial level in American universities. There are many dozens of specifically anti-Rom laws on the books, many still enforced, believe it or not. Police press releases warning against "gypsy criminal activities" still make newspapers - tell me how that's any different from a press release warning about "nigger criminal activities" . . . because it's not. More than a million people in America share Rom heritage, and if you'd be surprised how many might live close to you. I see them on the bus. I see them shopping. I meet them out dancing. I eat at their restaurants.

Generally, it is understood that the Holocaust killed at least the same percentage of Europe's Romanies as it did Europe's Jews. Romanies, however, have generally been denied representation the board of the United States Holocaust Memorial Council. Their flagrant discrimination is obvious and actually illegal. Various Jewish groups within the US have said that the Jewish people were "special victims" of the Holocaust because the Nazis passed laws only against them . . . but that's because the Germans had laws on the books against Romanies from decades earlier - they didn't NEED to pass new laws.
posted by Dee Xtrovert at 11:08 PM on August 19, 2012 [46 favorites]


A link expanding on what I wrote about one small example of anti-Rom sentiment in America:
Here
posted by Dee Xtrovert at 11:14 PM on August 19, 2012


[Comment deleted; please repost without the "fuck you" stuff. Thanks. ]
posted by taz at 11:15 PM on August 19, 2012 [1 favorite]


There is an Indian auto company that is going to be shocked by this FPP.
posted by vidur at 11:20 PM on August 19, 2012


Also, "Tzigane" is the name of a well known piece of music by Ravel. If tzigane is an out of bounds term, what should that piece be called (ideally)? Same question applies for this song.

We absolutely should not go around renaming songs or any other works of art just because we, in modern times, find their parlance distasteful. Censorship flows in all directions, and where one person flinches at, say, The Nigger of the 'Narcissus' for its brazen use of That Word, another person may flinch at Faggots (a satirical novel written by a figurehead of the queer community) or even Heather Has Two Mommies (a book targeting children which promotes acceptance of a "deviant" lifestyle). By all means, one can use the "offending" title as a launching-off point to contextualize the work, but authorial intent must be honored.
posted by mykescipark at 11:36 PM on August 19, 2012 [2 favorites]


stavrosthewonderchicken: I think you'll find that the vast majority of Americans (or Canadians, for that matter) who use the word 'gypped' have not the slightest clue that there is any connection whatsoever to the word 'gypsy'.

thetoken: But, that doesn't nullify the racist origins.

stav: Nobody is suggesting that it does.

Me, right now: Au contraire, mon frere! Please to observe:

Malor: That's how racism really dies, you know... when nobody even knows that the slur word you hold so dear to your identity was ever even a slur. If you want racism to die, that's how it will happen. You have to let the slurs lose meaning, get diluted into nothing.
posted by gingerest at 11:46 PM on August 19, 2012 [2 favorites]


If you want racism to die, that's how it will happen. You have to let the slurs lose meaning, get diluted into nothing. "Gypsie's Sale" was absolutely innocent, and this woman, meaning well, made it horrible for everyone involved. She helped perpetuate another thirty years of hate.

I was so appalled by the first part of Malor's post that I didn't even read below it, for this second, more appalling post.

The term "gypsy" and its non-English equivalents have been around for centuries. In the past few years, either my activist friend or I have personally:

1) Been to a village where several houses were firebombed late at night. When the Romani residents fled out the front door, they wee shot at by racists screaming "Die, fucking Gypsies". Several people did die. Months later, the residents were still threatened and offered no real help.

2) Interviewed young women in Slovakia who were - quite recently - sterilized without their consent or knowledge (while undergoing other medical treatment) simply because of their ethnicity.

3) Been to villages in EU countries where Roma children are not "allowed" to be educated in rooms with non-Roma children, upon request of the non-Roma parents, and in violation of the law.

4) Been to a Roma settlement on an active trash dump, where Roma were rounded up by police and actively "deported" to other counties in the same country, which is also against the law.

5) Been to villages and cities in the EU where 40-70% of Roma children are falsely labelled as "mentally retarded / deficient" and not provided with ohligatory education.

6) Been to a village where the mayor erected a wall surrounding the Roma part of town from the rest of the city - essentially, creating something akin to the Warsaw Ghetto - again, going against the law to "gate" an unwilling community.

You don't have to take my word as the truth, though I've seen half these myself; these events can easily be found on the internet, witnessed, written and photographed by reputable journalists.

So Malor, after centuries of this shit, your idea that we should wait around for these slurs to die is beyond foolish. Quit blaming the victims - and the "Gypsie's Special" woman wasn't one of them. People should do their homework. (And their were plenty of well-meaning people who thought that their African slaves benefited from regular food, comfortable shacks and a work regimen, too. Guess what? Still wrong.) The Isabel Fonseca book mentioned above takes its title from a Romani saying, "Burying me standing, I've been on my knees all my life.". The Romani people are as proud of their culture as any other people, but most understand how the word "gypsy" is a factor which helps keep them down on their knees.
posted by Dee Xtrovert at 11:48 PM on August 19, 2012 [65 favorites]


Honk If You Hate Gypsies
posted by XMLicious at 11:59 PM on August 19, 2012


So they're going to stop calling us gaje?

Even if that word is offensive (and it seems like it is the equicalent of Jews calling non-Jews gentiles), this retort is not unlike being asked not to use the n word and responding by asking if black people are going to stop calling white people honkeys or ofays.

Yes, it would be nice if people didn't call each other names. No, it's not the same, because there isn't a similar history of oppression. Yes, maybe take care of the hateful language that comes out of your mouth first, and then worry about what other people say, because you can control the former a lot faster than the latter.
posted by Bunny Ultramod at 12:00 AM on August 20, 2012 [9 favorites]


Related: can't tell you how many times I heard "jewed down" while growing up in Alabama. Like, "I was asking a thousand bucks for my truck, but Bobby jewed me down to 800".

The people of Alabama know exactly which ethnic group they are referring to when they use that term.
posted by Wordwoman at 12:04 AM on August 20, 2012 [6 favorites]


Hmm, rather similar to "gaijin" which is Japanese slang for "non-Japanese".

Its not slang, its a contraction for Gai Koku Jin -- literally "outside country person", or foreigner. Gaijin is "outside person", or not japanese. Gaijin is less _formal_, but its definitely a proper word.

Similarities to words related to gypsies are a coincidence.

Its also not a slur (other than not being japanese in japan): The alien registration card is called a Gaikokujin Torokusho.
posted by lkc at 12:06 AM on August 20, 2012


The term "gypsy" and its non-English equivalents have been around for centuries. In the past few years, either my activist friend or I have personally:

Tragic, but aside from your first example, not really having anything to do with the word, "gypsy". The point I see made is that the word in the US hasn't had the impact that it may have in other parts of the world. I can understand the sensitivity surrounding how an ethnic group wants to be addressed, but at the same time, there's something tragic about wanting to import the ugly baggage surrounding a word to ensure it its ugliness is ensconced where it was not ensconced before.
posted by 2N2222 at 12:09 AM on August 20, 2012 [4 favorites]


Both my grandmothers (born 1910 and 1930 respectively) and parents (born in the 1940s) know the word "gypped" refers to "gypsies committing theft" and I've heard both my grandmothers use it like that (only one of them seemed to actually have had any experience with gypsies).

When I once called a peer out for using the term (circa 1999), saying "wow man what do you have against gypsies" (probably because my younger grandmother had said something similar to my other grandmother at one point) he admitted he didn't have anything against them and didn't know anything about them (but did know it referred to them committing theft).

All in all a remarkably long half-life considering that if I or any of my peers ever saw a Roma person we'd never have known (I've never met a person claiming to be Roma even) and there weren't really any stories told about their purported crimes (except for my oldest grandmother on one occasion).

So naw, even just as a casual observer who really considers the Roma, I can fairly see that the pejorative nature of the term is far from dead...
posted by Matt Oneiros at 12:12 AM on August 20, 2012 [1 favorite]


The young woman in question isn't "importing the baggage to ensure its ugliness is ensconced" - she's telling people that the word hurts her, personally, even though it's as meaningless as "googah" to them.
posted by gingerest at 12:14 AM on August 20, 2012 [4 favorites]


*rarely considers
posted by Matt Oneiros at 12:14 AM on August 20, 2012


there's something tragic about wanting to import the ugly baggage surrounding a word to ensure it its ugliness is ensconced where it was not ensconced before.

Just because you are not familiar with the ugliness of a word does not mean it's not ensconced. "Gypsy" has negative and pejorative connotations in the US, and has for a very long time.

You may never have heard a Jew referred to as "sheeny," but trust me that there is no tragedy were somebody to ask you not to use it.
posted by Bunny Ultramod at 12:18 AM on August 20, 2012 [5 favorites]


(Bunny, my whole life I have thought that was a slur against Irish people. I would never have used it, of course, because ethnic slurs are despicable, but had I done so, I would have looked even dumber than your average bigot. Vindication!)
posted by gingerest at 12:42 AM on August 20, 2012 [1 favorite]


Oh no! Now what will the Gypsy Jokers call their outlaw motorcycle club?
posted by infinitywaltz at 1:01 AM on August 20, 2012


The only famous Romani people I can think of are the "Gypsy Kings".
A quick glance at Wikipedia confirms that they are, indeed, of Spanish Romani descent.
So ... if the most famous members of your ethnic group call themselves "Gypsy", you have to forgive the rest of us our igorance about the negative connotations of that term.

So what's up with the Gypsy Kings and all their songs including the word "Gypsy"? Is that OK? Or are they just commercial sell-outs? Is it OK in the same way that it is more OK for black people calling themselves "nigger" than for non-black people? Also, I bet that "Romani Kings" would have been a commercial failure relative to "Gypsy Kings" ... it just doesn't have the same associations of music, Spanish guitars, rhythm etc.

You know, some of us are really really trying with this PC stuff, but having the most famous members of your ethnic group refer to themselves as "Gypsy" is not really helpful.

Fun fact I learned today: The Gypsy Kings were born in France, even though they sing in Spanish. Their parents were gitanos (hope that word is OK, it's used on Wikipedia in any case) who fled the Spanish civil war.
posted by sour cream at 1:29 AM on August 20, 2012 [3 favorites]


So ... if the most famous members of your ethnic group call themselves "Gypsy", you have to forgive the rest of us our igorance about the negative connotations of that term.

Is anybody saying you can't be forgiven. The question is, now that you know, what are you going to do?
posted by Bunny Ultramod at 1:33 AM on August 20, 2012 [1 favorite]


The question is, now that you know, what are you going to do?

Boycot the Gypsy Kings?
posted by sour cream at 1:35 AM on August 20, 2012 [2 favorites]


Another example of self-identified gypsy musicians: though one might argue the label comes from their recording company, which according to their site was started by two Germans.
posted by Dr Dracator at 1:39 AM on August 20, 2012


> "... in NYC people just have bands that know how to play in minor mixolydian while wearing patchwork vests and flowing silks and call themselves 'gypsy punk' ..."

In the world of U.S. bellydance, there are a number of (non-Roma) groups, some very prominent, which go by names like "Gypsy Caravan" and "Ultra-Gypsy". I've never been able to repress a little shudder of horror whenever I hear those names.

I've occasionally mumbled about forming a group called "Ultra-Kike" to make the point, although realistically it probably wouldn't do any good.
posted by kyrademon at 1:50 AM on August 20, 2012


Boycot the Gypsy Kings?

They're actually the Gipsy Kings. I know you're being sarcastic, but what do you do about NWA? I suspect this is much like the African-American reappropriation of the N word, in that the word will pop up now and then in a cultural context, but, as a non-insider, you would do well to be cautious about your use of it.
posted by Bunny Ultramod at 1:52 AM on August 20, 2012 [7 favorites]


Re.: gaje/gadje—in a similar vein George Borrow’s 1873 Romano-Lavo-Lil (‘word book of the Romany; or, English Gypsy language’) gives as the equivalent word gorgio, which he defines as ‘a Gentile, a person who is not a Gypsy; one who lives in a house and not in a tent.’ He supposed it ‘a modification of the Persian word Cojia, which signifies a gentleman, a doctor, a merchant, etc.’

‘When Gorgio mushe’s merripen and Romany Chal’s merripen wels kettaney, kek kosto merripen see.’ (‘When the Gentile way of living and the Gypsy way of living come together, it is anything but a good way of living.’)
posted by misteraitch at 2:04 AM on August 20, 2012


I live in the Czech Republic. The Czech word for the Roma is Cikáni. They use this word themselves. They also use the word gypsy/gipsy. There is a popular Czech Romani hip-hop band called Gipsy.cz (Youtube). Their singer calls himself Radoslav "Gipsy" Banga.

