Friday, April 25, 2008
Is Gypsy a racist word?
I was just accused of being racist. That hurts. A lot. Here's the deal. In a radio interview on The Brian Lehrer Show I was talking about racism in Spain and made a comment about gypsies being at the receiving end of some of the worst racist treatment in Spain.
I used the term gypsy more than once during the interview. Well, according to one of the listeners on the show who wrote in a comment, gypsy is a racist word and as a Black woman talking about racism I ought to know better than to use the term gypsy instead of the correct term, Roma people. I am paraphrasing but that was the gist of the complaint.
I have two things to say. First, I admit it hands down that I did not know, had no idea really that gypsy was considered a racist term. So I say thank you to the listener for educating me. Incidentally, my treatment towards the "Roma" people I have met has never been racist, which should be the real litmus test of deciding whether I am a racist. My sister-in-law in Spain is practically engaged to a member of the Roma people so I have had the benefit of learning a lot about their culture first-hand. As always I love learning about the people in Spain who slip under the radar of the Spanish image sold here Stateside.
Interestingly, in a random internet search I could not find much that declared gypsy to in fact be a racist word. Indeed, organizations which work to fight racism around the world like Human Rights Watch, use the term gypsy in their literature. As do other organizations like Workers'Liberty who wrote this article examining the racist treatment "gypsies" receive in England. All this to say, Gypsy probably is considered a racist word by some. It clearly hasn't become common knowledge to the masses. Now that I know better I will try to erase it from my vocabulary.
But the other thing is, it irks the $#!@ out of me when people assume/expect that because I am a Black person, I should be aware of every single injustice ever done unto an oppressed people. Of course I am sympathetic and want to know more about anyone who is suffering in this world, but why am I held up to this unrealistic expectation of being superRACE sister? I wish I was that knowledgeable, but I'm not and have never ever claimed to be. Can we find ways to educate one another without insulting and criticizing?
And questions for you: Did you know gypsy was a racist term? Does anyone know the origin of the term? And are all "gypsies" really Roma people?
Thanks for the input people.
(Image is titled: Gypsy Sisters of Seville, by artist John Phillip.)