Dare to Ask: Gypsies are victims of stereotype
By PHILLIP MILANO, The Times-Union
I'm a real gypsy (Roma). People label us as petty thieves and criminals and
claim we are filthy and dumb. Why?
cOnFuSed-ChiK, 20, Florida
I'm an English Romany gypsy. I studied business at college. Good gypsies are
not shown for being the clean, decent people we are. The scummy gypsies get seen
for thieving, etc. The media picks up on the bad stuff.
Shirley, 24, England
In Spain, gypsies are treated badly, but in a way, I can see why. We lived on
the U.S. Air Force base. Things would always get stolen by the gypsies who lived
on the vacant lot down the road - even our BBQ.
Jade, 16, Sydney, Australia
Where I live, "gypsies" are usually engaged in scams and thieving, frequently
against vulnerable elderly people. Not all people who identify as gypsies or
Roma engage in this kind of conduct, but those are not the ones you hear about.
When I traveled to Romania several years ago, I was amazed at the horrific
way the Roma people were treated. For the Romas' part, I witnessed many involved
in harassment of foreigners and stealing. I also met several college-educated,
wealthy Roma. The "true Romanians" (forgive the term) summarily dismissed the
Roma as awful, terrible beasts beneath consideration or hope.
Tinuviel, 37, female, Albuquerque, N.M.
And you should've seen the comments we didn't print.
Gypsies - a preferred term is Roma - have traveled a tough road these past
Fast-forward through lots of history to the 14th century. By then they'd
migrated to the Balkans and were wrongly thought to be from Egypt (hence the
name "Gypsy"), when in fact their origins were India, said Zoltan Barany, a
University of Texas professor who specializes in ethnopolitics.
They were darker-skinned, fiercely protected their cultural identity . . .
and were quickly persecuted. Meanwhile, all the land was already spoken for, so
they developed skills they could practice on the go, such as mending,
entertaining or working at fairs, said Barany, author of The East European
Gypsies: Regime Change, Marginality, and Ethnopolitics.
"No one wanted them, and they chased them away. . . . With no means of
survival, of course they were going to steal, but it's not that it's in their
Unfortunately, they're still shunned across the globe.
"They've gone through incredible amounts of discrimination and
marginalization for centuries, partially because of hostility of the host
country and partly because of their own inability or unwillingness to
It doesn't help that too many gypsy families don't value education, with many
Roma youth telling Barany and other researchers they don't see college as their
most viable option.
"If you look at the socioeconomic conditions of Roma, you see every major
cause [for their plight]: poverty, overpopulation and lack of education."
Phillip Milano, author of I Can't Believe You Asked That! (Perigee),
moderates cross-cultural dialogue at Y? The National Forum on People's
Differences. Visit www.yforum.com to submit questions and answers. Send general
column comments to phillip. email@example.com. You can also hear his
podcasts or watch his