I suppose I could go upstairs and ask one of my Roma neighbors just how offended they are by any of these words but I suspect they are much more concerned with the prejudice and violence they face daily rather than what word an outsider calls them by. If every Czech suddenly started calling them Roma, it's not going to change the 70% unemployment rate (compared to 8% for the Czech Republic). It won't stop landlords from refusing to rent to them and it certainly won't stop violence like this.
posted by Ariadne at 2:27 AM on August 20, 2012 [3 favorites]


I suppose I could go upstairs and ask one of my Roma neighbors just how offended they are by any of these words but I suspect they are much more concerned with the prejudice and violence they face daily rather than what word an outsider calls them by.

I suspect we can respectful of people asking us to not use words that are derogatory and be concerned about unemployment, and I suspect we can do this without bothering one particular family for their opinion, since others have already offered theirs.
posted by Bunny Ultramod at 2:36 AM on August 20, 2012 [12 favorites]


See also Moral Entrepeneur

See also Howard Becker's Labeling Theory
posted by y2karl at 2:40 AM on August 20, 2012 [2 favorites]


Who uses the word "Roma / Romani" and who doesn't is an active issue among Gypsy communities such as the ones that I work with in Hungary, Ukraine, and Romania. Not everybody calls themselves 'Roma' and only certain communities continue to speak the Romani language, but most of the people we would consider 'Romani' do use the word 'Gypsy' when referring to themselves in languages other than Romani. I have friends who are musician Gypsies who do speak Romani, but do not prefer to be called 'Roma.' They see that term as specifically referring to Lovari and Kalderash dialect speakers who dress and behave in a very defined manner. But if we are speaking in the Romani language, they do use "Rom" to refer to themselves.

(Similar to the situation among Jews: if somebody calls me a "Yid" it can be taken as an attempted insult, but when I speak Yiddish it is the most common way of saying "a Jew" or even "A guy, a person. And among young Jews there has definitly been a positive reclaiming of the term 'Yid'. " Sort of the Y-version of the N-word. Or the G-word.)

One of the musician Gypsy bands I have worked with for years does not like to publicly identify either as "Roma" or "Gypsy" but prefer to be viewed as "Ukrainian/Hutsul." Yet the only language in which I can speak to the fiddler is Romani. Another folk band from Romania I worked with did not want to be labeled as "Gypsy" either... although they were short, dark, did not keep any livestock, worked as blacksmiths... because they do not speak Romani and they recognized that the word had pejorative associations. I was working on getting them gigs abroad... so I said "You know the band from Clejani? Taraf des Haidouks? Right.... they were in Tokyo last week and tickets sold for $100 a piece." And the leader looked at me and said "OK. We're Gypsies."

A lot of the Gypsies in Hungary do not refer to themselves as "Roma' for a similar reason - the term has been colonized by certain families of Lovari (a subtribe) who have taken advantage of their better education and influence through the development of Roma political structures in Hungary (NGOs, political pull, etc.) I have had Gypsy friends in Hungary stop me during conversations and say "Look. I'm not Roma. I don't speak Romani. All my life I have been a Gypsy (Cigany) and that's what I am." And I have friends who strongly identify as Roma and don't like using the word 'Cigany' at all. The Hungarian right wing press talk about "Gypsies" in derogatory ways nearly every day (the constrict of genetically pre-programmed 'Gypsy Crime' is a favorite topic) but when the Right Wing press (and there is a lot of it here) really wants to mock a Gypsy organization or family group it will use the term "Roma' mainly because it was the late Kadar era communists of the 1980s who first started using 'Roma' as an ethnonym in public documents.

As for discrimination, it is unending. Last night 400 paramilitary Right Wing guards marched on the Gypsy street in the town of Cegled (Warning: maddeningly unintelligible Uralic language link!) to celebrate Hungary's national holiday of St. Stephens Day. Cops kept them separated from the Gypsy families, but they are promising to try again tonight. The strategy on the right is to make life as uncomortable as possible for Gypsies. Not because they will move away. Not because they will change their ways. It is all for gaining votes in local politics. The local folk who vote will always feel good casting a vote for anybody who makes Gypsies feel threatened and unprotected.
posted by zaelic at 2:56 AM on August 20, 2012 [35 favorites]


Yes, there seems to be some in-group difference of opinion about the use of the word Gypsy. The way people identify themselves changes over time. Negro has gone out of favor, as has colored person. There was a time when some Jews preferred to be called Hebrews; now many consider that derogatory. Native Americans have consistently demonstrated no consensus about what they want to be called collectively -- some dislike being called Native Americans, others dislike being called Indians.

It's hard for those of us on the outside. Generally, my policy is to call people what they prefer to be called, and go for the most neutral term, or the one least freighted with history or politics, until I am told otherwise.

Gypsy has a long history as a slur. Until somebody were to tell me that they prefer it, I would not be comfortable using that phrase as the first option.
posted by Bunny Ultramod at 3:00 AM on August 20, 2012 [7 favorites]


This is a quite frankly ridiculous example of the fundamental wrongness of political correctness. Words are not derogatory, we make them so.
"Gipsy" (Zigeuner,gitano, etc...) has been used as a basically neutral ethnic descriptor for a few centuries, not least by the people themselves (etimologically it comes from "Egyptian", as that's where they claimed to come from). Yes, some people use it derogatorily. Some people have also been known to use "Jew" derogatorily. Should we ban that word from our vocabulary too?
As Ariadne points out, this is a diversion from the much more serious issues Gipsies have to face in everyday life.

Yes, there seems to be some in-group difference of opinion about the use of the word Gypsy.

That is an understatement. Certainly among the Spanish calé, the term gitano is worn as a badge of pride.
posted by Skeptic at 3:13 AM on August 20, 2012 [6 favorites]


Oh my god it's political correctness run amok! The whole world has gone crazy!

Or, alternately, it is a historically despised group of people making decisions and slowly coming to consensus about the language of their experience of the world. A process they have not participated us to participate in, and something we are not educated or connected enough, and don't have enough of a stake in, to be able to dictate how this should play out.

Some are offended by the term, and with cause. They have stated their objection and mapped out the reasons for it. It is the height of privilege for us to decide that this we have any part of this discussion but to respect their request as best we can. If somebody tells you they prefer to be called Gypsy, they prefer to be called Gypsy. If they conditioner the phrase to be a slur, it's a slur to them and should be avoided. This is not political correctness. It's respect.
posted by Bunny Ultramod at 3:19 AM on August 20, 2012 [8 favorites]


Have not asked us to participate in, rather.
posted by Bunny Ultramod at 3:19 AM on August 20, 2012


And conditioner? WHAT IS HAPPENING TO MY COMPUTER? WHAT IS THIS SPELL CHECK POLITICAL CORRECTNESS?
posted by Bunny Ultramod at 3:20 AM on August 20, 2012 [1 favorite]


Or, alternately, it is a historically despised group of people making decisions and slowly coming to consensus about the language of their experience of the world.

Except that there is no such consensus. Try to convince Spanish Gipsies to stop calling themselves "gitanos", never mind asking others to stop calling them so, and you'll see how they respond (hint: not very nicely at all).

What I've called "political correctness", a term which seems to have triggered a knee-jerk reaction, is the politics of concentrating on symptoms rather than the illness itself. Gipsy wasn't coined as a pejorative term, and the vast majority of people using it don't use it pejoratively. The "Gipsy Kings" didn't have to "reclaim" it, because it was theirs all along. If some people use it pejoratively, it's because they despise being a Gipsy, not being called one. You change the name, and they'll use the new name pejoratively as well.
posted by Skeptic at 4:03 AM on August 20, 2012 [9 favorites]


In the UK, "travellers" is a word for Nomadic people of a variety of heritages (Romani, Irish, Scottish, and people who have chosen the lifestyle of travelling).
Yeah, we have lots of travellers around where I live, and interestingly, they're seldom called gypsies. "Travellers" is a good neutral catchall word in England, as it describes the lifestyle that they all share, but doesn't assume somebody has a given background as with "Romany". I think the slur we say is "diddy", which is quite different. That's not to say there isn't prejudice. It often seems that rather than having a given idea of what Romanies/Travellers are like, folk are quick to assume the worst. There's also a lot of "met one and you've met them all" attitude, as though if one fights or steals, then they all must be like that.
posted by Jehan at 4:04 AM on August 20, 2012 [1 favorite]


[Comment deleted; please dont attack other users. Please don't try to bump up the hostility with other slurs and insults.]
posted by taz at 4:23 AM on August 20, 2012


My wife wrote her Master's thesis on issues of feminism, racism, and discrimination in a gypsy settlement/slum called El Vacie. One important thing to note is that there is dissent, especially among feminist gypsies, about using the terms "Romm", "Rom", or "Romani", since they all are explicitly male signifiers, and reinforce the extremely sexist, oppressive, patriarchal nature of traditional gypsy society. The group of gypsy women my wife was working with in fact preferred the terms "gitano" or "cigano" (roughly the Spanish and Portuguese equivalents of "gypsy") to "Romm" or "Romani".

Just because some influential, mostly male groups of gypsy activists say "gypsy" is offensive doesn't make it so.
posted by tkfu at 4:41 AM on August 20, 2012 [14 favorites]


In the US, we don't care about the Roma at all; we're not prejudiced either for or against them, because they barely exist as more than fairy tales to us.

A confession: my guilty-pleasure-TV-show-du-jour is TLC's fabulously terrible My Big Fat American Gypsy Wedding. It is not the highest-brow of shows: they mostly split time between laughing at working-class people who feel compelled to spend $20K on wedding dresses, and laughing at guys who spray-tan themselves orange and then go pick fights at night clubs. However, they do one thing very right. In most episodes, they do quick interviews with the owner of whatever wedding venue is going to play host to that episode's big party, and I'm guessing whoever is asking the questions uses enough coded racism that the owner drops her guard and start talking candidly. And every. single. one of them has horrible, ghastly things to say about 'those people.' They'll rob you blind if you turn your back for a moment. Their daughters are loose women. Their sons are shiftless and lazy.

The story doesn't always resolve the way you would hope it does (a couple of episodes have follow-up interviews where aforementioned Racist Dickbags admit surprise that their catering hall didn't burn to the ground, but mostly the issue gets dropped completely, which probably means the before and after pictures are the same), but it's eye-opening to see that racist assholes are everywhere, and that they are perfectly happy picking an Other who is just as white as they are.
posted by Mayor West at 4:45 AM on August 20, 2012 [4 favorites]


Except that there is no such consensus. Try to convince Spanish Gipsies to stop calling themselves "gitanos", never mind asking others to stop calling them so, and you'll see how they respond (hint: not very nicely at all).

Conflating variances in self-identification with the issues around wanting respect from people outside the ethnic group is not helpful. Perhaps the general consensus in the Iberian peninsula will be different from elsewhere; that's fine and doesn't mean you or I can't be sensitive to their situation.
posted by psoas at 5:07 AM on August 20, 2012 [1 favorite]


I think the slur we say is "diddy"

Languagehat on "didicoi"
posted by Segundus at 5:10 AM on August 20, 2012


Admittedly, the Raggle Taggle Romani has slightly better alliteration.
What care I for my house and my land?
What care I for my money, O?
What care I for my new wedded lord?
I'm off with the alternatively-dressed Romani, O!

Last night you slept on a goose-feather bed
With the sheet turned down so bravely, O!
And to-night you'll sleep in sustainable green accommodation,
Along with the alternatively-dressed Romani, O!
posted by raygirvan at 5:19 AM on August 20, 2012 [5 favorites]


jb: [something about Hungary and the Czech Republic]

I'm pissed off at Europe for putting up with that kind of bullshit - and ashamed of Canada for not calling them on it.


And I'm pissed off with you North Americans for extreme rendition, torturing people, and not providing anyone with healthcare.

Or we could both stop painting with such ridiculously broad brushes as to make no sense, and maybe offend people a little less...
posted by Dysk at 5:19 AM on August 20, 2012 [3 favorites]


I don't think that this is something that really should be compared to 'nigger', in terms of it's use by the people it's applied to. Sure, there are black people who use that word to refer to black people. But it's slang. When having a serious conversation with somebody, nobody I know has ever said, "I'm a nigger," or, "my family are niggers." I'm sure at some point I've cracked a joke about how my racist coworkers don't know I'm a wetback, but I don't tell people that I come from a long line of wetbacks.

