Hatred of the Roma challenged
Monday 20th February 2017
The Roma need to be seen in all their colours and engaged with on every level to be fully understood, asserts TINA CARR
Romaphobia: The Last Acceptable Form Of Racism by Aiden McGarry (Zed Books, £14.99)
THE ROMA are believed to have arrived in Europe from northern India in waves of migration from the ninth to the 14th centuries.
Found in every country on the continent, it would be difficult to find a more diverse group.
They number 10-12 million, yet are one of its most marginalised minorities, with anti-Roma attitudes on the rise along similar lines to both Islamophobia and anti-semitism.
Although they have traditionally been called “Gypsies,” today many prefer to be called Rom or Roma — men or women in their language, Romanes — because the term “Gypsy” has a pejorative meaning in many societies.
Equally, many Roma prefer to adhere to the term Gypsy or tribal names such as Romungro, Olah, Sinti or Tsigane, having identified as such for many generations.
British Gypsies and Travellers do not use the umbrella term Roma to define themselves, although they may share the same ethnic or linguistic origins as the Roma in Europe.
However, the term Roma is a useful and widely accepted coverall since the umbrella group do have a shared ethnicity, with the exception of Irish Travellers.
It’s said that where the tarmac ends, the Roma settlement begins.
The majority live in dire poverty, are ghettoised behind walls built to segregate them from the majority, are unemployed and, until relatively recently, have received little or no education.
As Aiden McGarry says in his new book: “Romaphobia is the hate or fear of those individuals perceived as being Roma, Gypsy or Traveller; it involves the negative ascription of group identity and can result in marginalisation, persecution and violence. Romaphobia is a manifestation of racism: it is cut from the same cloth.”
Racism is on the rise and, although Romaphobia is no different in form or content to Islamophobia and anti-semitism, its causes can be particularised — there is something specific about Romaphobia even if its racist core is familiar.
And this is what McGarry’s book sets out to explore through the early history of the European nation state and the ways in which the Roma, as “landless nomads,” have been excluded from national communities founded upon a notion of “belonging” to a particular territory.
It uncovers the causes of racism towards Roma communities and points to constructive ways to combat Romaphobia.
The addition of “phobia” to the word Roma is a great idea — to ally Romaphobia to the other more long-lived phobias of homosexuality and Islam gives it immediate parity with the great campaigns that have risen to defend the rights of these minority groups.
As Romani studies gains traction in academia and begins to come out of what McGarry describes as its “splendid isolation” by drawing on concepts and ideas from a variety of disciplinary perspectives, including politics, sociology, public policy, humanities and urban geography, the more the under-researched and misunderstood phenomena of the Roma will emerge into the light.
The Roma need to be seen in all their colours and engaged with on every level to be fully understood.
Enlightened, sensitively written and always positive, this book making a valuable contribution to that coming about.
Tina Carr is co-author with Annemarie Schone of From the Horse’s Mouth: A Roma, Gypsy, Traveller Landscape, available from simply-solar.co.uk.