Defining Roma and discussing Romani issues:
A guide for journalists
When defining Roma and discussing Romani issues in the media, the terms employed by journalists are often misleading, ambiguous, incorrect, stereotypical and offensive to Roma. Much of this is done inadvertently because journalists are often unfamiliar with the Romani culture, history and the current issues facing them. The media frequently uses the following list of words and phrases when better, more-informative and less-offensive terms and phrases could be employed.
Assimilation vs. Integration:
Most Roma do not want to assimilate into mainstream society with the loss of their language and culture. They want to integrate, to become useful members of society while retaining their own language and culture. In multicultural Canada they have the right to do this like any other minority culture.
Believed to have come from india:
Roma are not "believed to have come from India." Linguists and anthropologists have long ago irrefutably determined that the Roma are an Indian people speaking a Sanskrit-based language who left India in the 11th century AD. They were fleeing persecution and massacre by invaders from the Ghaznavid Empire, then located in what is now Afghanistan.
Roma do not live in horse-drawn caravans today. The minority who still travel live in aluminum travel trailers pulled by trucks or cars.
This term is stereotypical and not definitive. All cultures can be COLOURFUL when used by artists as vehicles of escapism in romantic novels, films and other creations.
Gypsy vs. Roma:
"Gypsy" conjures up all kinds of stereotypical images of Roma in the minds of viewers and readers. It should be replaced by Roma. Gypsy has been applied to the Roma by outsiders and it is offensive to many Roma just like Indian is offensive to Canada's Native People.
"Gypsy invasion" vs. asylum seekers:
Roma refugees who come to Canada to request Convention refugee status are not —invaders" coming to conquer or subjugate the Canadian people. They are coming here for the same reason the ancestors of most Canadians came here, to find freedom from persecution or oppression and a better future for their children.
Allusions to so-called "Gypsy trades" like "fiddlers," "tinkers," "horse-traders," "fortune-tellers," and "showmen" are stereotypical. In Eastern Europe, Roma are mostly blue-collar tradesmen and some are in the professions. Both men and women work at conventional jobs. In Canada, the US, Central and South America, Roma are mainly self-employed and work in mainstream occupations. In Western-European countries, many Roma are engaged in recycling scrap.
Allusions to Roma having magical powers are stereotypical and create a false image of the group. Romani women who tell fortunes and act as psychic advisors are doing the same thing thousands of non-Roma men and women are doing including those who advertise on TV hot lines and write horoscopes in newspapers and magazines. Roma have no more —magical" powers than members of any other group.
As a group. Roma are no more mysterious than anyone else is. Roma belong to an exclusive culture like some other ethnic groups, which means that their culture is not generally known and understood by outsiders not of the group.
The terms nomad and nomadic lifestyle are thrown about by the media without any understanding of the anthropological definitions. Pastoral nomads travel with flocks and herds to find pasture for their animals as the seasons dictate. Commercial nomads travel to find sources of work, usually on a predetermined annual circuit. Roma who are nomadic follow the latter type of nomadism, as do non-Roma travelling salesmen, rock groups and professional lecturers. In Canada, the US and Eastern Europe, most Roma are sedentary and live in houses or apartments in villages, towns or cities. From 1948 until the end of Communism, the Communist governments of the former Soviet-Bloc countries created assimilation plans for nomadic Roma to settle them and transform them into an urbanized sub-proletariat. It is estimated that two-thirds of the Roma today live in these former Soviet-Bloc countries (6 to 8 million) plus a million or so in the US who are mostly sedentary, another million in Central and South America and another million in Western Europe some of whom are still nomadic. The vast majority of the Roma are no longer nomadic in any sense of the word.
Problems vs. issues:
"Issues facing the Roma" rather than "problems with the Roma" is a more constructive way of reporting on issues involving Roma refugees in Canada.
Reference to the "Gypsy race" should be avoided. Roma are members of the human race. Anthropologically, they are Caucasian and the Romani language belongs to the Indo-Aryan family of languages.
Roma are no more secretive about their affairs any other ethnic group. But having been persecuted for centuries just for being Roma, they are naturally inclined to be somewhat reluctant when speaking about their personal affairs to strangers.
Tribe vs. clan:
The word tribe as employed by anthropologists is not applicable to Roma. Tribes consist of large numbers of people who do not necessarily have to be related to one another. Clans consist of people related by blood and marriage who claim descent from a common ancestor. Roma live in clans and the males of the clan trace their ancestry to a common founder whose name generally appears in the clan definition as in
Grofeshti, or the People of Grofo (the founder). New Romani clans can still be formed today in this way.
Ronald Lee, October, 1998.
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