I'm using the words here to illustrate: We know that's ridiculous, right? But there are people from the Roma/Romani/etc group who do use the word 'Gypsy', in whatever spelling, to refer to themselves, their families, their ethnic group. It's not all of them. And some of them don't like it! And I'd certainly ask first, before talking to someone, which do you prefer? And as demonstrated above, when talking in generalities, it's better to default to the one nobody finds offensive.

But if you are the member of an ethnic group that contains a non-zero number of members who describe themselves as 'Gypsies', who do not see that word as being the equivalent to other racist epithets despite the fact that such racism does certainly exist, then throwing fits in public places about racism because of the use of the word is A Bad Plan. Okay, it's still bad if they gave a name for your ethnic group to their cat, but you can explain that in a reasonable way without getting yourself thrown out of a public place. This isn't "keep your head down and let the racists be racists", this is just a matter of manners. If someone's being totally overtly racist, then they were the ones being rude first, but if they're just being ignorant, then you are not being righteous for throwing a fit at them, you're just being a twit.
posted by gracedissolved at 5:20 AM on August 20, 2012 [5 favorites]


I think the slur we say is "diddy"

I wish somebody would tell me what diddy wah diddy means.
posted by flapjax at midnite at 5:22 AM on August 20, 2012


Huh. I didn't realize the term was considered that offensive to folks. I had somehow osmosed that "Romani" was a much preferred term, and tried to stop using the word 'gypped' a long time ago when I figured out the etymology. But I thought "Gypsy" was more like "mick" as far as "slang term for ethnicity" goes.

Somewhat relatedly, I'm curious if "piker" has the same connotations among the Travellers.
posted by rmd1023 at 5:25 AM on August 20, 2012 [1 favorite]


"Travellers" is a good neutral catchall word in England, as it describes the lifestyle that they all share,

That's why I like it: it's (mostly) neutral and includes all caravanning/nomadic people. It seems to me that in England, a lot of the conflict between travellers and non-travellers (I nominate "sessile" to describe us) is about the travelling lifestyle itself, which is seen as incompatible with being good citizens (which seems to mean owning property, keeping middle-class standards on lawn care, etc - yeah, I'm not agreeing with it).

The prejudice is still there and very real (weird moment when an otherwise sweet person explains to me that I just don't understand the "traveller problem" because I'm not English and not-rural - they really do all steal and leave garbage behind). But historically it's included more ethnic groups than just the Romani.

there are probably books on the historic distrust of nomadic people by sessiles that I'm too lazy to look up right now -- but nomadism itself has long been a threat to
social control in sessile-majority cultures.

(tip of the hat to L.M. Bujold for alerting me to the awesome word "sessile").
posted by jb at 5:25 AM on August 20, 2012 [3 favorites]


I cannot think of a single time I have ever seen the word 'travellers' used here in the UK to refer to anyone other than an Irish Traveller, specifically. It might theoretically also include other nomadic people, such as Romani, but in actual use, it pretty much means Irish Travellers...
posted by Dysk at 5:27 AM on August 20, 2012


If you think people in America no longer remember or connect the term "gypped" to people of Romani descent, allow me to invite you to Wichita, Kansas, where in the year of the common era 2003 I was informed by my supervisor at Target not to process any refunds or exchanges for a certain customer because he was "the Gypsy King." Those are the literal words my used by my supervisor, a man in his fifties. Five years later I worked as a customer service associate at Walmart where three of the aforementioned customer's sons would routinely bring their families to haggle over our return policy and stuff small valuable items into their children's pockets.

I do not know whether those people would identify as Romani, but I know many people in Wichita call them gypsies and accuse them of theft. In this family's case, it's accurate, but this is why the stereotype is alive and well in some parts of America.
posted by jsnlxndrlv at 5:28 AM on August 20, 2012


jb: [something about Hungary and the Czech Republic]

And I'm pissed off with you North Americans for extreme rendition, torturing people, and not providing anyone with healthcare.


Sorry, did you not notice that I was dissing my own country's refugee policies? It's an active issue in Canada right now - out government is denying refugee status to Romani people feeling systematic discrimination (see the comments above, esp from Dee Xtrovert). I want my government to change their policies.

I'm also concerned about extreme rendition and healthcare in the US, albeit as a concerned neighbour, given that I am not American and we already have an excellent universal healthcare system in Canada. But those problems in the USA do not in any way excuse the systematic discrimination against the Romani by some European governments.
posted by jb at 5:35 AM on August 20, 2012 [1 favorite]


I cannot think of a single time I have ever seen the word 'travellers' used here in the UK to refer to anyone other than an Irish Traveller, specifically. It might theoretically also include other nomadic people, such as Romani, but in actual use, it pretty much means Irish Travellers...
Here is my local council referring to all nomadic groups as "travellers".
posted by Jehan at 5:35 AM on August 20, 2012


I'm pissed off at Europe for putting up with that kind of bullshit - and ashamed of Canada for not calling them on it.
And I'm pissed off with you North Americans for extreme rendition, torturing people, and not providing anyone with healthcare.

Or we could both stop painting with such ridiculously broad brushes as to make no sense, and maybe offend people a little less...


Umm... so I was going to respond to jb's comment saying I had read an article about Canada being a dick recently. I was then going to go on to suggest that there probably are countries in Europe that wouldn't be a bad choice to ditch Hungary for if you were Romani. Then I was going to say that perhaps you'd think those countries were a bad choice because they/the EU didn't put their foot down to stop the French expulsions or when Italy took a break from blaming Africans for crime and decided to fingerprint the Romani instead. You can quibble about conflating Europe with the EU, but there are things to be pissed about and it doesn't seem like much of a stretch that if one were Romani, one would consider them sufficiently disturbing to write off the whole continent and give Canada a try.
posted by hoyland at 5:37 AM on August 20, 2012


sorry - strange things happening at the top of my last comment. was that saved by a moderator? Posting on a mobile device is convenient but not unproblematic - not metafilter's fault but iPod keyboard and my massive fat thumbs. thank you for your assistance.
posted by jb at 5:38 AM on August 20, 2012


Jehan, thank you for the link. But I'm still shocked - North Lincolnshire has its own county council?! I wouldn't have thought there were enough people up there.

(married into a Lincs family, one of my favorite counties :)
posted by jb at 5:43 AM on August 20, 2012


this discussion keeps reminding me of a discussion I had relating to systemic opression, I was called funny names, accused of showing "white tears" looking for "brownie points" etc etc. by people of my own ethnicity -- naturally this all happened on tumblr -- I'm quite proud of my lineage, but when some people, themselves 1/16th saami and the rest welsh, tell me i aint ethnic enough because I dont identify as $ethnicity it gets my y-fronts in a twist.
posted by xcasex at 5:45 AM on August 20, 2012 [1 favorite]


Jehan, thank you for the link. But I'm still shocked - North Lincolnshire has its own county council?! I wouldn't have thought there were enough people up there.

(married into a Lincs family, one of my favorite counties :)
It's a unitary authority, and doesn't actually belong in any "county" anymore. Indeed, a good part of England is effectively "non-county" now. Besides, we're the best part of 170,000 folk up here.

Also, unless the person you've married is from Lindsey, they're not really "Lincolnshire". Holland and Kesteven aren't really Lincolnshire proper, and anybody who tells you differently don't know their ass from their elbow.

posted by Jehan at 5:48 AM on August 20, 2012 [1 favorite]


But I'm still shocked - North Lincolnshire has its own county council?! I wouldn't have thought there were enough people up there.

I think they're what happened to the half of Humberside that didn't become East Yorkshire. (But I swear that when I was little, my grandparents were 'North Humberside', so maybe it was split all along. Anyway, there was a reorganisation at some point when it was decided having a manufactured county was silly. Not that a fourth riding isn't a paradox, but I have the impression people wanted to officially be called 'Yorkshire'.)
posted by hoyland at 5:54 AM on August 20, 2012


I'm in the UK and my great-great-grandfather was Roma, lived in a caravan etc.

I was always quite proud to refer to him as a 'gypsy', and so were the rest of his descendents - although probably that's because we did not continue any kind of nomadic lifestyle and were not subject to persecution. In the UK, the word 'pikey' is the usual offensive hate-speech term for people leading traveling lifestyles (or descended from them), and while picking people up strongly about use of this word, I didn't feel 'gypsy' carried the same kind of weight.

But language changes and I'm glad to see this massively despised ethnic group putting their own feelings about how the word is used onto the agenda.
posted by colie at 6:01 AM on August 20, 2012


Fair enough. If it bums them out, I won't use it. I guess it's about time to retire that word.
posted by joedanger at 6:02 AM on August 20, 2012 [1 favorite]


As someone who used to work for a housing association which worked extensively with english local authorities, I can confirm that "traveller" is the officially accepted term for anyone who lives a nomadic lifestyle, for whatever reason. It was carefully chosen as a catch-all term that could include Irish Travellers, New-Age Travellers, Romani and anyone else who lives a nomadic life through choice or tradition, or comes from an ethnic group whose historical practice has been nomadic - whilst hopefully not insulting or alienating anyone.

Sadly, the word Traveller itself is also becoming a perjorative term.
posted by talitha_kumi at 6:06 AM on August 20, 2012 [1 favorite]


By "officially", I meant in terms of local government, housing sector, health authorities, etc. I didn't intend to imply anything about official terms decided upon by specific groups to use for themselves. I'd like to hope that traveller groups were involved in the process of deciding which words to use, though it's highly possible that it was picked by civil servants who didn't have the courtesy to ask.
posted by talitha_kumi at 6:11 AM on August 20, 2012


Three years back, and for our honeymoon, we took a Mediterranean cruise. In Rome, were reminded constantly by the tourguide to watch out for Gypsies, not to give them any money or we'd be mugged by their friends, that they all had nice homes and were just lazy criminals, etc. etc. etc. As an American, I had heard that tune a time or two... but it was shocking to see the effect of that kind of institutional discrimination completely unchecked.

Imagine going to a major American city, and all of the homeless were Mexicans, and they were ignored or harassed by the locals, and are accused by normal, everyday folks of taking jobs they didn't earn or of stealing white girls for their little brown boys or of ganging up to beat white people for their money, and everyone just accepts it as so. It's like Arizona on steroids. We had assumed Western Europe was beyond that kind of Jim Crow nonsense, and it was disconcerting to experience.

Hopefully things will improve post-Berlusconi. Italy needs everyone to pull their weight, and that means letting the Romani put their hands on the rope, too.

I'm not certain abolishing the word Gypsy is going to work, tho... some of the impetus is infighting between various groups for political gain, to erase the history and importance of some sub-ethnicities who identify much more strongly as Gypsy than as Romani.

In the end, it will probably sort itself out on a case-by-case basis, much like the word Indian - some will insist on identifying as Native Americans, other will insist on Inidan (or Indio), and others will insist on tribal or cultural identification, like Maya or Navajo.

When in doubt, ask, and then respect the answer.
posted by Slap*Happy at 6:23 AM on August 20, 2012 [2 favorites]


Jesus, the amount of comments in the thread insisting "gypsy" is not a slur. I'm kind of disgusted - I didn't expect anything like this from Metafilter of all places.
posted by flatluigi at 6:26 AM on August 20, 2012


Sadly, the word Traveller itself is also becoming a perjorative term.

I wonder if this is always the case for terms used to describe discriminated against groups. Someone upthread also referenced the former use of terms like "colored" and "negro".

Does it really matter what the word is to a racist person? If it represents what they despise, then they will load it with derision and hatred and they (the racists) will use it like an insult. Which will lead to the minority group thinking that it is a slur and then they move on to the next term for their group that has not yet been loaded up with all the racist connotations of the old one.
posted by nolnacs at 6:28 AM on August 20, 2012 [1 favorite]


I never made the "gypped/Gypsy" connection until I read it somewhere- possibly here on Metafilter. I no longer use the phrase, although it wasn't one that I used much, anyhow.
However, I have a small tale of the Rom to tell. My mother is British, from the southeast of England, and she was always told to be kind to the Rom. Rom is the term that was used. Apparently many years ago, a group of Rom had camped on family property ( with permission) and had performed some act which saved a young child's life. In gratitude, my family allowed the Rom to camp whenever they came into the area and there was respect on both sides. By my reckoning, the relationship lasted about 75 years from the late 1800s until World War 2.My mother, as a young woman, had her fortune told and has told me that everything predicted has come true so far.
What I learned from this was to refer to the people as Rom and that they had a definite air of mystery. How much of it is stereotyping? I don't know, probably a lot. But I know that I was raised to believe that the Rom are a people apart, who should be honored.
I'm sorry that they are considered a non-desirable ethnic group that must be 'cleansed'.
posted by pentagoet at 6:30 AM on August 20, 2012 [1 favorite]


This is a quite frankly ridiculous example of the fundamental wrongness of political correctness. Words are not derogatory, we make them so.

Well, in the sense that we make words, yeah. I mean, it's not like there is a Plato's Cave of vocabulary, slowly trickling out "true words" into the stream of discourse. And, the idea that it's a bad idea to spread the information that a particular signifier might be offensive to some of the people it's directed at is a little... odd? I mean, it's like you feel that a) ignorance is an excuse and b) you resent having your ignorance addressed.

When I find myself interacting with someone whose status I am uncertain of, I either try to avoid the issue (if its irrelevant) or ask the person what terms they prefer (if its relevant). It's not exactly complex.
posted by GenjiandProust at 6:35 AM on August 20, 2012 [4 favorites]


This thread is basically my family. My father's side is Kalderash Romani, most of whom came over in the first two decades of the 20th Century. My mother is European-American mutt, so I grew up considering myself half-Gypsy and half-whatever-else. We used the word "Gypsy," but mostly we just passed for white and said things like "Well, my great-grandfather came over from somewhere in Serbia..."

My generation of cousins kind of took our Romani heritage back (as later generations are wont to do), and we've been hacking out what it means ever since. Some of us use "Gypsy," but only within the family. Some of us use "Rom/Romani/Romany." Some of us insist that we are Rom, and "Gypsy" is a catch-all for those petty criminals who give us all a bad name (to include Travellers). Some of us use "Gypsy" and insist it's not really offensive. We have long, pointless arguments about it at family get-togethers.

So there's no consensus, but I don't use the G-word around my cousin Chris. I try to correct people gently when they use "gypped" or insist that "Gypsy" isn't really an ethnicity (because those people universally don't understand that "Romani" is an ethnicity and think that "Gypsy" just means "nomadic petty criminal").

Do I care what you call me, faceless strangers on the Interwebs? No. But I have thick skin, and I do care when you do something that pisses off my family, so now you know. Any chance you could stop doing that?
posted by Etrigan at 6:50 AM on August 20, 2012 [10 favorites]


Jesus, the amount of comments in the thread insisting "gypsy" is not a slur. I'm kind of disgusted

Quite a few of those comments, like this one, this one and this one (which incidentally opens another fine can of worms), come from people who live/work with Gypsies/Romanies and report that quite a few of them actually prefer to be called Gypsies for various reasons.
posted by Skeptic at 6:50 AM on August 20, 2012 [5 favorites]


I wonder if this is always the case for terms used to describe discriminated against groups. Someone upthread also referenced the former use of terms like "colored" and "negro".


Or terms for mental handicaps; “idiot” and “cretin” were once strictly medical terms for specific levels of impairment, and now, even the generic euphemism “special” is sometimes used pejoratively.
posted by acb at 7:09 AM on August 20, 2012 [1 favorite]


In the Romani language, rom is a masculine noun, meaning "man, husband", with the plural roma. Romani is the feminine adjective, while romano is the masculine adjective. Some Romanies use Rom or Roma as an ethnic name, while others (such as the Sinti, or the Romanichal) do not use this term as a self-ascription for the entire ethnic group.

The added wrinkle is that the terms relating to "Rom," "Romani," etc. are derived from the Sanskrit, "domba," which is a term for people in a low-caste who were traveling musicians.
posted by snottydick at 7:14 AM on August 20, 2012 [2 favorites]


So, the upshot here is that this woman has infected this people with racism about the Roma. In the US, we don't care about the Roma at all; we're not prejudiced either for or against them, because they barely exist as more than fairy tales to us.

So, while meaning well, this woman has shoved a new form of racism into these people's heads, one they didn't need. She could have just let it go, let the racism die, but she stoked the flames, she made herself Roma, and she made herself horrible. They'll never forget what assholes 'those gypsies' are, now. They were just talking about a cat.

That's how racism really dies, you know... when nobody even knows that the slur word you hold so dear to your identity was ever even a slur.

If you want racism to die, that's how it will happen. You have to let the slurs lose meaning, get diluted into nothing. "Gypsie's Sale" was absolutely innocent, and this woman, meaning well, made it horrible for everyone involved. She helped perpetuate another thirty years of hate.


This is exactly why the blog post is necessary.
posted by polymodus at 7:23 AM on August 20, 2012


I think it's time we put a boycott on Fleetwood Mac too.
posted by The 10th Regiment of Foot at 7:37 AM on August 20, 2012 [1 favorite]


I think it's time we put a boycott on Fleetwood Mac too.

And while we're at it, let's digitally edit out the cab company name in future pressings of The Royal Tenenbaums.
posted by acb at 7:42 AM on August 20, 2012


This reminds me of the word "Oriental" and weighing the pros and cons of telling people of my parents generation that the word should be avoided for numerous but ultimately abstract reasons.

Sure, the word is antiquated, imprecise and simply disfavored by the people it is usually applied to. But my dad is antiquated, and imprecise. And people who've never really harbored any ill-will towards East Asian ethnicities don't like it when you tell them language they've never thought about might reflect poorly on them. Even the diplomatic hair splitting "that word could be seen as racist" as opposed to "your speech could be seen as racist" is going to make people defensive and raise their shields.

When I was an Asian Studies major in university a good deal of primary sources I ran across from the 30s to 50s used "Oriental" and "Orientalist" in neutral academic context. And honestly I've heard the word "homosexual," "girlie" or "Chinese" used pejoratively more often than I've heard "oriental" used hatefully or dismissively. Hell, a good number of museums in North America still have "Orient" in their titles for chrissakes. But whatever, I'm young, its easy for me to modify my language. I can avoid the word oriental, I can avoid the word gypsy, and whatever people tell me to avoid. But racists people are going to use whatever words they know to categorize and castigate people. And different generations who have no idea about the words' history or even may not be in contact with the groups the words are applied to are going to be hard sells to change their language. Changing language is never a cut and dry easy choice to make...
posted by midmarch snowman at 7:46 AM on August 20, 2012 [5 favorites]


In the US, we don't care about the Roma at all; we're not prejudiced either for or against them, because they barely exist as more than fairy tales to us.

Not true in the Chicago area-- there are Roma, and people are prejudiced against them. A few years ago, in the northern suburbs, people were posting signs around park district and municipal buildings declaring, "Watch out for Gypsies!" The text had to do with driveway resurfacing scams or something like that. (No idea if these scams are run by Roma.) I've also heard TV announcers blame crimes on specific people who they said were "Gypsies." I have a feeling these people wouldn't be able to tell you what the term actually meant or why they were using it. (Do they think it means an ethnic group? A type of behavior?) Which makes it even more prejudiced, to me. So I'm going to avoid using this word because I don't want to sound like I'm buying into all that.

Oksana Marafioti has titled her recent book American Gypsy but also describes exactly what it was like having those ethnic slurs hurled at her as a child in Eastern Europe.
posted by BibiRose at 8:05 AM on August 20, 2012 [2 favorites]


By "these people" in my post above, I meant people throwing the word "Gypsy" around.

Also Dee Extrovert said most of what I did, but better.
posted by BibiRose at 8:21 AM on August 20, 2012


> Quite a few of those comments, like this one, this one and this one (which incidentally opens another fine can of worms), come from people who live/work with Gypsies/Romanies and report that quite a few of them actually prefer to be called Gypsies for various reasons.

None of those three comments, nor the ones about the Gipsy Kings (who are awesome), are referring to people in countries whose primary language is English, and as such both the native terms and the English word 'gypsy' might have different cultural connotations in those countries.

I first came into this thread to note that the links in the OP don't necessarily represent all Romani, so it's not a done deal that all Romani agree that 'gypsy' is a slur and shouldn't be used or should only be used by Romani themselves. But that goes both ways. That the large population(s) of Romani in Europe use the word 'gypsy' (or its equivalents) freely doesn't represent a consensus, and it doesn't discount the Romani Americans who ask us not to use the word.

On preview, entropos, are you actually saying what I think you're saying? Cripes.
posted by capricorn at 8:36 AM on August 20, 2012


On preview, entropos, are you actually saying what I think you're saying? Cripes.

Ah, it looks like the comment I referred to was deleted. Please ignore.
posted by capricorn at 8:38 AM on August 20, 2012


I didn't delete it - but I guess it was offensive. I didn't know Pennsylvania had passed legislation like that and found the coincidence interesting.

Anyway, glad it got pulled. I'm a numbskull sometimes.
posted by entropos at 8:44 AM on August 20, 2012


It's an active issue in Canada right now - out government is denying refugee status to Romani people feeling systematic discrimination (see the comments above, esp from Dee Xtrovert). I want my government to change their policies.

The imposition of a visa requirement is not at all the same thing as wrongly denying a refugee claim. What should the government do when faced with a huge spike in claims, 90% of which end up rejected, and when many rejected claimants disappear instead of complying with removal orders?

Nothing?
posted by one more dead town's last parade at 8:47 AM on August 20, 2012


Malor: In the US, we don't care about the Roma at all; we're not prejudiced either for or against them, because they barely exist as more than fairy tales to us.
I can name many Americans who hate and distrust/fear the Roma. Ironically, many of them don't consider this to be racist, because, of course, "It's really true! If you knew them, you'd agree!" You are lucky you and your friends aren't among them, but you don't speak for the US.
posted by IAmBroom at 8:50 AM on August 20, 2012


Does this mean that I can't play a Varisian in Pathfinder any more?
posted by Halloween Jack at 9:08 AM on August 20, 2012


Hoo boy.

I grabbed this username in 1994, named after the MST3K robot. It's in many of my email addresses. It's the address of my website that I've had for 12+ years. It's my username for dozens and dozens of websites. Over the last 2 years, I've seen the word "gypsy" become more and more widely acknowledged as an ethnic slur. I'm very attached to my Internet-lifelong username, but I don't want to be seen as a bigot or that person who inadvertently offends your cousin.

It's going to take a while and it'll be sad (in that first-world problem way), but I'll start today.
posted by ladygypsy at 9:15 AM on August 20, 2012 [6 favorites]


Ooooh, is this the thread where I can finally point out superstar genealogist Elizabeth Shown Mills' incredible 2011 paper "Assimilation? Or Marginalization and Discrimination? Romani Settlers of the Colonial Gulf" (PDF)?

This is an amazingly well-documented and thoroughly researched paper about Romani people who were brought by force to the New World in the 1600's and early 1700's, primarily by the French. Her focus is on the Romani who were rounded up and deported from France to what is today Louisiania and the Gulf of Mexico area:
"That deportation was just one episode of centuries of ethnic cleansing in Western Europe. The Romani historians Ian Hancock and Angus Fraser have identified nu- merous expulsion orders from 1568 forward, by which all the European powers, the British monarchy, and the papacy as well, seeded their American colonies with Roma. Of particular significance to the Louisiana-Mississippi clans is the 1682 mandate of France’s Louis XIV who “ordered bailiffs throughout France to ‘arrest, and cause to be arrested, all those who are called Bohemians or Egyptians ... to secure the men to the convicts’ chain to be led to our galleys and to serve there in perpetuity, [and as for the women, they are to be] flogged and banished out of the kingdom; all this without any other form of trial’."
The article goes into great depth about one Rom family in particular, and how their descendants intermarried with other New Orleans and Nagadoches area Rom families, as well as Native Americans (whom they lived among for many years -- persecuted nomadic peoples teaming up FTW!), free people of color, French settlers, Spanish settlers, and finally British settlers.

Sometimes the French authorities knew of the Rom families' status and sometimes not:
"Socially, the family’s position was far less settled. Her daughter Françoise had defied convention and taken an Indian husband, although the marriage was short- lived and it did not prevent her from finding an “American” to wed her thereafter. A second daughter, Marie Jeanne, had married another Rom from New Orleans— Louis La Prairie of the 1773 census, whose parents had come with Cécile’s parents to the colony aboard Le Tilleul. The young La Praries settled well into domesticity and their offspring would populate much of early Rapides.

Cécile and Babé, however, would continue to irritate authorities with their unconventional behavior; and the local commandant would repeatedly apply the “Gypsy” label to them (though not to the La Prairies after that first census)."
Despite the fact that Cajun and Creole peoples in the Delta area are known, famously, for having a melange of ethnic backgrounds, most people are still unawre of this Rom history in the colonial US. In one case, Mills documents a woman who had eleven children in the 1700's, but only two had the "Gypsy" designation follow them into future vital records and documents. Furthermore, as stated before, several of the families intermarried with free people of color, and so their descendants lost the "Gypsy" label in favor of the newly forming racial caste system in the United States.

It's a fascinating paper -- and documented and footnoted like whoah. Highly recommended for history and genealogy buffs!
posted by Asparagirl at 9:27 AM on August 20, 2012 [10 favorites]


I honestly didn't realize until today that "gypsy" was an ethnic slur. I realized that using the term "gypped" was racist (though, not for a long time; I didn't even know that it was associated with gypsies until I was in my teens, at which point I stopped using it), in the same way that "jewed" is, but I didn't realize that it was racist when used as a noun. Just like a Jewish person is a Jew*, I assumed that Gypsy was just another word for Romani.

Obviously, I was wrong. As usual, MetaFilter has opened my eyes to something I'd otherwise not have known.

* I know that "Jew" can be problematic, given that it's often the preferred term used by anti-Semites, but unless I've been seriously misinformed, the word itself is not a slur when used in normal, non-anti-Semitic contexts.
posted by asnider at 9:32 AM on August 20, 2012 [1 favorite]


The imposition of a visa requirement is not at all the same thing as wrongly denying a refugee claim. What should the government do when faced with a huge spike in claims, 90% of which end up rejected, and when many rejected claimants disappear instead of complying with removal orders?

I am of the opinion that many legitimate claims DO get rejected. Same goes for Mexican refugee claimants. There is no denying that running a refugee determination system is difficult, and that there people who game the system. It seems, however, that the Canadian governement would rather deny everyone, at the cost of not accepting those who are need of protection, rather than do the hard work of making the system just.
posted by beau jackson at 9:39 AM on August 20, 2012 [2 favorites]


the amount of comments in the thread insisting "gypsy" is not a slur

oh, come on, this is basic descriptivism. If you don't know it as a slur, you wouldn't use it as a slur, nobody around you has ever used it as a slur, then in your personal dialect it is not a slur. It's not like there is some canonical master list of slurs to which words unambiguously do or do not belong.
posted by Mars Saxman at 10:00 AM on August 20, 2012 [8 favorites]


When I find myself interacting with someone whose status I am uncertain of, I either try to avoid the issue (if its irrelevant) or ask the person what terms they prefer (if its relevant). It's not exactly complex.

Well, obviously only a dick would call someone a "Gypsy" if they've been specifically asked not to do so--but then to pretend that that is all there is to the matter is being a little faux-naif, isn't it? Because the accusation being made in the FPP and by many in this thread is that if you use the word Gypsy--regardless of whether you are doing so to some specific individual who has specifically asked you not to do so--you are perpetrating a hateful act.

But we've seen ample testimony in this thread that there are people who describe themselves as Gypsies who do not regard themselves as Romani and do not like to be called Romani. So now we have a problem: what's the 'safe' word to use when you are referring to people who have not, in fact, expressed a preference to you and who may very well find 'Gypsy' offensive OR may very well find 'Romani' offensive and/or irrelevant?

This, it seems to me, is "complex." I mean, Etrigan writes an eloquent post upthread which ends with this seemingly simple statement:

Do I care what you call me, faceless strangers on the Interwebs? No. But I have thick skin, and I do care when you do something that pisses off my family, so now you know. Any chance you could stop doing that?

Which is all very well--but Etrigan's post makes it quite clear that "Gypsy" doesn't "piss off his family"--it "pisses off" certain members of his family and is perfectly happily and proudly accepted by other members of his family.

At this point, having read most of this thread, I'm simply relieved that I very rarely have much occasion to discuss this issue in a public setting. Were I to do so I think I would, in the end, have to default to using the word "Gypsies" because clearly "Romani" is not the universal term some seem to think it is. I would, however, also feel compelled to explain why I've ended up using the term.
posted by yoink at 10:17 AM on August 20, 2012 [4 favorites]


Count me as someone who didn't know well into early adulthood that "gypped" as a verb was based on an ethnic slur. And then I stopped, as soon as I learned. (Just like I'm sure I used, and definitely know I tolerated, the use of "gay" as in "that's so gay" in elementary and middle school, just as my siblings and peers did.) There's not a damn thing wrong with educating people who do not mean offense, that they are creating offense.

And as a younger person (and still now) it was utterly confusing to me why some (fellow caucasian folks) object to or bitch about other racial identity terms/labels as they have changed over the years. Really, why bitch about being asked to call someone African American instead of Black instead of Colored instead of Negro or back to Black from African American... How does that possibly put you out, to respect how someone self identifies and change terms accordingly? I'm not going to be an asshole and pitch a fit over someone who wants to be called Jack instead of Jon instead of Johnathan--it's none of my goddam business. And that is infinitely more trivial and less loaded with tragedy than any racial self-identification.
posted by availablelight at 10:21 AM on August 20, 2012 [2 favorites]


I know that "Jew" can be problematic, given that it's often the preferred term used by anti-Semites, but unless I've been seriously misinformed, the word itself is not a slur when used in normal, non-anti-Semitic contexts.

Jew here, I like the word "Jew." I prefer it to "Jewish person," which feels a bit silly. Jews are, definitionally, people, and there's nothing wrong with being a Jew, so why fix what ain't broke?

In my personal experience, I only ever hear non-Jews saying that they prefer "Jewish person", although supposedly there are some Jewish people out there who don't like the term "Jew," which is certainly an opinion, just not one shared by myself or the other Jews that I know.

Just don't use the word "Jew" as a verb or an adjective, but no one here would do that.
posted by Sticherbeast at 10:28 AM on August 20, 2012 [3 favorites]


Really, why bitch about being asked to call someone African American instead of Black instead of Colored instead of Negro or back to Black from African American... How does that possibly put you out, to respect how someone self identifies and change terms accordingly?

I think what grates on you as you get older is the way that these changes get freighted with a smug assumption that you're a backward troglodyte because you're not using the latest, most up to date "hey, I'm totally not a racist" term. The one that I remember first getting me to roll my eyes and say "really?" (as opposed to leaping on the bandwagon and reveling in the opportunity to smugly correct everyone more than half a generation older than me) was "people of color." Being old enough to just be on the tail end of real live usage of "Colored People" (a term I could no more imagine using than the N-word) this just seemed bizarre--almost like a deliberate experiment to prove the sheer relativism of these terminological preferences.

Of course, getting frowned at by people younger and hipper than you for being OBVIOUSLY a backward, racist jerk is probably, on the whole, salutary--like a little consciousness-raising refresher course. And being forced to change your vocabulary every so often is useful in keeping you conscious and self-reflexive in your language choices. But I understand the "what, really? So we're changing the labels again?" response.
posted by yoink at 10:41 AM on August 20, 2012 [10 favorites]


And as a younger person (and still now) it was utterly confusing to me why some (fellow caucasian folks) object to or bitch about other racial identity terms/labels as they have changed over the years.

Umm, about caucasian...
posted by Wordwoman at 10:48 AM on August 20, 2012 [2 favorites]


Thousands of Roma face unforgiving future as France launches new campaign to dismantle camps
posted by homunculus at 11:03 AM on August 20, 2012


I think what grates on you as you get older is the way that these changes get freighted with a smug assumption that you're a backward troglodyte because you're not using the latest, most up to date "hey, I'm totally not a racist" term.

This. And the way the updated terms don't solve the problem of exoticising the "other" and the way updated terms suggest there's a universal most-sensitive approach. I have had about a half dozen black friends and acquaintances make it known they prefer "Black" to "African American," and I've heard exactly zero black people say they prefer "African American." But I still hear so many people in professional settings awkwardly insist on the overly clinical, artificial appellation in such a way that telegraphs an uncomfortableness with talking about over any type of sensitivity.

The end game is just ask people what they like to be called, but it's difficult with gypsy/romani in North America because (not speaking for everyone in the continent as a whole) I personally, (and I'm safely guessing 95% of my friends in the mid-west, south, and south west) will likely never run into a person who strongly identifies with the gypsy/romani ethnicity.
posted by midmarch snowman at 11:38 AM on August 20, 2012 [4 favorites]


Umm, about caucasian...

Well, I'm definitely not white, or even the formerly-named crayola "flesh".
posted by availablelight at 11:39 AM on August 20, 2012


Well, I'm definitely not white, or even the formerly-named crayola "flesh".

What's your point? Black people aren't literally black. Unless you're legitimately offended by being called white, I fail to see the point you're trying to make.
posted by asnider at 11:43 AM on August 20, 2012


>When I find myself interacting with someone whose status I am uncertain of, I either try to avoid the issue (if its irrelevant) or ask the person what terms they prefer (if its relevant). It's not exactly complex.

Well, obviously only a dick would call someone a "Gypsy" if they've been specifically asked not to do so--but then to pretend that that is all there is to the matter is being a little faux-naif, isn't it? Because the accusation being made in the FPP and by many in this thread is that if you use the word Gypsy--regardless of whether you are doing so to some specific individual who has specifically asked you not to do so--you are perpetrating a hateful act.

Nope, not faux-naif (or, at least, not intentionally). I am seeing a lot of people in this thread insist that they (or others) have every right to use whatever word they want no matter whether it hurts someone because either a) they don't believe (in opposition to the links in the FPP) that it does hurt people or (slightly more weirdly) b) that they can't have hurt anyone because they were ignorant that it would cause hurt (and b2) that they resent having that ignorance dispelled). It sounds to me like your first sentence is either wrong or you think a lot of MeFites are dicks.

That the people about whom the term is used are divided on the issue is a bit of a red herring. I see it like this -- even the people who prefer to be called "Gypsy" aren't offended by "Rom." Some people (especially in the English-speaking world) who prefer to be called "Rom" are offended by "Gypsy." So, using "Rom" is somewhat less likely to cause offense (at least in the English-speaking world), so why not use it? No matter what they prefer, it's probably safer to use "Rom" as an opening gambit.

And whether the older generation (or, hell, the younger generation) don't want to change, well, it's not like anyone can make them. Maybe they will never offend anyone or even meet anyone who can be offended. Good on them. Maybe they will offend someone and suffer no negative consequences. Well, privilege does mean never having to say you're sorry. I think in most cases the proper response (as seen in some comments above) is to say "huh, I didn't know that," and maybe try to use the term you've been asked to assuming the matter comes up and you remember. The embarrassment you save may be your own.
posted by GenjiandProust at 11:44 AM on August 20, 2012 [1 favorite]


I think you'll find that the vast majority of Americans (or Canadians, for that matter) who use the word 'gypped' have not the slightest clue that there is any connection whatsoever to the word 'gypsy'.

I certainly didn't until about ten years ago, when I was well into my 20s, and I only found out because I read Nick Mamatas' blog.
posted by joannemerriam at 12:11 PM on August 20, 2012


midmarch snowman: I have had about a half dozen black friends and acquaintances make it known they prefer "Black" to "African American," and I've heard exactly zero black people say they prefer "African American.
Too small a sampling; I definitely know African-Americans who prefer that term, some who don't care, and some who prefer "black".

The problem is that none of these are useful as literal descriptors. What do you call an English person of native African descent, when mentioning his/her race? Certainly not African-American! But, aside from a very, very few dark-skinned Americans, the tones are far from black. "Brown" has already been coopted to mean "not-white" (as in, "The US prefers to start wars with brown-skinned people, like Iraqis.")

But we aren't searching for a literal descriptor; we're searching for a name. My IRL name means "He will enlarge"; it doesn't mean I'm doomed to be fat.

We require a name to conjure to mind the person, group, or thing that the name represents. And, because we're dealing with humans, the name should also be respectful - "Joe" and "Joseph", less so "Joey" or "Jo-Jo" or "Joe Schmo", probably.

NOW, finally, we get back to the root of the question, or what should be the root: respect. If a word becomes tainted with much hatefilled usage, it may connotate disrespect to the people it alludes to. It's not that "nigger" is innately, in any grammatical, phonetic, or etymological sense an inferior word to "black"; it's the memories of hatred associated with its usage.

So, the Romani don't want to be called Gypsies (mostly). Fair enough. Don't expect the whole world to learn this overnight, but thoughtful people will start amending their usage. Imperfectly, at first, but not out of disrespect; out of habit. But the change will happen out of respect.
posted by IAmBroom at 12:22 PM on August 20, 2012 [4 favorites]


Nope, not faux-naif (or, at least, not intentionally). I am seeing a lot of people in this thread insist that they (or others) have every right to use whatever word they want no matter whether it hurts someone because either a) they don't believe (in opposition to the links in the FPP) that it does hurt people or (slightly more weirdly) b) that they can't have hurt anyone because they were ignorant that it would cause hurt (and b2) that they resent having that ignorance dispelled). It sounds to me like your first sentence is either wrong or you think a lot of MeFites are dicks.

I haven't seen a single person say that they would use "Gypsy" as a descriptive term to someone who had asked them, specifically and in person, not to do so. If you have seen that claim, I'd be interested if you would link the relevant comment. What I have seen is people saying that their usage of the term "Gypsy" is not in itself inherently offensive simply because that term happens to offend some people. This is, I think, a defensible claim. There are people who are offended by a very wide range of terms for one reason or another, I'm pretty sure that there are many such cases where upon finding out that these objections exist your response would be, at most, "gosh, that's a peculiar objection--I guess I'll try not to use that term if I ever run into one of those people" rather than "I must immediately expunge that word from my vocabulary!" One's vocabulary would become pretty limited if you expunged every possible term to which any person anywhere might object.

"Gypsy" is obviously a less borderline case than that (there are quite large numbers of people who object to the term), but it is by no means universally reviled in the relevant community. More problematic, though, is the fact that there is simply no generic term that is a useful replacement.

That the people about whom the term is used are divided on the issue is a bit of a red herring. I see it like this -- even the people who prefer to be called "Gypsy" aren't offended by "Rom." Some people (especially in the English-speaking world) who prefer to be called "Rom" are offended by "Gypsy." So, using "Rom" is somewhat less likely to cause offense (at least in the English-speaking world), so why not use it? No matter what they prefer, it's probably safer to use "Rom" as an opening gambit.

"Rom" refers to a specific ethnic subset of the peoples generally referred to as "gypsies." There are non-Rom "gypsies." Calling those people "Rom" is like calling Japanese people "Chinese." No, it's not inherently an offensive appellation, but you can be pretty sure that you won't win a lot of Japanese friends by trying it out.

Again, simply asserting that this is a "simple" issue doesn't actually make it so.
posted by yoink at 12:24 PM on August 20, 2012 [4 favorites]


> I think what grates on you as you get older is the way that these changes get freighted with a smug assumption that you're a backward troglodyte because you're not using the latest, most up to date "hey, I'm totally not a racist" term.

I wasn't that familiar with the whole US style identity politics thing til I read a load of Mefi and LiveJournal. A lot of it strikes me a sort of elaborate etiquette: pass the port to the left, use the silverware from the outside in, and don't say "toilet", "lounge" or "gypsy". See Momus' The Late, Mannerist Years of Identity Politics:
I am X, and I am different from Y. Other people are ignorant of the difference between X and Y. They must be educated. People, you must call me X and respect my difference from yourself, and from Y. You must refer to me by the term I have chosen to refer to myself by, and stay tuned for any changes I choose to make in this label, and new terms you must use to describe me -- those new terms which the stigma treadmill or reclamation of previously-taboo terms may, from time to time, make it necessary for me to substitute.
The point of manners is partly to give people a framework for getting along, but there's no system which someone won't use for one-uppersonship, I suppose.

DarlingBri did an excellent comment about travellers in the UK a while back, BTW.
posted by pw201 at 12:41 PM on August 20, 2012 [7 favorites]


See Momus' The Late, Mannerist Years of Identity Politics.

I like Momus (more for his music than his writing, but that's neither here nor there), and I agree with the linked post to a point. But he really had no idea that "tranny" is generally considered offensive? I find that hard to believe.
posted by asnider at 1:47 PM on August 20, 2012


yoink: I haven't seen a single person say that they would use "Gypsy" as a descriptive term to someone who had asked them, specifically and in person, not to do so. If you have seen that claim, I'd be interested if you would link the relevant comment. What I have seen is people saying that their usage of the term "Gypsy" is not in itself inherently offensive simply because that term happens to offend some people. This is, I think, a defensible claim. There are people who are offended by a very wide range of terms for one reason or another, I'm pretty sure that there are many such cases where upon finding out that these objections exist your response would be, at most, "gosh, that's a peculiar objection--I guess I'll try not to use that term if I ever run into one of those people" rather than "I must immediately expunge that word from my vocabulary!" One's vocabulary would become pretty limited if you expunged every possible term to which any person anywhere might object.

Well, here's the thing about racial/ethnic/whatever epithets -- most people in these groups do not walk around with signs on making it easy to tell when you are interacting with someone who might be offended. Which means that you can piss off people (presumably unintentionally) before you've had a chance to identify that they might be pissed off. Which, I mean, why risk that?

In this particular case, we have Etrigan say
So there's no consensus, but I don't use the G-word around my cousin Chris. I try to correct people gently when they use "gypped" or insist that "Gypsy" isn't really an ethnicity (because those people universally don't understand that "Romani" is an ethnicity and think that "Gypsy" just means "nomadic petty criminal").

Do I care what you call me, faceless strangers on the Interwebs? No. But I have thick skin, and I do care when you do something that pisses off my family, so now you know. Any chance you could stop doing that?
Continuing to argue this point after someone in the particular ethnic group asks you to stop is doing what you claim no one is saying that they would do.

"Gypsy" is obviously a less borderline case than that (there are quite large numbers of people who object to the term), but it is by no means universally reviled in the relevant community. More problematic, though, is the fact that there is simply no generic term that is a useful replacement.

This is a good point, and likely has something to do with this being an ethnic group which lacks a nation state. It seems to me, based on the comments in this thread, however, that "Rom" (or one of the other variations) is probably the least likely to cause offense (especially in the English-speaking world), so is preferable. But, hey, I am not the epithet police and a MetaFilter comments thread has no power over you; call people what you like.

Me:That the people about whom the term is used are divided on the issue is a bit of a red herring. I see it like this -- even the people who prefer to be called "Gypsy" aren't offended by "Rom." Some people (especially in the English-speaking world) who prefer to be called "Rom" are offended by "Gypsy." So, using "Rom" is somewhat less likely to cause offense (at least in the English-speaking world), so why not use it? No matter what they prefer, it's probably safer to use "Rom" as an opening gambit.

yoink: "Rom" refers to a specific ethnic subset of the peoples generally referred to as "gypsies." There are non-Rom "gypsies." Calling those people "Rom" is like calling Japanese people "Chinese." No, it's not inherently an offensive appellation, but you can be pretty sure that you won't win a lot of Japanese friends by trying it out.

Except, of course, that the Japanese and Chinese are ethnically and linguistically distinct, have coexisted with a national space only very briefly in their histories, and are hard to confuse in any state other than complete ignorance. You might get better traction using the Eskimo/Inuit distinction, where you have two groups of people with similar cultural and geographic ranges, where some (mostly in the Inuit language group) find the term "Eskimo" insulting while the remainder (mostly in the Yupik language group) would prefer not to be called "Inuit." Which leads me to believe that, if I was in Canada or Greenland, I might lead with "Inuit" if I had to (as least likely to cause offense) and in Alaska I would lead with "Eskimo" or, more likely, ask, since I really don't know enough on the subject (I really have no idea if the Yupik like "Eskimo" or just don't like "Inuit").

younk: Again, simply asserting that this is a "simple" issue doesn't actually make it so.

It depends on what you mean. Certainly addressing a fragmented cultural/ethnic group with a lot of regional and personal opinions at odds with one another is pretty complex. The principle of trying not to cause offense by asking how you should refer to a person (or to apologize and comply if corrected) is, on the other hand, simple in theory. If somewhat more difficult in practice.
posted by GenjiandProust at 2:59 PM on August 20, 2012 [2 favorites]


I certainly didn't until about ten years ago, when I was well into my 20s, and I only found out because I read Nick Mamatas' blog.

Yeah, I sort of vaguely thought it was spelled "gipped", had no idea it was related to the word "gypsy", and was completely oblivious to any negative connotations of the word "gypsy". Anti-gypsy-ness simply doesn't exist in my life except in threads like this one.

It's a little like being told that the word "hungry" actually comes from a long-ago ethnic slur against Hungarians, and that Hungarians are actually a severely oppressed ethnic minority, and that it's rude to talk about being "hungry" or to say something like "man, he must have been hungry, look at him eat". It's just... well, ok, if you say so, I guess I have to avoid saying that now, but it's really weird and just not part of my world at all.
posted by Mars Saxman at 3:16 PM on August 20, 2012 [2 favorites]


"But he really had no idea that 'tranny' is generally considered offensive? I find that hard to believe."

Unless he has used the word in a deliberately pejorative sense or has to be told it's controversial more than once, why not take his word on it?

It's easy to take knowledge you already have for granted, but surely there was a time (even if you never had used the word) you learned it was offensive. He's writing shortly after being informed, it seems.

Is there a reason I missed to take his claim as being in bad faith?
posted by Matt Oneiros at 3:22 PM on August 20, 2012 [5 favorites]


Was gypsy really meant to refer to a specific ethnic group? Medieval Europeans knew next to nothing about them (thinking they were Egyptian) and so the appellation came to be applied to any group with a similar lifestyle.

I see how gypsy would be offensive when applied to the Romani people (those coming from Indian migrants. I am not sure that also means it's automatically offensive if used more generically (i.e. "a gypsy lifestyle" or "gypsy sale".
posted by spaltavian at 3:58 PM on August 20, 2012


I am not sure that also means it's automatically offensive if used more generically (i.e. "a gypsy lifestyle" or "gypsy sale".

How can it not be offensive? Now, I'll admit to not actually knowing what either a 'gypsy lifestyle' or a 'gypsy sale' are (for the latter, Google doesn't either, for the former it's got 'as gypsies live'), but any meaning I can come up with is either pejorative (petty thievery and some sort of quasi-legal dealing, respectively (or maybe a known rip-off) which are all stereotypes of the ethnic group) or obviously about the ethnic group (nomadic).
posted by hoyland at 4:07 PM on August 20, 2012


Er... well if 'gypsy lifestyle'='nomadic', it's not obviously offensive, but it's not a 'more generic' usage.
posted by hoyland at 4:08 PM on August 20, 2012


As this discussion implies, there is no winning when it comes to racial labeling. There's no universally accepted way to do this. Some choose to ignore all such markers in favor of "human being" and save the ethnic notes for sociology discussions. Any assertion of group purity or orthodoxy is probably not without some debate and concern within the group. Either way, they're still just humans who may or may not practice an assumed religion, or dress or eat in an assumed way, or speak an assumed language, and who may or may not like the culture they were born into. No matter how proud someone is of their heritage, it isn't required to be a human being and a great citizen. Those who consider themselves safely in the cultural mainstream might consider how it feels to want to leave and marry outside the group, only to be confronted, within and without, of the social reality that they are supposed to represent their group.
posted by Brian B. at 4:10 PM on August 20, 2012 [1 favorite]


This reminds me of the word "Oriental" and weighing the pros and cons of telling people of my parents generation that the word should be avoided for numerous but ultimately abstract reasons.

In more ways than one -- pretty much the only people I hear using 'oriental' these days are actually Asians, in this case, Koreans here in Korea.

I don't know about the whole 'political correctness' sidebar above, but I do think it's unwise and... overenthusiastic to be offended on other people's behalf. But those are tricky waters, so.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 4:10 PM on August 20, 2012 [2 favorites]


In more ways than one -- pretty much the only people I hear using 'oriental' these days are actually Asians, in this case, Koreans here in Korea.

Here in Japan as well, the term is in wide use and apparently has nary a shade or whiff of racism or whatever about it.
posted by flapjax at midnite at 4:55 PM on August 20, 2012


Which leads me to believe that, if I was in Canada or Greenland, I might lead with "Inuit" if I had to (as least likely to cause offense) and in Alaska I would lead with "Eskimo" or, more likely, ask, since I really don't know enough on the subject (I really have no idea if the Yupik like "Eskimo" or just don't like "Inuit").

Yes, like I said, it's complicated (as you finally seem to admit when you stop and think about a real world example).
posted by yoink at 5:52 PM on August 20, 2012


Wahhh! This is so confusing, basically because until about a year ago I didn't realize gypsies (Roma? Not sure which to use at this point) were an entire ethnic group. It had always just meant nomadic to me. It's hard to know what to say or do when a show called " My Big Fat Gypsy Wedding" is on TV and is actually a pretty even handed account ( it seems) of a group would go put a racist d in the title. I want to be as respectful to any group as possible but it's a little throwing to change it all in one day.

(American here)
posted by raccoon409 at 6:01 PM on August 20, 2012


Romani Kings?
posted by Wash Jones at 6:09 PM on August 20, 2012


Pip Borev has written a series of posts on the accuracy of "My Big Fat Gypsy Wedding," UK version.

I think the wedding shows, and "American Gypsies" on the National Geographic Channel, are probably about as real as the Real Housewives shows.
posted by BibiRose at 6:26 PM on August 20, 2012


Malor: In the US, we don't care about the Roma at all; we're not prejudiced either for or against them, because they barely exist as more than fairy tales to us.

Where the hell are we?--YouTube comment section? This may be the most entitled, ignorant statement that I have ever encountered on MetaFilter.
posted by applemeat at 6:39 PM on August 20, 2012 [1 favorite]


Seconding Isabel Fonseca's "Bury Me Standing." Fascinating.
posted by applemeat at 6:39 PM on August 20, 2012


A romantic notion of the Gypsy/Roma lifestyle/culture was apparently also at the heart of the newly constructed “bohemian” subculture that arose in 1830s France. Perhaps paralleling the way that African-American music was elevated into a symbol of countercultural cool by various European countercultures (the swingjugend underground of Nazi Germany and the Mods of 1960s Britain spring to mind).
posted by acb at 6:40 PM on August 20, 2012


It seems, however, that the Canadian governement would rather deny everyone, at the cost of not accepting those who are need of protection, rather than do the hard work of making the system just.

Part of the problem is that there doesn't seem to be a way to ensure that people whose refugee claims are withdrawn or rejected actually leave the country.

If visitors from one particular country show themselves to be significant overstay risks, a visit visa requirement makes sense, rather than having to spend a lot more resources chasing them around the country and politely asking them if it wouldn't be a good idea if they left now, eh?
posted by one more dead town's last parade at 6:40 PM on August 20, 2012


Whenever there is any ambiguity about what to call people as far as their ethnicity, I always start the convo by asking, "so what do you people call yourselves?". It really avoids a lot of awkward moments later.
posted by Renoroc at 6:58 PM on August 20, 2012 [3 favorites]


I just want to address the "there is no racism against Romani in the U.S." claim: around the year 2001, I worked in a beauty supply store. I have a distinct memory of standing around doing not much one day when a coworker glided past me and hissed "agentofselection, there's gypsies in the store, watch 'em!" with the clear implication being that they were going to shoplift. So there's one anecdote to suggest that Americans in a midsized city without a visible Romani population can, in fact, be racist against them.
(I did go to see them out of curiosity, being a dumb teenager. I found their outfits to be awesome. On reflection though, they may have been Indian women in saris. Like I said, dumb teenager.)
posted by agentofselection at 7:00 PM on August 20, 2012 [1 favorite]


I also worked at a store, in high school, in a suburb of Phoenix, where I was occasionally warned "oh man, the Gypsies are here".

The only thing that really set them apart from anyone else who shopped at the place (it was a "factory seconds" store) was that several people would fill several carts of things I'd need to ring up, and then at the end, the one lady who seemed to be in charge of it all would pay me for the whole shebang with cash that she pulled out of her bra. It was nice and warm (and awkward).

I had the lowest seniority of all the cashiers so they always magically ended up getting rung up by me, and then eventually this particular group came to really like me so I'd get to ring them up on purpose because they'd make sure to stay in my line. Because I was raised right, and I treated them kindly and didn't act like they were a cross I had to bear even if they'd try to haggle with me over prices, which I simply could not do if I wanted to.

Also, that was in the early 90s and I already knew that they weren't "gypsies", they were probably Romany or something else, and if I really wanted to know what they wanted to be called I'd have asked them, but that wasn't really in the purview of our employee-customer relationship so I just defaulted to treating them respectfully and then moving on to the next person.
posted by padraigin at 7:44 PM on August 20, 2012 [2 favorites]


Where the hell are we?--YouTube comment section? This may be the most entitled, ignorant statement that I have ever encountered on MetaFilter.

Then you haven't been paying attention. Settle down, for chrissakes.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 8:25 PM on August 20, 2012 [5 favorites]


Yeah, stav is right. There have been plenty of statements on Metafilter over the years that are far more 'entitled' and ignorant than that.
posted by flapjax at midnite at 8:32 PM on August 20, 2012


Living in Russia for a while gave me racial sensitivity whiplash where Romani/gypsies were concerned. The police harassment of them was ghastly---usually rude, often violent. Ordinary Russians, even smart, progressive Russians, would at best try not to look at them or at worst hiss whenever they got near. They were always the poorest people you saw.
They were also always trying to pickpocket you or much worse. As a pretty big guy, I just got pickpocketed, and the most annoying thing was that whenever I would catch them with hands in my pockets, they'd start to wail and extend upraised palms as though they had just been begging.
Much nastier was the treatment my female friends got, especially the ones who looked foreign---I knew several women who were openly mugged in broad daylight by gangs of gypsy kids. Typically the littlest of the kids would tackle the girls' from behind at knee level, and while the girls were on the ground the other kids would swarm all over them. It was absolutely terrifying. It only took a few incidents like that to make one paranoid every time you saw a gypsy kid, and then the awful realization would descend that christ, now I'm doing it too.
posted by ThatFuzzyBastard at 10:35 PM on August 20, 2012 [5 favorites]


Malor: In the US, we don't care about the Roma at all; we're not prejudiced either for or against them, because they barely exist as more than fairy tales to us.

Not as unrealistic as many have said. In my area of the country, if there are Roma, we don't hear about it. I didn't grow up with nasty stories about these people - if anything, I heard fantasy stories of a romanticized nature.

I didn't know until I was an adult that we still had active Roma families in the US. I guarantee that most of my neighbors thought they were fairy tale beings until those TLC shows came out.

Of course, I'm in Arizona. Most people are spending all their hate on Mexicans to worry about hating on other groups.
posted by _paegan_ at 1:30 AM on August 21, 2012 [1 favorite]


Living in Russia for a while gave me racial sensitivity whiplash where Romani/gypsies were concerned. The police harassment of them was ghastly---usually rude, often violent. Ordinary Russians, even smart, progressive Russians, would at best try not to look at them or at worst hiss whenever they got near. They were always the poorest people you saw.

And you're certain that A) those were Romani, and B) those were the only ones you saw. Was it your extensive ethnographic studies that led you to this conclusion? Your job at the Russian Census? Your program of genetic testing everyone you saw?

I'm not saying that you, ThatFuzzyBastard, are a racist. But I am saying that this is part of the problem the Romani face in a lot of places -- we mostly only look vaguely ethnic, if that, so it's pretty easy for nearly anyone to be identified as Romani, especially in places that have always hated Romani and actively encouraged them to go somewhere else and/or be uneducated and unemployed. Homeless guy? Gypsy. Nomadic family unit with "different" lifestyle? Gypsy. Gang of kids? Gypsy. Go ahead, prove they're not. And if one of them is verifiably so, then obviously they all are -- the unverifiable ones are just passing for normal. See above re Travellers.

And there is the opposite problem as well. Romani communities in the U.S. bled self-identifying Romani for most of the 20th Century, because if you could pass, you damn well did (I've referred previously here to my relatives who claim the Romani run most of the Greek restaurants in the U.S. -- I have other relatives who have actually changed their name to pass for Italian or Irish). In countries where the Romani are treated badly (because I know how incredibly lucky I have it in the U.S., where my invisible knapsack is crammed full of essentially-white goodies), there is a huge incentive for lighter-skinned Romani to work on their accents, get an unskilled-laborer job, establish a new identity and become Turkish or Iraqi or Greek or something else slightly more exotic than "the poorest people you saw" or "gangs of pickpockets."
posted by Etrigan at 5:04 AM on August 21, 2012 [4 favorites]


And you're certain that A) those were Romani, and B) those were the only ones you saw. Was it your extensive ethnographic studies that led you to this conclusion? Your job at the Russian Census? Your program of genetic testing everyone you saw?

Did you actually read his post?

"the awful realization would descend that christ, now I'm doing it too."
posted by spaltavian at 5:34 AM on August 21, 2012 [1 favorite]


Thank you for the post, divabat.

I read the Updike review of Fernanda Eberstad's Little Money Street: In Search of Gypsies and Their Music in the South of France that LittleFuzzyBastard linked to. Something nagged at me until I remembered: "nothing about us without us". Eberstad is gaje, like me. So is Fonseca (Bury Me Standing). So I started looking for work about Romani culture, traditions, and lifestyle, by Romani.

I know that "music, dance and food" are often entry points to start engaging with another culture -- and they're somewhat language-independent, which is a plus when you're looking to learn about a diasporic, multilingual community. And English is my only working language for reading and listening. But it seems like we gaje often enjoy Romani or Romani-inspired music, dance, food, clothes, and so on as cultural appropriation and without using it as a jumping-off point to learn more. And honestly, I'm really dubious of the food/clothing/dance methods of teaching about diversity. If I square-danced up to you wearing a tie-dyed shirt and offered you a plate of hush puppies, how much would you have learned about American culture? If you don't know why square dancing started, or the social implications of tie-dyed clothes, or the geographic and economic conditions that led to the invention of hush puppies, then I don't think I've edified you much.

So, I'm looking to learn more.

Via Aj-Rromale, I learned of a pride march for LGBT members of the Romani community (in a festival including "a fashion show featuring clothing by a Romani designer, Romani music, comics, and a debate"), the Polish Romani poet Papusza (Bronislawa Wajs), groups working for Roma women's rights, racism and antiracism within Romani society, and more.

"I get tired of all the 'poverty porn' of my people. So here are a couple shots of happy Rroma doing happy Romani things like getting married, raising beautiful kids, and fetching wood."

In film, there's Martin Sulik's fiction film Gypsy about Romani (in Romany and Slovak w/English subtitles), and some documentaries.

In written memoir, there's a fair amount of blogging on Tumblr (I think most of what I've found in English is by women), plus Eva Petulengro's The Girl in the Painted Caravan and Caravans and Wedding Bands, and Cristiana Grigore's New York Times piece "The Gypsy in Me". The latter pointed out to me the division between those who have settled and those who follow a nomadic lifestyle. (More about the conflict around assimilation.) I'm particularly learning from and enjoying "Little Roma, Big Gadje World".

The European Roma Rights Centre tracks issues relevant to Romani (some other nomadic populations, some related, some not). I am beginning to see things in the history of the treatment of Romani that I understand better because I know about past treatment of other diasporic or oppressed groups. (Examples: cultural factors prevent a people from gaining wealth or certain socially-approved skills, and then descendants are way worse off. Or, food purity rules get misunderstood.)

But of course I'm not the first gaje who's been curious about this and who wants to hear about Romani life from Romani people.
Romani culture is extremely diverse, so it's really impossible to speak for all of us, though some have tried, with mixed results.....

Hancock teaching Romani to gadje angers many of the older generation, as they have been taught to keep our secrets to ourselves. I come as close as saying, "oh, hey, we're real and by the way, things aren't very good for us around the world," but that's it. Anything else is overstepping boundaries....It would be impossible to write a book that would encompass (and do justice to) all the different groups, and it is also considered disrespectful and 'against the culture' to tell outsiders many of the things that Hancock discusses freely.....what really needs to be said is that no matter where we are, there always seems to be prejudice against the Romani people.....

I am aware of the paradox that exists between building a bridge to understanding our culture while not betraying what is sacred to our ancestors. Let's not forget, Romani people became secretive and closed off for a reason, and those atrocities are hard to forget, especially for those who lived to see them firsthand. There are many lovely things about Romani culture... the music, the dancing, a strong loyalty to each other and solid family and cultural values.....
I respect that paradox. I know my limited and shallow research is not going to give me some magical insight into The Heart Of Romani.

Some parts of Romani culture and values (e.g., aspects of marime and certain food purity rules and their implications) remind me, yes, they're different from me. And my "wait, what? Why/how?" reaction is part of my learning.

(Argh, hope I got the lingo right in this post.)
posted by brainwane at 6:25 AM on August 21, 2012 [8 favorites]


Oh, and of course I should have checked related MeFi posts.
posted by brainwane at 6:27 AM on August 21, 2012


Did you actually read his post?

The post where he stipulated that it was "gypsy kids" doing all this, and his "awful realization" was that he was "paranoid every time [he] saw a gypsy kid"? Yeah, I read that one. Sorry, but I saw no indication that his "awful realization" was that poor and/or petty criminal != Romani.
posted by Etrigan at 6:50 AM on August 21, 2012 [1 favorite]


oh, come on, this is basic descriptivism. If you don't know it as a slur, you wouldn't use it as a slur, nobody around you has ever used it as a slur, then in your personal dialect it is not a slur. It's not like there is some canonical master list of slurs to which words unambiguously do or do not belong.

Prescriptivism is encouraged when it is used to deny power to the privileged. Duh. It's ok if the victim deserves it.
posted by gjc at 7:45 AM on August 21, 2012


Previously
posted by acb at 8:44 AM on August 21, 2012


Man, this thread has had me writing and erasing posts over and over. As I said before, I taught and became friends with Eastern European Roma/Gypsies. And I use the double term because there was NO consensus among my friends on what they wanted to be called.

And you're certain that A) those were Romani, and B) those were the only ones you saw. Was it your extensive ethnographic studies that led you to this conclusion? Your job at the Russian Census? Your program of genetic testing everyone you saw?

I lived in a town where, yes, there were some groups of Roma/Gypsies who begged and pickpocketed, just as ThatFuzzyBastard noted. To deny that is just untruthful and it is condescending for anyone to doubt . And like him, I too had moments of awareness that I was possibly falling into the groupthink on Roma/Gypsies . How did I know they were Roma/Gypsies? Because I lived with them. Because I saw them every day. Because other Roma/Gypsy who I knew were just as annoyed and concerned about them as I was. Is that enough proof?
There is a great deal of idealization and stereotyping going on here on many sides.

I am happy to see that LGBT Roma/Gypsies are able to be out in Czech Republic. My Gay Roma/Gypsy friends continue to be closeted because the culture that they live in does not approve of their lifestyle. At all. And women in their community are still strongly discouraged from doing anything outside of the rules and face shunning when they do.

When I was growing up in Little Appalachia there were many Gypsies (as they self-identified) who were very much like the people who are depicted in "My Big Fat Gypsy Wedding". They may not have fit what you wanted them to be, whether that is the traditional free Gypsy"spirits" or the political Romani, but they were living a life that was traditional for them here in the US.

I think what bothers me most about this thread is the title and explanation-"Gypsy is a Racial Slur-The Romani people would like you to please stop using the word 'gypsy' now ... as it is a racial slur connected to past and present persecution. This is not 'gypsy'; this is Romani.
-

This is basically true, Gypsy often has been and is used as a racial slur and it is a word with a history of negativity, but I prefer to call individual people what they want to be called, not what experts, whether they be from that community or not, tell me to call them.
posted by Isadorady at 9:02 AM on August 21, 2012 [2 favorites]


I lived in a town where, yes, there were some groups of Roma/Gypsies who begged and pickpocketed, just as ThatFuzzyBastard noted. To deny that is just untruthful and it is condescending for anyone to doubt .

I wasn't denying that there are any persons of the Romani ethnicity who beg or pickpocket. I have professional criminals, psychics and even carnies in my extended family. I understand that stereotypes often have root in reality. I don't deny that you have met some others, either. Hell, I once got pickpocketed by an actual Romani, in Germany. Fortunately, my reflex was to yell the first line of the Lord's Prayer at him in Kalderash, and he gave it back.

What I object to is the flat-out declaration that all of the Romani ThatFuzzyBastard saw in Russia "were always the poorest people you saw" or that "they were also always trying to pickpocket you or much worse." That's two "always" statements that ignore the possibilities that A) they weren't actually ethnically Romani, or B) TFB didn't actually know whether every Romani he saw was engaged in these pursuits.
posted by Etrigan at 9:31 AM on August 21, 2012 [1 favorite]


I think one of the biggest upsides to an ethnic group asking for a name change is that it generates thought, hopefully, in those who have to adjust to using a new term. That is more valuable than which term gets used.
posted by QIbHom at 9:35 AM on August 21, 2012


What I object to is the flat-out declaration that all of the Romani ThatFuzzyBastard saw in Russia "were always the poorest people you saw" or that "they were also always trying to pickpocket you or much worse." That's two "always" statements that ignore the possibilities that A) they weren't actually ethnically Romani, or B) TFB didn't actually know whether every Romani he saw was engaged in these pursuits.

While I can't testify to the accuracy of the pickpocketing part of ThatFuzzyBastard's experience in Russia, I'll jump in and say that the Gypsy/Romani encountered in Ireland "were always the poorest people you saw". There might be some non-Gypsy/Romani individuals living in greater depredation (heroin addicts?), but as an identifiable ethnic group, this description rings true for Ireland. E.g. the infamous and pathetic M50 roundabout case from a few years ago:
"Conditions at the two sites, one on a roundabout on the M50 within sight of Dublin airport's runway, the other just before a slip road, have deteriorated over the past few days. The scene resembles the slums of an Asian city rather than 21st-century Ireland.

The air around the two camps reeks of human excreta and rotting food; children as young as two play in mud and filth; grass verges to either side of the families' makeshift shelters are covered in rubbish and colonies of tiny flies attach themselves to anything that moves. The tents they sleep in have been flooded during the recent heavy rains. [...]

Apart from the threat of an epidemic breaking out in the camps, adults and children risk their lives on a daily basis crossing what is regarded as the busiest arterial route in urban Ireland. Small children could be seen begging on the slip road and at the roundabout as they tried to flag down cars, vans and buses. The AA in Ireland has warned that there is going to be a serious accident on this section of the M50 if the Roma children continue to beg on the motorway."
In the Irish case, I believe it makes no difference whether "Gypsy" or "Romani" or "NewTermX" is used; it's not the choice of words that's causing the negative response. It's the perception that visible portions of this ethnic group commonly engage in behavior that, to pick just one issue, is criminally negligent of the welfare of minors. Until that sub-group behavior is seen to have been rejected, fiddling with identifiers will have little impact on society's reception of Gypsy/Romani.
posted by amorphatist at 10:40 AM on August 21, 2012


It's the perception that visible portions of this ethnic group commonly engage in behavior that, to pick just one issue, is criminally negligent of the welfare of minors. Until that sub-group behavior is seen to have been rejected, fiddling with identifiers will have little impact on society's reception of Gypsy/Romani.

Yes, I'm sure that would do it. Because no one who's not Romani ever abuses their kids, and society certainly won't glom on to every individual case of such abuse to justify furthering a centuries-long legacy of forced eviction, deportation, sterilization, and denial of access to education and basic human rights for six million people worldwide. It's totally the Gypsies' fault for swimming in their own shit.

Seriously? Your response to "Hey, not all of us are criminals" is "Well, here's a case where a bunch of you were!"?
posted by Etrigan at 11:06 AM on August 21, 2012 [1 favorite]


Because no one who's not Romani ever abuses their kids,

No-one has claimed this, as you well know. I'd also offer that child abuse is more present in the consciousness of the Irish people than most, given the appalling disclosures re Catholic institutions in recent years, so this is doubly nonsense in this context.

justify furthering a centuries-long legacy of forced eviction, deportation, sterilization, and denial of access to education and basic human rights for six million people worldwide

Maybe you should re-read my comment more carefully. Particularly the part which reads "In the Irish case". This "centuries-long legacy" is not true of Ireland, we had our own problems back then.

It's totally the Gypsies' fault for swimming in their own shit.

So, exactly where do you assign the responsibility for the criminal conditions in which the children were living? The Irish government? The Irish citizen? Investigative reports by the Irish media tended to lay it on the well-fed patriarch of that particular clan and the culture that gives rise to such patriarchy, but I'd like to know your thoughts on it.
posted by amorphatist at 11:57 AM on August 21, 2012


Because no one who's not Romani ever abuses their kids,

No-one has claimed this, as you well know.


You gave an example to counteract my saying that not every Romani is a criminal or homeless, then expanded that example to demonstrate why people hate the Romani. Pardon me for wondering whether you're as worried about the children as you are looking for an excuse.

So, exactly where do you assign the responsibility for the criminal conditions in which the children were living? The Irish government? The Irish citizen? Investigative reports by the Irish media tended to lay it on the well-fed patriarch of that particular clan and the culture that gives rise to such patriarchy, but I'd like to know your thoughts on it.

Yes, it's the patriarch's fault. "The culture" is the direct result of the centuries-long legacy, etc. When a group is marginalized for long enough, how do you expect it to act? You don't reverse that in a couple of years, and you certainly don't reverse it by holding it up as an example of how "visible portions of this ethnic group commonly engage in behavior". You punish the people who did bad things and try not to let it influence your opinion of six million other people. For instance, I'm not holding you up as an example of how all Irish people love to engage in stereotyping and victim-blaming.
posted by Etrigan at 12:32 PM on August 21, 2012 [1 favorite]


What I object to is the flat-out declaration that all of the Romani ThatFuzzyBastard saw in Russia "were always the poorest people you saw" or that "they were also always trying to pickpocket you or much worse."

I certainly didn't intend to say that every Romani is poor, or a pickpocket---I apologize if that seemed to be my message. What I intended to say was the the poorest people I saw, and the worst pickpockets, and the people who knocked women down on the street and assaulted them, were always groups of Gypsies (I have no idea if they were actually Romani). And after this happened enough times, the sight of a group of street Gypsies would make me hold onto my wallet, and make women cross the street. Now, if we saw groups of Gypsies who were not dirty and begging on the street, we wouldn't have had the same reaction, and we probably would have done some distasteful liberal self-congratulation for it.
posted by ThatFuzzyBastard at 1:11 PM on August 21, 2012 [2 favorites]


Pardon me for wondering whether you're as worried about the children as you are looking for an excuse.

Why wouldn't everybody be worried about the children in that story, no matter what ethnicity they were?
posted by amorphatist at 1:43 PM on August 21, 2012 [1 favorite]


What I intended to say was the the poorest people I saw, and the worst pickpockets, and the people who knocked women down on the street and assaulted them, were always groups of Gypsies (I have no idea if they were actually Romani).

This is part of the problem. How do you identify a Gypsy, if you don't mean someone of the Romani ethnicity? You've used the construction "Romani/gypsies" twice so far in this thread, leading me to believe that you don't see a difference. If you don't think that Romani and Gypsies are the same thing, then why bother telling us about the possibly-non-Romani that you saw robbing people? I hate to make this comparison, but I can't come up with anything equivalent: This is starting to sound like "Oh, I don't hate black people -- just N-words. You don't have to be black to be a N-word."
posted by Etrigan at 2:05 PM on August 21, 2012


fiddling with identifiers will have little impact on society's reception of Gypsy/Romani

Or identifying with fiddlers, for that matter.
posted by acb at 2:13 PM on August 21, 2012 [4 favorites]


Home of the Roma Kings: In a Romanian farm town, once itinerant traders have struck it rich, replacing caravans with mansions.
posted by homunculus at 8:20 PM on August 21, 2012 [1 favorite]


Etrigan: Because as has been repeatedly said upthread, by many knowledgable folk, there are lots of people who prefer to be identified as Gypsies, and do not wish to be called Romani. Your insistence on your right to be the official arbiter of all people's ethnic designation regardless of their opinion on the matter is super-distasteful.
posted by ThatFuzzyBastard at 10:00 AM on August 22, 2012 [1 favorite]


You're completely missing my point, TFB. I'll ask again: what makes you think that the people you saw were ethnically Gypsies/Romani/Rom/Czigany/Gitano/whatever-you-feel-they-wish-to-be-called? If you're just calling the poor people and criminals you saw "gypsies," and then using the construction "Romani/gypsies," I hope you'll understand that I'm a little offended by that.
posted by Etrigan at 10:12 AM on August 22, 2012


Oliver skin, wide noses, curly dark hair, high cheekbones, brightly colored garments (I don't think they're properly called saris, though they're of that kind of design), speaking what sounded to me like Romani though I couldn't be sure. I also saw lots (and lots and lots) of ethnically Russian criminals, not to mention lots (and lots and lots and lots and lots) of ethnically Caucasian (as in from the Caucuses---Azherbadhzan, Georgia, etc) crmiinals. But the street pickpocket and assault racket seemed to be the exclusive province of the Gypsy kids, while the Russians handled adult-to-adult muggings and the Caucasians' province was hijacking and smuggling.
posted by ThatFuzzyBastard at 11:08 AM on August 22, 2012


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